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This efficient recordkeeping system keeps all job-related paperwork in one place on site Without a way to organize the paperwork that tends to accumulate at the job site, it’s impossible to find what you need when you need it. On my first few jobs, the client’s name went on an overstuffed file folder that lived on the passenger seat of my truck, often till months after the job was complete. Like most tools, however, the paperwork got sharper with experience. These days I work as a project manager handling several jobs at any one time. To keep all the records straight, I use a separate, three-ring binder for each job. All paperwork relating directly to the construction process is organized into ten standardized sections, and the notebook stays on site where the crew and I – and the homeowners – use it every day. When the job is completed, the notebook goes onto a shelf in my office for quick reference. The ten sections can easily be modified to meet the unique requirements of any construction company or of a particular job, but I’ve deliberately designed the organizational scheme to follow the order of construction. The simplicity of the notebook increases the likelihood that it will be used, and to be effective it must be accessible and concise.

Office Supplies

The forms I use for the job-site notebook are all readily available, either at stationery stores or by mail order. Here are the sources I use to build each notebook for as little as $10:

Three-ring binder and columnar pads:

Wilson Jones Company (ACCO Brands, 300 Tower Pkwy., Lincolnshire, IL 60609; 800/222-6462). I equip every binder with a low-profile three-ring hole punch that can be clipped to the binder rings.

Notebook tabs:

10-Tabs Ready Index, Avery Dennison Office Products (P.O. Box 129, Brea, CA 92822; 800/462-8379; www.avery.com). The tabs and table of contents can be customized with a set of labels you specify using Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect.

Blank paper calendars:

The At-A-Glance Group (101 Oneil Rd., Sidney, NY 13838; 607/563-9411).

Computer-generated calendars:

Calendar, Expert Software (802 Douglas Rd., North Tower, Suite 600, Coral Gables, FL 33134; 305/567-9990; www.expertsoftware.com). Calendar Creator version 5.0, Creative Office (The Learning Company, One Athenaeum St., Cambridge, MA 02142; 617/494-1200; www.learningco.com).

General construction forms:

Construction Forms and Contracts, The Craftsman Book Company (P.O. Box 6500, Carlsbad, CA 92018; 800/829-8123; www.craftsman-book.com). This book includes 125 customizable forms (the forms are also provided on a floppy disk).

1. Job Schedule

Section 1 contains the "First Contact" sheet and the job schedule. I create the single-page contact sheet on a spreadsheet, then print it onto letterhead (). The basic information is filled out in the office and added to later as necessary in the field. It includes client contact information, a brief description of the project, plus the start and finish dates. The names and numbers of all subcontractors are also recorded here, along with contact information for the designer or architect, if applicable. Depending on the job, this sheet also includes a list of required inspections, the names of the inspectors, and the dates they’ll be at the site. There’s also a place to make notes about site access and security, use of the owner’s utilities, and other owner concerns, like child safety and pets. This section of the notebook also contains the master schedule (). I fill this out by hand on a preprinted 8-1/2x11-inch blank calendar (see "Office Supplies"). Depending on the type of work you do, you might prefer to use a Gantt chart or a CPM flowchart, but the schedule should be simple enough so that anyone at the site can use it. If the foreman is not at the job, the lead carpenter should be able to use the schedule to keep the job on track. I find it helpful to think of the schedule as the by-product of the initial takeoff and estimate worksheets, which are organized by construction category. To keep the schedule simple, use just enough categories to give you a clear picture of each phase of the project without cluttering its overall scope. Then insert subcontractors, inspections, and holidays into each phase to create the schedule sequence.

2. Daily Job Log

Section 2 holds the Daily Job Log, which is used to track job progress (). The backbone of the notebook, the job log provides both an outline of the day’s work and a detailed list of work done to date. It is filled out every evening and consulted every morning by the job foreman. While the job log should contain all necessary details, it should be limited to one page. This ensures that it will get used properly and also makes it much easier to scan for critical information. Like the contact sheet, the job log can be created on a spreadsheet, then printed out or copied as required. At the top of each sheet is a place to record the job name and date – simple but essential information when trying to piece together a chain of events after the fact. The core of the job log is the list of tasks planned for that day, the time allotted to complete the work, and the names of the crew or subcontractors who will do the work. Items on this task list often carry over to the next day or week, depending on the scope of the job. The job log is also the place to list calls to be made, materials needed (often projected several days in advance), and suppliers scheduled for deliveries. A separate section lists subcontractors scheduled to appear at the site, either that day or in the near future, along with any notes about lead times or unresolved questions that need clarification. Every job log sheet stays in the notebook for the duration of the project. I like to "dog-ear" the top right-hand corner of the current page at the end of the day so the day and date for the next day show in the corner. When I visit the site the next morning, I spend the first cup of coffee with the crew reviewing the tasks for that day.

3. Time Sheets

Employees fill out their own time sheets, breaking down individual tasks into construction categories and recording the hours spent doing the work. At the end of each week, I collect the time sheets and enter the data by hand onto a master sheet. Back in the office, I transfer this information to a spreadsheet, which calculates all of the totals, then I print out a summary report for the notebook ( This procedure could be modified depending on how your company is organized. For example, the foreman could collect the time sheets and fill out the master sheet by hand on site using a columnar pad like those used for accounting. Regardless of how you enter the data, the key point is to record labor hours by construction category for accurate cost tracking.

4. Subcontractors

The cover sheet for this section lists all subcontractors involved in the project, along with their phone and fax numbers, and mailing addresses. A copy of each subcontractor’s proposal is filed in this section, as well as a copy of the subcontractor agreement. Subcontractors are also given a separate schedule showing just their work, and a copy of that also goes into this section of the notebook. On big jobs, this section can be further subdivided by subcontractor. The point of having so much information about subs on hand is to be able to clarify any misunderstandings or discrepancies in the field without going back to or calling the office. This saves time, energy, and money.