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6 Tips for Stressed Out Superintendents


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More than any other construction pro, the superintendent is the closest to a jack-of-all-trades. Besides needing to recall vast amounts of technical information at a minute’s notice, you also have to stay one minute ahead of a rapidly changing environment. Superintendents also work very long hours, under stressful conditions.

Here are 6 strategies to help you gain more control, be more productive, and feel less stressed.

1. Decide Where Your Professional Life Ends

Smartphones and tablets have extended computing away from the desktop. They allow you to be constantly connected to your job. For superintendents, this has some advantages because it puts more information at your fingertips more quickly. But, there is also a downside to 24/7 accessibility.

When you are constantly drawn away from your personal life to take care of the job, it can have negative effects on both areas of your life. One survey, reported in Forbes, found that 60% of American workers say they don’t have enough time to relax, and 38% say they work too many hours. Most supers would probably agree. And, research from the University College London found that working more than 55 hours per week increases your chances of a stroke by 33%, and makes you 13% more likely to develop coronary heart disease.

As a superintendent, you can easily fill every minute of every day with work duties. Eventually, you become less effective and you increase your chances of burnout. But, while that might work in the short-term, it’s a recipe for imbalance, with you finding yourself “progressively working more stupidly on tasks that are increasingly meaningless,” according to the Harvard Business Review.

Meanwhile, your personal life goes down the tube. So, take heed, and learn to turn off work several hours every day (not including sleep). How much you disconnect is going to depend on you, and it could require a gradual withdrawal until reaching a point where you feel balanced.

2. Stay Healthy

You can move through life more easily when you feel good. There are plenty of sources offering information on healthy diets and lifestyles. When you are healthy you can handle stress better, and you become less prone to illness. You also have more energy available for your personal and professional life.

3. Make the Job Predictable

Many superintendents would say that predictability on a construction project is an oxymoron. But, others know that's just not the case. Construction is a project, and as a project, it relies on planning and scheduling. Both activities create predictability when they are done thoroughly and accurately.

So, you don't have to be at the mercy of unpredictability. Your project schedule might initially be created by estimators, planners, and schedulers, but as you review it, you can do some things to remove unpredictability. You know how things get built. You know the strengths and weaknesses of your subs. You know the conditions of your tools and equipment.

Take that knowledge and apply it to the schedule, and you will quickly find places where other people have been far too optimistic. Look for schedule conflicts. Look for missing activities. Look for places where resources overlap. Then, do what it takes to reduce the possibility those errors will lead to chaos. If you use the same approach to other aspects of your job, you will create predictability.

4. Study Productivity

Take some time every day to consider ways to be more productive. More productive doesn't mean doing more, it means becoming more efficient at what you do. Sure that might free up time so that you could do more, but that's not the goal. Maybe, you can rearrange your daily activities so they are timed better for the current project workload.

What works for one project may not be the best for the next. Once projects are underway you have predictable highs and lows in your workload. If you regularly review the project rhythm, you can uncover ways to reduce the periods of high activity, and raise the periods of low activity so there is a more regular cycle. Try to eliminate the steep ups and downs in your work’s intensity.

5. Listen

Most people are better at output than they are at input. Speaking, telling, requesting, and asking are all very easy for people because the result often stands to benefit them. On the other hand, listening is a mixed bag of returns. So, more interactions between people breakdown due to poor listening. Because a superintendent's job is highly dependent on successful communication, it really pays off to become the best listener possible.

6. Keep Learning

New materials and new methods are constantly coming to construction jobsites. Just because all the jobs you’ve done so far used 3x5-foot cement board as a backing for stucco, doesn't mean that's the only way to install a stucco façade. Different environments, different codes, and different design requirements demand different methods and processes. Superintendents need to be well-versed in many different construction methods and materials.

Talking to subcontractors is one way to pick up information about materials and processes that are coming to the forefront. Reading industry publications and online sources can also help. And, don’t overlook the advertisements. The advertising pitched to contractors and architects is a treasure trove of new materials, methods, and new approaches to old ways of doing things.

One other important decision is to explore and use better tools. Technology is finally offering construction some new tools that fit superintendent needs. Try them, and add the ones to your tool kit that work best for you.

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