The fenestration industry continues to come under pressure from very high demand from the general public as spending due to lockdowns has switched people’s priorities to invest in their homes.
Whilst it’s great there is so much work in front of us, it’s also causing a massive impact on our mental health. The pandemic has driven this demand, but it has also cut off the ways we relax in normal times. High demand is set to remain for a while yet, and we must not sacrifice our physical and mental health in the pursuit of a bit of extra cash.
These are my ten ways to help manage your workload and cope with stress over the past year or so. I’m speaking here from personal experience and in business. I also want to reiterate I am not a mental health professional, but simply speaking from a position of learning during the pandemic.
1. Manage expectations
Whether it’s getting quotes out to customers, long fitting schedules or extended lead times from fabricators to installers, managing the expectations of the customer ensures that they know to expect to wait longer than normal. This saves you the stressful emails and phone calls with customers wondering what’s going on and pushing for dates.
The last thing you need with a million things to do is to have to deal with disgruntled customers. So be honest and explain that everything is taking longer than normal. Honesty is the best policy on this one.
This one is easier said than done, especially with a mountain of work to get through. I’m also guilty of not following this point myself anywhere near enough. But, you must get enough sleep on a night.
You have to be able to function the next morning, so you need to get enough sleep to wake up feeling rested. When you’re tired you don’t focus as well. Concentrating is harder. Mistakes can be made. Less work gets done. As tempting as it can be to write that last email or work out one last quote before bed if it’s 11pm put it away and do it in the morning. You’ll be no good to anyone sat glazed over not concentrating properly on the job at hand.
3. Plan, plan, plan
Whether it is fitting schedules, blog posts, deliveries, manufacturing, planning is the key to making sure everything works smoothly. Carrying out tasks in a scattergun approach isn’t organised and can leave that pile of work to only get bigger.
Prioritise the work. Tackle the most pressing matters first then work on the tasks that have less immediate deadlines. It’s easy to look at a stack of work and be overwhelmed by how much there is. I have done it myself plenty of times. You get so stressed out about it that you can’t focus and the work actually builds further rather than reduces.
If you prefer pen and paper write your list of things to do down in priority order. If you’re saving the planet, download a notes app or use the Microsoft To-Do app and make lists. If you want to be super organised and delegate work to other members of staff and keep track of progress use apps like Onsite 7 which is a workflow CRM that lets you track all your clients and review at what stage they’re at with you. A great one for installers.
4. Eat well
This is another one I am trying to be better at. We all know the excuses when it comes to crap food. The “I’m too busy to cook, I can order in and get more work done”. By which time you’ve ordered a pizza or a curry, stuffed your face and then you feel like s**t laid on the sofa not actually doing anything and feeling even more lethargic than two hours earlier.
Diet is such an important part of our daily lives and it affects how we work. Consider your body as an engine. What you put in determines how well you function. So try and keep it healthy, at least during the week. Allow yourself a treat at the weekend though, it keeps you motivated!
5. Extend your own lead times in high demand periods
The public right now is still very understanding of the situation we’re all in. Don’t hold yourself to lead times that we were all previously working to in pre-pandemic days. Doors in three days were never really that important in the grand scheme of things anyway.
Explain to customers that the ongoing situation with the supply chain and continued high demand means that the turnaround time on much of what we do is a lot longer than normal. My experience over the last 10 months is that when you explain this to clients almost all are very understanding and are happy to wait as long as it takes.
6. Accept what you cannot control
A large part of stress at the moment is caused by frustration at things happening around us. Late deliveries, missing products, longer lead times, price increases etc. Many of these are down to the circumstances we are in, and most of which we have absolutely no control over.
Spend less time dwelling on the things you cannot control and focus more time on the things you can. Get the extra quote done. Expand your own marketing. Knock off a couple more remedial calls. Get the work done that you can accept that something you can’t do much about and that you’ll move on to that next task when you have everything in place to do so. Stressing about something you can do nothing about is not productive.
7. Be more selective
If you’re an installer and you feel like you’re overselling beyond what you can cope with, start being picky with what work you want to take on. It’s great that millions of homeowners have decided to invest in their homes. It’s great that many want to buy new windows and doors. But the industry was never prepared for the insane rise in demand that we have experienced and it’s causing problems.
So, manage your own workload and schedules and start choosing the work you want to take on and politely wave off the work you don’t. Time is even more precious than it was before. Spend it on the work you want actually want to do and do for good margins as well.
8. Break up your routine
Get up. Go to work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Does that sound familiar? Many of us are stuck in this routine right now as high demand is forcing us to work as much as we can, including weekends, in desperate attempts to keep our heads above water. But it’s not good for your mental health and can lead to serious burnout, fatigue and potentially depression.
It’s important to find things to break up that routine. Do something different on an evening rather than looking at your screen at quotes. It doesn’t have to be something spectacular. It could be having some time on the PS4 or sitting outside (when it’s warm enough or if you have a fire pit) to have a beer and appreciate your surroundings. I’d also say make time on the weekends for you. We can’t do much right now on a weekend because everything is closed, and Sundays do not feel very much like Wednesday if you’re working. But try and find time not to work. It really does help to refresh and focus on the week ahead.
9. Utilise software
Streamlining your business would be wise right now. There is now a large and growing selection of apps and software available for companies in this sector to make things a bit easier. I mentioned Onsite 7 above for installers wanting to organise their work better internally. You also have options such as BM Touch and Tommy Trinder when it comes to working out prices quickly.
There are other bits of tech you can use as well to make life simpler and quicker. Canva is a great (and free) graphic design tool to help create images, GIFs and videos for your marketing. Start looking at tracking software for your deliveries.
Essentially, automate what you can to save time and free yourself to focus on more important things.
This is perhaps the most important one. Speak to someone.
Our industry has been focused solely on work for the past year, going from worrying about coming back to no work after the first lockdown, to having way too much to be able to cope with afterwards. It has put immense strain on us all, and our mental health has been suffering as a result. Lockdown hasn’t helped as the usual ways of blowing off steam are closed. But with demand set to remain high for a while yet, we have to find ways to be able to cope with work pressures.
We have to talk to each other. Reach out to ones we trust to unload what we’re worried or frustrated about. Communicate what you’re going through and build a community to lean on for help when you need it.
It’s great that we have all this business to go at. It’s great to have such high demand. But speaking with installer friends of mine, the novelty of being this busy for so long wore off a long time ago. I see on social media people saying “make hay” etc. I get that, but we have been saying that for a while and the industry has not been able to scale up at all to take the pressure off. There is no point in doing all this work if we’re killing ourselves in the process. It’s not worth it, and I don’t think saying “make hay” is all that useful, especially to those who are struggling to cope mentally.
These are my tips for managing your workload, high demand and stress levels. I want to make clear I am no mental health expert, but have simply learned during this last year or so what can be done to relieve the stress levels a little when needed. I also want to say that if anyone out there is struggling, bored, numb and feeling directionless at the moment, you’re not alone and you are more than welcome to reach out to me and tell me what has been going on.
If you need someone to talk to, are suffering with mental health and you feel you need help, speak to Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/
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