As a tradesperson, there’s a lot you’ll need to juggle – from being on the tools and travelling to jobs to completing admin and marketing yourself.
It may seem like an impossible task to tick everything off our daily to-do lists, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are plenty of steps you can take to improve your time management and increase your work output without overworking and overwhelming yourself.
1. Review Your Current Time Management
When you aim to improve your time management, the first thing to review is how you’re currently spending your time.
Look at what’s taking up a significant amount of your attention – can you reduce that in any way? Is it even all necessary?
It’s surprising how many unnecessary tasks crop up throughout the day, from too many phone calls to demanding customers. Thankfully, there are things you can do to reclaim that time.
2. Select Customers Carefully
Choose your customers wisely. We’ve all heard of cowboy builders, but cowboy customers are more common than you think, and they’re draining your resources.
Whether they’re constantly changing their minds or ringing you day and night with requests, customers like this often aren’t worth the stress, hassle or time.
3. Stick To A Schedule
Add it to your diary when you book a job and estimate how long it’ll take. If anything else comes up at that time, you will need to fit around your scheduled work or leave it for a later date.
Review your to-do list daily to remind yourself what you have planned. Knowing you have a full diary makes you less likely to take on last-minute jobs.
4. Set A Time Limit
Setting a time limit for each task is an excellent way of keeping yourself on track.
If you have a set duration to complete a task, you’re less likely to allow yourself to get distracted. But remember to be realistic when setting time limits. For example, very few tasks take “just five minutes”, so don’t give yourself too little time.
5. Add A Buffer
A buffer is a short period between each task.
If you complete the task in the time set, you’ll have time to grab a cup of tea or a snack. However, if the task takes you slightly longer than planned, it will only eat into the buffer, not the time set aside for the next thing on your to-do list.
6. Stay Organised
From the papers on your desk to the tools in your van, keeping things tidy and organised can save you significant time each day.
Set time aside to organise things once and for all. Then in the future, make a small effort to return items to their rightful home each day.
No longer will you be wasting time searching for a specific item or file. Instead, you’ll be organised and know exactly where to find things when needed.
7. Don’t Multitask
It may sound like a great way to get a lot done quickly, but it doesn’t work. Moving from one task to another and back again only results in less work being done.
It takes, on average, 15 minutes to reorientate to the primary task after a distraction (e.g. a last-minute email or phone call). (Source: Harvard Business Review)
Simon, the painter and decorator behind Property Ready, swears by keeping things simple and focusing on one job at a time.
That way, you’ll be able to give it your full attention and get it done correctly and efficiently. Then, move on to the next one.
8. Block Out Distractions
Distractions at work can be anything from chatting to colleagues for a little too long to getting engrossed in the day’s news, but mobile phones can be one of the biggest distractions people face.
Whether it’s social media platforms, texting friends or playing games, phones can be a huge distraction throughout the day. In fact, in 2021, mobile users in the UK spent an average of four hours on their phones daily. (Source: Statista)
Some of those four hours are undoubtedly necessary, like when you’re booking jobs or enquiring about materials, but the rest isn’t.
If you put your phone down, you’ll soon find you have more time on your hands.
If you’re struggling to keep up with everything, consider employing someone to take over the admin side. Having an extra pair of hands will give you more time and allow you to manage it more effectively.
Alternatively, you can use apps and software to reduce the time spent on paperwork.
@powerednow makes life easier, using the delivery service from my supplier @Williams_Co helps a lot, but also starting a job with a clear head helps not putting too much pressure on yourself to constantly please every single customer— Ryan (@WorksGas) March 21, 2022
Ryan uses Powered Now, a mobile-based app for billing, invoicing and quotes to make his life easier. And to save time, he utilises his supplier’s delivery service, which allows him to get same-day delivery of goods – perfect for getting those last-minute materials.
Similarly, Jason from Oilcanfinish uses Free Agent account software for billing, accounting, VAT and HMRC submissions. And when it comes to organising his diary and keeping documents in order, he uses Trello and Google Drive.
While it may require some expense and time to set up various apps and accounts, it’ll be worth it in the long run to improve your work-life balance.
10. Learn To Say “No.”
“It’s just a five-minute job” is a regular sentence that tradespeople hear.
Whether it’s a family member asking you to do a small job or a customer hoping you’ll squeeze in extra work, it’s taking up your time.
It’s not always easy to say no. But, if you haven’t got time in your daily schedule to do something, you can’t do it.
11. Take Breaks
It may sound counter-intuitive to take breaks to get more out of your working day, but no one works well when tired.
Research has found that, on average, a person should spend no longer than 90 minutes on a task before taking a break. (Source: HuffPost).
It’s important to give yourself time to switch off, even just for five minutes. Not only will it help to reduce stress, but when you return, you’ll be doing so refreshed and ready to take on your next project.
12. Group Similar Tasks
Grouping similar tasks will allow your brain to focus better, and you’ll get them done more efficiently.
Instead of doing small tasks as and when throughout the day, set aside a specific time each morning or evening to get them done.
David, a joiner from Lancashire, sets aside time specifically to return calls and messages after his day on the tools is over.
Try to stick to regular working hours (8-5) and then I allow a bit of time each night to returning calls and answering messages.— David (@hb_chippy) March 21, 2022
I don’t do apps so write everything down or text my tablet with details.
Saturday is book keeping night and keep it as a routine.
13. Switch Off
When working in the trades, you’ll get calls and messages at all times of the day and night. Don’t answer them immediately unless it’s an obvious emergency that you have time for.
Set a time for yourself to clock off officially. Don’t return calls/messages until you clock back in the following day.
14. Find What Works For You
What works for one person isn’t necessarily going to work for another.
For example, while apps can be great for some people, they won’t necessarily be a good idea for someone who works in places without an internet signal.
Finally, periodically review the time management systems and practices you have in place.
It’s important to remember that what’s most efficient at one time may change as your role or business evolves. And as new technologies and techniques develop, it’s essential to keep up to date and know how to utilise them for your business.
Improve Your Time Management
Improving your time management will take time and effort, but the outcome is worth it.
Increasing productivity without increasing time spent working – and potentially even decreasing it – will positively impact your life at work and home.