Two lessons, more than two bricks.

I am a shitty estimator.

It’s important to know your weaknesses.

For example, we had a brick patio in the back yard that led up to a wooden deck. I estimated I could tear the whole thing out and replace it in a couple of weekends.

My husband laughed.

Now it’s important to note that he is absolutely not the handy one in the house. I own the tools, I use them. Most importantly, I’m allowed to go stand in 95° heat with 90% humidity, while he, with various medical conditions, is not.

So when I say “I can tear down…” I do mean “I”. There’s no help here, there’s no mouse in my pocket.

Compromise and communication are key in big projects. I compromised; we hired a contractor to tear down and replace the deck. But the contractor didn’t do hardscaping, so either we had to tear out the patio or pay someone else to do it.

I figured I could tear out the patio and save us some money. There were what? A couple hundred bricks? I could probably tear them all out in a weekend or two, even if my two Jack Russel Terriers insisted on “helping”. We had all summer before the deck replacement was scheduled.

Since the Terrier Dirt Relocation Committee had already dug out under the vinyl fence twice this summer, I decided that I could tear out all the bricks and use them to line the fence and save us both fencing costs and brick removal costs by doing it myself.

And I estimated poorly.

Kaylee explores the brickwork
Kaylee explores the brickwork

After two hot summer weekends of pulling bricks, piling them in a garden cart, then lining them up under the fence edge, I had fully secured the yard’s perimeter… and removed approximately 1/3 of the bricks.

And then one Friday afternoon I realized that hey, the deck folks were going to be here in 10 days and I still had 2/3 of a patio.

So I moved the wood pile in the back yard. I built it a brick base, put the wood back in the pile, and constructed a brick wall around it to keep certain vole-chasing terriers from climbing it.

That left me with half a patio. And sore arms. And a half-laughing, half-concerned husband.

The next seven days after that are a blur of 97° heat with indexes over 110, bottles of water, and trips back and forth from the patio to the rapidly-growing stack of bricks near the wood pile. And picking up bricks, and setting down bricks. And throwing the ball for the Terrier Amusement Team, who firmly believed they were training me to be a better hunter. And did I mention the bricks?

Finally at one point 3/4 of the way through the project I said, “I wonder how many bricks this actually is,” and I counted.

Lesson one: Some projects we would never take on if we knew how many bricks we had.

My patio was 98 paving long by 38 bricks wide. That’s 3,724 bricks. They weighed in at 6lbs per brick. That’s just over 22,000 lbs of bricks, or 11 tons.

By the time I estimated the size of the project, I had already been hit by 8 tons of bricks. And I had 3 tons to go.

So on one hand, I had proven what I already knew about myself: shitty estimator. And this is absolutely not the approach that I would take on a project for work or for someone else.

Estimating is a key skill, which is why I have a very accurate formula for estimating the size of a design project at work:

  • Estimate the size of the project.
  • Double it because that’s how estimates work.
  • Double it again because you’re shitty at estimating and you know it.
  • Double it again if the people who never give you content on time are involved.
  • Double it again if the people who always fight every good decision that wasn’t theirs are involved.
  • Double it one more time if your gut says there are issues you haven’t accounted for yet.

This formula has never let me down. I’ve delivered the vast majority of my projects within three days of my estimates, without dragging my feet, and without working too many insane hours.

My formula for estimating bricks—eeh, how bad could it be? a couple hundred?—was not so reliable.


Lesson two: Sometimes it pays to be stubborn.

By the time I estimated the bricks, I was well on my way to being done. I was averaging a ton of bricks a night after work (thought I didn’t know it at the time) and I had a few days left.

I will not pretend that when I stared at the calculator on my phone and its happy estimate that I had three tons of bricks left to move I didn’t feel the full weight of the eight tons of bricks I’d already moved on my shoulders.

But then I realized I’d already moved 3/4 of the bricks, which proved I could move 8 tons of bricks. Compared to 8 tons, 3 tons is pretty small. Tiny even. (This is the same logic that gets me through mile 10-13 of a half marathon.)

If I moved all these bricks, I could say with my head held high that I had personally moved 11 tons of bricks this summer. A woman who moves 11 tons of bricks by herself has no need to take shit from anybody about anything. That’s an impressive number. That’s power.

That’s stubbornness.

Extreme stubbornness is moving the rest of the bricks the same night because Dammit. I. Am. Sick. Of. Moving. These. Bricks.

Which I also did. Because bricks.

I should have estimated the project accurately before I started. It wasn’t a good decision to take on 11 tons of bricks by myself, and if I had gotten hurt it would have put both the patio and deck projects at risk.

Even after my horrible estimation and the doubly-horrible weather,  I set out to do a difficult thing, and I did it, with no help, in adverse conditions. Hard work is a thing to be proud of, and I’m proud of both my work and the stubbornness that carried me through to the end.

But a good estimate? A good estimate is a better tool than two hands and a garden cart.

Author: Anne Gibson

anne gibson is a Senior Staff Product Designer and General Troublemaker working on design systems from outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She's an editor and writer at The Interconnected. She is also published at A List Apart and The Pastry Box, and publishes short fiction when she's not persuading the terriers to stop wrecking things. (The terriers are winning.)