For a contractor, nothing is worse than projects failing to progress without any good reason for the delay. Of course, there are things that are out of your control and you have to just learn to cope with those. However, there are tons of common time wasters on site that you can and should control.

Here are our tips for handling those time wasters and keeping your projects on track.


Let’s start with an easy one. Phone use on job sites (and everywhere else, basically) is a huge detriment to productivity. The solution is simple: ban them from the site. If it isn’t lunch or break time, you shouldn’t see a phone out of the car or pocket it should live in.

Warn your crew, that if you see a phone out on site, you’re going to do it school style and confiscate it until the end of the day. Alternatively, in extreme cases, you may need to threaten to dock pay for folks that simply can’t resist the bright lights of their screen. It may seem severe, but the amount of time wasted on Facebook, Instagram and a million other apps is money out of your pocket.


This one is a little trickier. The simplest solution is to not hire anyone who smokes cigarettes or ban it during the work day, but I think we all know that isn’t a great option considering the sheer number of folks who smoke these days.

What you can do is put limitations on smokers to try to minimize the impact on your schedule. You can limit smokers by the number and length of their breaks. Or tell them they get ‘X’ minutes of breaks per day and their cigarette breaks come out of that. You can and should ban smoking on site, particularly if it is an occupied site. Establish penalties for anyone caught tossing butts on the ground. Cleaning up trash that shouldn’t have been dropped in the first place is its own time waster and anyone contributing to it should be penalized.


If you haven’t had a rough experience with a sub, you’re in the fortunate minority. There are about a million and one stories of subs clashing with the main crew. There are stories of subs using tools and supplies without asking or leaving garbage around the site. Chasing your tools around the site when they’ve been borrowed without asking, finding a sudden supply shortage, or cleaning up someone else’s mess are all huge time wasters.

The solution is to have clear terms set out with any sub your bring to your site. Sometimes, subs can and should use provided supplies, but that is something that should be discussed beforehand. Regarding cleanliness on site, tell subs that they are responsible for cleaning up after themselves and have it in the contract to charge them if you have to clean up. That should resolve the issue.


There is no tedium quite like that of listening to a client drone on about a project when you really just want to get back to work on that very project. You can’t let your customers control the situation on site. Lead them to believe they are controlling the situation, but don’t actually let them.

If your clients are on site and chewing your ear off, politely tell them you need to get back to work if they want you to stay on schedule. Make it seem like you’re doing them a favor by not chatting.

Another more insidious way that clients can affect a project is by making changes to the project after it has already begun. If they decide to change things in the middle of the job, add a fee to the bill. You should make it clear in the beginning that any changes to the project after the initial agreement will lead to changes in both the price and time frame of the project.

Missing tools

As mentioned in the discussion of subs, the search for missing tools can be a huge timesuck. Whether a sub, one of your guys or you yourself are responsible, a missing tool needs to be found eventually.

To limit this time waster, you have a few options, some of which you may already be equipped for. The simplest is to stay organized by creating tool bins that can be unloaded from the van or trailer and wheeled to areas where those tools are used the most. Things should come out for use and go straight back into their place in the bin.

An option for larger tools is to bar code them and have them checked in and out when they are needed. Some barcodes include GPS locators so you know where your tools are at all times (This is a great theft prevention technique as well).

Depending on the size of your crew and your resources, you can provide tool belts to workers with the basics and make them responsible for them, financially. If they lose something, they replace it. Responsibility should limit misplacement and therefore limit the amount of time spent looking for the lost items.

Waiting to work

There is no blight to productivity like standing around waiting. Whether the crew is waiting for instructions or a delivery, it’s painful to watch money go down the drain.

But this is all in your hands.

Make contact information and scheduling available for all deliveries. Post a laminated list of important telephone numbers in a key location. A crew member can call a delivery person, for example, if the delivery doesn’t arrive by a specified time or call you or the foreman for instructions.

You can also post a schedule with assigned tasks so no one needs to wait for you in the morning to get started. You should rotate the least desirable tasks among the crew and have a list of “filler” tasks, as well (cleaning up, pulling nails, etc.) in the event of late deliveries or weather limitations.

Poor planning

And now the worst one. The worst because it is so easily preventable. Skipped stepped, forgotten supplies or tools, a miscut tile or lumber, an underestimated supply need… All of these are unnecessary screw ups that can pile delays and huge costs onto your project.

Luckily, that means that they are easily avoided, too. I once heard a GC say, “We should be able to get this done today if we don’t hurry” and I think that about sums it up. Take your time. Measure twice and cut once. Order 20% more than you think you need. Be smart.