How to Beat the Clock in Construction Estimating (Time Management)

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Tired of the race against time to get your projects finished on time and budget? You’re not the only one.

We discuss how contractors can improve time management in construction and what tools can help achieve this.

If you want to jump ahead, check out our list of the top tools on the market for estimating in construction.

Time is money – and nowhere is this truer than in the construction industry.

Every second a project runs over cuts deeper into your profit margins. It’s no overstatement to say that effective time management in construction has a direct impact on your revenue. 

Construction estimation: Not just a fool’s errand

Estimating construction projects is a little bit like taking the perfect picture of fog.

No matter how much time you put into it, seemingly random, uncontrollable events will always stop your projects behaving as you’d like.

So why bother?

Sure, construction schedule management isn’t easy – but it’s vital if you want to deliver projects on time and to budget.

No estimate will ever be 100% correct – but the closer to reality they are, the more likely you are to stick to your timescales and ultimately, win the project and defend your profit

But how do you get time management in construction right the first time?

The first step is to understand everything that can go wrong.

Here are some of the most common factors that might affect your timelines: 

  • Project management and admin time can be missed from estimates
  • Delays can be caused by client approvals, decision-making and other factors
  • Employees need training, holidays and sick days as well as productive working time
  • Liaising with third parties such as suppliers or subcontractors can be time-consuming 
  • Uncontrollable events such as inclement weather or missed deliveries can also be disruptive
  • You also need to account for inspections and tests in your timelines

Infographic presenting 6 common factors that might affect project timelines

Managing your own time as a construction estimator

To get the projects on track, you first need to start at home.

You can’t get your construction projects back on track if your own to-do list is chaotic.

As a construction estimator, there’s a lot riding on you being able to produce quality estimates in good time.

Here’s how to do that: 

  • Prioritise tasks

If you’re trying to get too much done in the time you’ve got, there’s a good chance the quality of your estimates will suffer. 

One of the most important time management techniques you can adopt is to start by prioritising tasks.

By focusing on the most critical and time-sensitive tasks first, you can ensure that your estimates are completed without compromising accuracy.

In my time as a construction estimator, I’ve found that managing time effectively is essential for producing accurate estimates and meeting tight deadlines.”

  • Use the right estimating method

There are five different types of construction estimates, each involving increasing levels of detail and being designed for varying stages in the construction project. 

The first of these, for instance, a preliminary estimate, is a quick ballpark figure based on historical projects, designed to assess how feasible the project is.

If you’re going into too much detail in this estimate, you might be wasting time that could be better used elsewhere. 

Using the right level of detail in your estimate can make a huge difference in making sure you’re using your time effectively.

  • Attend workshops and training courses

Workshops and training courses on time management can also be incredibly useful.

Though this is true in any industry, effective time management as an estimator makes a huge difference to the success of your projects.

It’s vital to learn whatever tactics, tips and methods will help you produce better and faster estimates. 

Infographic presenting three steps to managing time as a construction estimator


How to better estimate project time

Keeping your projects on track isn’t just about your own to-do list.

To get it right, you also need to effectively estimate how long project tasks will take. 

Here’s one piece of advice you can have for free: Everything in construction takes far longer than you think it has any right to.

If you pull a ballpark figure out of the air of how long a kitchen will take to fit, the reality will almost certainly be longer. 

This is a well-documented phenomenon known as ‘optimism bias’, which often leads construction time estimation to be far too conservative.

Recent research confirms that moderate levels of optimism bias are common in construction projects, particularly concerning variables like project location, environmental impact and labour disputes. 

The problem is, if your budgets and timescales are too tight, you can kiss goodbye to your profit margin when the project goes off the rails.

So how do you avoid optimism bias and get your estimates right the first time? Here are some tips. 

  • Use historical data

If there’s one piece of advice you take from this article, it’s this: Historical data is your best friend.

No paying project has ever taken place in theory, so you have to consider how long real previous projects took. 

Real historical data will be much more effective at accounting for unpredictable variables like the weather, sickness or supply chain issues.

And crucially, by comparing that data to your original project estimate, you can better understand how much extra time needs to be built into future construction estimates. 

  • Track time thoroughly

Time tracking sits at the heart of effective construction schedule management. Without it, you’re flying blind.

Everybody from roofers to project managers needs to be scrupulously tracking their time.

This is so you know how long things actually take – and can build this information into future estimates. 

It’s also important to report constantly throughout the project on how your time estimates match up with reality. 

If you find out in the first week that timelines are already overrunning, there’s a good chance your construction time estimation was too conservative and you need to change tack quickly. 

Without reporting, you wouldn’t flag this mistake until much later in the process. 

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

Without communication, your job estimates are totally theoretical.

Whether it’s project owners, architects or sub-contractors, the closer your estimates are to the people doing the work, the more effective they will be. 

This isn’t just useful during the bidding stage; communication plays a big role in keeping your projects on track once they’re underway.

Bringing together the project owner, architect or engineer means you can spot potential issues much faster.

From there, you can adjust your timescales or the budgets to get the project back on track. 

It’s essential to establish clear communication channels with the project owner, architect or engineer. 

“This proactive approach helps prevent misunderstandings and ensures that everyone is working from the most up-to-date information.”

  • Danny Mitchell, Archdesk Head of Content and former Construction Estimator 

Infographic presenting three steps to better estimation of project time

Construction time estimation: The shortcut to an easy life

“In the past, I’ve made the transition from pen-and-paper methods to digital estimating software like Archdesk.

“These tools have significantly improved my efficiency by automating calculations and reducing the time spent on manual take-offs.”

  • Danny Mitchell, Archdesk Head of Content and former Construction Estimator 

We get it: Nobody is pretending that being a construction time estimator is easy.

At its best, it requires a scrupulous understanding of all the work to be done, the hours it’ll take and the labour you have available.

And when you’ve done that, you also need a hefty dose of good luck. 

But here’s the thing: However tricky time management in construction maybe – it’s still much more time and cost-efficient to get the estimate right first time.

Life is much easier when you do that.  

If you’ve made it this far, you won’t be shocked to hear how important the right technology can be. It’s not an overstatement to say it can make or break your project.

Here’s how:

  • Generating sales quotes including images, notes, T&Cs, and sending straight to the client
  • Recording and accessing real-time information on current and historical projects
  • Staying on top of your sales process with quote tracking that keeps tabs on minimal gross margins, specific payment terms or due dates

If you like the sound of that, then Archdesk could be for you.

Find out more about how it can help or book your free demol today. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

What is time management in construction 

Time management in construction is the process by which contractors ensure their projects are delivered on time. To do that, it’s important to create realistic project estimates based on historical data and constantly track workers’ time. 

How do you improve construction schedule management

To improve construction schedule management, prioritise the tasks that are most important, use the right construction estimation method and consider attending workshops on improving your time management. 

What are the best practices for time management in construction?

To achieve effective construction time estimation, make sure to track all your worker’s time, create estimates from historical job information and communicate constantly with project owners, architects and engineers. 


Headshot of Danny Mitchell, Archdesk's Head of Content Marketing

Danny Mitchell
Head of Content Marketing

From estimating to journalism to helping construction pros make the most of tech.
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2024-07-20 05:37:35