I think it’s safe to say the past twelve months have been the strangest twelve months any one has ever experienced, we could talk about all the things we have to do differently now compared to a year ago but I think we’re all pretty fed up of it by now and we just want things to go back to how they were (obviously with improvements we have learnt along the way.) What I do want to talk about is how things have changed internally for the business, I promise not to mention how tough it has been with restrictions, getting materials and receiving a level of service from suppliers that we would be used to so don’t worry.
Apart from the couple of months last spring where we were furloughed we haven’t really had a minute, we have enjoyed plenty of orders with an often steady but sometimes manic workload, the enquirers have been plentiful and have been keeping me extremely busy and out of trouble. Juggling everything has been a challenge especially with Paula being forced to work from home, but with developing new systems and implementing processes that I have learnt really have paid off. Some of them are a little weird but there is method to my madness. A couple of years ago I went with the advice of Simon Goodman, our IT expert from Beyond Beige to update our operating systems to Office 365, I am always a little reluctant to spend money on things that don’t appear to help make life easier in the workshop but I took a gamble and I think it is one of the best things I have done. Having this system helped communication over the past year between Paula, Danny and myself so much easier than it would have been before. With Paula working from home, myself either at home, on the road or on site and Danny in the workshop we were able to stay in touch much more efficiently and with my laptop and OneDrive from Office 365 I could pretty much be in the office anywhere I had a mobile signal.
This may all seem old hat to some of you who work in an office, but you have to remember the construction industry is quite backwards in many ways. I am thankful for this in some ways, for example we don’t have the buzz word bull s**t to contend with or the politics you may have in an office, however I feel we are being forced to catch up, which is great as at the start of lockdown I didn’t have a webcam or know what zoom or teams was, my opinion on video calling was quite naive, I felt it should be for overseas meetings or other forms of long distance, nothing could replace face to face. My opinion has changed, why should we meet face to face?? Granted, in our line of work we have to physically see the location we are installing into, but why should I have to trek across the country to a building site that hasn’t got a roof on yet (so there is nothing for me to see or measure) just to meet a QS or site manager for an hour so we can agree dates that are very likely to change because the large number of trades before us will be late??? Wouldn’t it be better to do its virtually? By doing this I gain extra time to do my work as I won’t be travelling to and from the site, the impact on the environment will be less as I wouldn’t be driving here there and everywhere and with the options to screen share I’d be in my office where I have access to all information if required. An all round better solution. We are finally coming out of the dark ages, I just hope the lessons learned can continue, however I somehow doubt it as there is still very much a culture of “that’s how we’ve always done it”.
One other thing I found has helped massively, is the use of Excel, I know, I know!! I’m late to the party, to be honest I didn’t even know there was a party, I didn’t even know Excel could calculate stuff up!! Turns out it does a whole lot more! So I watched some you tube videos and learnt how to build spreadsheets, with the help of a very helpful chap I was able to build a spreadsheet to help me price jobs up. We have been so reliant on paper that I never ever dreamed I would be pricing this way. The old man taught me to get a piece of A4 paper, draw a line down the side, write your materials on the left and your numbers on the right and add it all up, It can’t fail………. Turns out it can with me. My head is a sieve. I forget EVERYTHING!! My only excuse is I have so much going on up there I can’t possibly be expected to remember it all……. Haha. Turns out Office 365 helps with that too……. more on that later. I’d forget materials, I’d forget fittings and fixtures, so with a long list of materials we use all written down with the cost next to it, I couldn’t forget about it, it was there in black and white! Because of this, pricing has been more accurate and I have been able to track costings and prices much more easily.
I think its fair to say I got the bug, I then built job record sheets, enquiry record sheets, Job sheets and enquiry sheets. All on one drive so they can be accessed anywhere, making us much more efficient and professional. I can now cross reference how a job is doing at home, I can also amend the cost of a material on a quote on site and get back to the client immediately to ensure we win the job! It really has upped our game!!! Again it’s probably all old news for some of you, but we have been focusing on our workshop practices and these things have passed us by, when lockdown came that stopped and I was attracted by the IT side of things, I’ve learnt valuable lessons and I am now more proactive in my learning of how it can develop us as a business.
I used to think working from home was code for a holiday. How could anyone be productive at home? I used to try and do it when I was poorly. Well, I’d try, I’d try and I’d fail. But turns out I was doing it wrong. I’d take my files home and I’d sit at the kitchen side and use my phones calculator to add up figures and then I’d write on the wrong type of pad because I had left everything at the office that I actually needed. It wasn’t until lockdown where I discovered you need to replicate the environment you associate with work. So, I turned my little box room into an office, I knocked up a desk and bought an office chair, a decent laptop, monitor, mouse, keyboard and calculator. I was amazed at what i would get done. Using Microsoft To Do (another tool I’ve learnt how to use – more on lists later) I would set out what I needed to do that day and get cracking, but before I knew it I’d done it all by midday! I couldn’t believe it! No more distractions, no more excuses like: “Oh damn it, I’ve left that file at the office, I’ll do it another day….” I had everything literally at my finger tips, I was able to do my list and more and now if I have a massive workload such as drawings or pricing, I lock myself away and get cracking! I have since decorated my home office with a cool world map wallpaper, (I love maps) My collection of signed Bond posters (I love James Bond) and have fitted a lovely Marmoleum top (please enquire if you would like me to quote you for one) and bought a nice lamp and clock! I love it! I love it more than my actual office, which I now HATE!!!! But Paula and I are getting a new one in Unit 4 soon, so no worries there! You can bank on me using everything I’ve learnt to make productivity a priority in the new office.
I read a book……. Didn’t know I could read did ya!? Well I did and it was an eye opener! How to be a productivity Ninja by Graham Alcott taught me many things, one of them being how to organise your attention. I learnt that we are humans and not machines. In the past I’d feel guilty for not feeling like quoting or drawing, I’d feel lazy. turns out it’s normal, turns out our energy levels dictate our attention, and we have to figure out when we operate best. I’m no morning person, I am better than I was but I seriously Bl***y hate mornings! Anyone who says it’ll be alright in the morning is wrong in my opinion. It physically hurts to wake up and I need about an hour or two of quiet time before my brain starts working and I can figure stuff out. This isn’t exactly ideal for the guys when they have questions for me early on, but they know this and they are respectful, for which I am grateful. Once that one to two hours of quiet time is over, that is when I shine, from around 8 am till 11 am I am on fire (usually). I get the most done in those three hours than I do all day, so now thanks to the book, I know it’s OK to save the important stuff for then and save the not so critical stuff for the afternoon. It doesn’t always work this way but when it does I feel more confident with what I have produced.
To organise all this I use my second brain, which is Outlook or Microsoft To Do! In these programs I write down everything! My home lists, my work lists, my holiday lists (When we are allowed to go on holiday that is) and my birthday list! I start out every day by using the lists to set out my goals of the day. I used to have a jotter pad with everything on it that I needed to do. This method pretty much worked for many years but I found it stressed me out seeing lots of items that I needed to do, lots of stuff not ticked off. What my brain couldn’t differentiate between at a glance was what items were urgent and what wasn’t, everything would go on the list that I needed to remember. Stuff that had such a long deadline that I’d write them out 4 times on separate lists because I had ran out of space on the previous. Things are different now, I have a master list and a day list, before I do anything I transfer my tasks of the day into my day list, trying not to be too ambitious because I know that something will come along to derail the list/plan of the day, so best to allocate some time to that! The derailment usually comes in a form of an email. I NEVER check my emails first thing, I set my tasks for the day and get cracking, I never get email notifications on my phone, I turned them off 4 years ago. I also manually click ‘send and receive’ when I want to see if I have new mail. Sounds weird I guess, but I don’t want to be a slave to it because the last thing I want when I am calculating a price for a new nurse base or setting out jigs for some complex item we have to make is seeing an email that distracts my attention. I make mistakes, quite a few as it turns out. Like I said before my brain is a sieve, I forget stuff. But I forget a lot more stuff when I get distracted, emails distract me so I now control when I see them. So I set time aside when I have finished my tasks to check them and file them away to where they need to be. At the end of the day, if its urgent, they’ll call!
I keep saying it but this all may sound like old news to those of you who work in an office or that kind of industry, your’e probably thinking ‘jeez whitey keep up with the times!’ To be honest I wish I’d have found all this out sooner. I wish I’d known the powers of Excel, what a proper structure of a list could do for your head space and just how much more you can get done when emails aren’t flying at you every second of every day. If any of you have any methods or systems you think might help, send them over, I’d be glad to know about them!
The truth is, none of this builds cabinets, none of it speeds up the manufacture process or helps maintain our high quality finish. But does it help us win more work? Probably, in some ways. If it helps me be more efficient and accurate with quoting then that is going to be a massive help to us for winning work. If it helps me organise myself better to spend more quality attention on projects then this is will ultimately help us to provide a better service to our clients.
I definitely feel that these last twelve months have given us opportunities to challenge how we work, it’s allowed us to question the best way of doing the things we do and to completely remove “that’s how we’ve always done it” from our vocabulary. Going forward I hope to keep doing the things that help the team create their best work, sometimes I will have restrictions, money is usually always the one obstacle, but we’ll try our best.
Have a great Weekend.