Computers, email, texts, the internet were all supposed to make us more efficient. Such a constant barrage of information can also be a constant disruption. Just because you get information instantly doesn’t mean you can do the task any quicker.
For example, someone can text you there is a problem on a job. You have the information instantly, but you still have to drive out and look at the problem. A general contractor can instantly text you that flashing around a chimney needs to be fixed. The request comes instantly but it probably takes the same amount of time to flash that chimney as it did 30 years ago.
Discipline and focus are more important than ever. The basic principles of time management have not changed. The tools are just different.
Start by understanding the basics of slow brain and fast brain. Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli-American Nobel Prize winner, did much research on the two systems that run our brain. If, after reading this, you want to know more, buy his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” There are also numerous videos and articles on the internet that go into this fascinating theory, but here is a brief explanation of what “fast brain” and “slow brain” thinking means. Fast brain is automatic, impulsive and makes quick decisions. Slow brain is more thoughtful, calculating and deliberate. Fast brain is memory recall and slow brain calculates more complex problems.
For example, if I ask you what 2 x 2 equals, you instantly recall the answer four. But, if I ask you what 246 x 67 equals, you will have to enter into slow brain to figure it out. So why is this important to you as a contractor?
Contractors must perform both fast and slow brain thinking. Fast brain relies on all of the experience and things we have learned in the trade. Slow brain requires you to calculate and figure things out. Telling someone what tool to use is fast brain, but sitting down to do an estimate or detailed proposal is slow brain. To be efficient at contracting, you must schedule slow brain time to do thought-provoking and calculating tasks. Doing such slow thinking on the fly does not work and leads to errors and erroneous snap judgments and mistakes.
Scheduling slow thinking time is more important than ever because we spend much of our daily time in fast brain. We use our phone calculator to process complicated problems and GPS instead of directions. When estimating or doing a complicated task, turn your phone off or give it to someone else to take messages.
Learn to be a morning person. Rarely do I meet a successful contractor manager who is not at work early. You need time to think, finish paperwork, estimate, etc. Most people are only kidding themselves when they try to do this type of thing late at night.
Most contractors are visual people. To-do lists, paper drawings, scheduling boards and other visual tools were always useful. Today, much of this type of information is done with technology. Technology can downplay the visual aspect of reminders. Make sure your computer monitors are large and consider using two large screens. Also, keeping a written on-going checklist or to-do list still has merit. Yes, you can put reminders in your phone, but rarely do we take lists in our phone and prioritize what needs to be done in a given day and check completed items off the list.
Successful people get done what is important. This requires two specific skills:
- To determine what is important, and
- Not to become distracted in pursuit of that important goal.
Management’s role is to make sure company priorities are met and goals reached. In our PROSULT™ networking groups, each owner writes goals for the coming year and, in the following year, are held accountable for what they accomplished. Public accountability and feedback are good for you and your business.
If you’re a control freak, back off a little. Let those around you do the tasks that require little skill and are a low return on investment. When you first started in business, changing the oil in your own truck may have appeared to be saving money. Over time, changing your own oil costs money.
If you want to make $150k a year, that’s roughly $3k a week or $60 an hour calculated on a 50-hour week. Make a list of all the things you do and assign a dollar value to each. Learn to delegate the less profitable tasks. Let people learn from their mistakes; however, make sure they are little mistakes. Don’t totally abstain from management, but rather, become more of a coach and mentor.
Set a daily work plan and try to stick to it. Don’t become a victim of last-minute emails or fighting “fires.” Turning your email on first thing in the morning should not rearrange your entire day. When building a daily work plan, build in some time for emergencies that arise.
If your job requires you to wear several hats, schedule each activity. For example, if you as an owner need to look at financial information each week, set a time to do it. Maybe that’s a task for every Wednesday morning. If you have to approve job costs or payroll, set a specific time to do it. Block off estimating and sales time. Try not to run from here to there doing whatever tasks that rears its ugly head. Such running around will leave you frustrated and unfulfilled at the end of the day.
In closing, yes, information is instantaneous and readily available, but don’t let your phone and laptop control your life.