Time management

Follow these proven tips on planning your schedule to earn more money.

This is excerpted from the Overdrive 2008 Partners in Business manual for owner-operators. The next Partners in Business seminar will be held 2-4 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas. To order a manual, call (800) 633-5953, ext. 1301. Visit www.PIBlive.com for more excerpts and information. The seminars and the manual are brought to you by Overdrive, ATBS and Castrol.

Successful owner-operators know that simply running hard is not enough. If it were that easy, anyone could do the job and expect the profits to roll in. Skill and understanding are required to make the most of your investment in your equipment and the time you spend on the job.

Understand that it pays to slow down and that there is a trade-off in higher costs, not to mention the increased risk, for driving fast. If driving slower takes some time away from you, there are ways of managing your time to get some of it back.

For example, you can take vacation time or plan major work on your tractor during the first week or two weeks of the quarter (early January, April, July and October). Never take time off during the last two weeks of the quarter (or the last week of the month) when freight is most abundant.

Every day you aren’t on the job will cost you about $100 in fixed expenses. Sometimes it works to your advantage to look for loads that take you “through” home rather than “to” home. The latter can interrupt your revenue stream and require additional time to get back up to full speed again.

The owner-operator has to look at time off differently from the company driver. If a company driver takes a week off, he loses only the opportunity to make a weekly paycheck. But if an owner-operator takes a week off, he has fixed expenses that cost him money, along with the opportunity to make a paycheck. When he returns to work, he not only has to replace the lost income, he must quickly cover the fixed expenses that were spent during his time off.

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For example, based on the fact that an owner-operator’s fixed costs are $100 per day, seven days off would cost $700 in payments that still have to be made.

Schedule dental, medical and other appointments on Saturday when possible. It is too expensive to see the dentist or doctor on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, when you are more likely to have good miles to run. Taking time off in the middle of the week interrupts your revenue stream, and getting back up to speed takes additional time.

After taking time off, plan your return to work as soon as possible and early in the day. Be ready to pick up a load by the busiest time of the week – Friday morning – and let your dispatcher know ahead of time when you will be available.

Above, example A shows how cost per mile is lowered with good time management, while Example B shows the reduction in profit to be expected when time is not used as effectively. The extra two days in Example B cost 7.5 cents per mile more to travel the same distance. If this happened every week, it would cost the driver $10,400 annually.

Make the most of your waiting time, such as while loading or unloading, getting your truck washes, stopping at the scale house, etc.

Take care of your rig:

  • Check your tires.
  • Check your lights and clean your windows.
  • Review maintenance records.

Take care of yourself:

  • Take a walk if you can leave the rig or do stretches or exercises in the cab.
  • Answer mail, write letters, pay bills, read.

Plan ahead:

  • Wipe off reflective tape while waiting or while doing a pre-trip. You’ll be more visible and invite fewer inspections.
  • Organize any clutter. A messy dash board is an open invitation to be inspected at the scales or port of entry.
  • Update your log book, especially the recap.


  • Deliver on time. If you deliver late, the consignee may assign your dock door to another driver and put you last on the list. Delivering 15 minutes late can cost a whole day or even an entire weekend.
  • Deliver as early in the day as possible so that you have a cushion of time to get dispatched onto your next load. On appointment loads, deliver 30 minutes early. An empty trailer gives you plenty of options but a load sitting on your trailer gives you only one option – waiting to deliver.
  • Get the most possible miles during a weekend to make the most of your time. Match your miles with the time you have available to drive. Plan out Friday morning what you will do for the next three days.
  • You have to manage the cost of fuel and fuel taxes, as well as the cost of time to fuel, which usually is about 45 minutes per stop. The typical owner-operator carries 200 gallons of fuel or more, but buys only 100 gallons at a time. Often it saves time to put 175 gallons in the tanks instead of continually topping off with 100 gallons or less.
  • Plan your trip and work out the timing in advance to get the most from your time. Ask for directions to every stop, or use mapping software such as Rand McNally’s Route Tools or the website www.truckpilot.com.
  • Winter weather requires earlier departures. Leaving late gives you no time to recover from an unexpected storm. It also is the major reason for service failures – such as running out of hours on the morning of a delivery.
  • It may be better to deadhead than lay over. The time and money lost to a layover can almost never be made up because your daily fixed expense is spent whether your truck moves or not. If the deadhead can get you to a good load within the next 24 hours, it might make sense.
  • Don’t surprise your fleet manager. Keep him or her informed of every detail that affects service and your schedule. If you are running ahead of schedule, find out if the appointment can be moved up and if other opportunities are available. Set a personal and reasonable goal each week for the miles you want to run and tell your fleet manager.

Smart owner-operators make every single week as profitable as possible. To do so, look at the advantages and disadvantages of every day of the week.

  • Match trip length to the optimum day of the week.
  • Plan to deliver on the day you have the best opportunity of getting a load.
  • Plan to drive under a load on days when it typically is more difficult to get a load.

Your plan will vary depending on the weekly delivery/flow cycle of your region, typical length of haul, personal requirements and other factors. The needs of customers and dispatch have to be considered and often will determine how your time is used. What’s important is to have a specific weekly plan that helps you be successful.

It’s like getting in an extra day if you can pick up or deliver on Sunday, since this typically isn’t a day for either task. Being able to make the most of Sunday gives you a good head start on the week and can reduce the time pressure you may encounter later.

Profitable owner-operators deliver on Monday. Why? Because delivering the first load of the week on Monday lets you start your week with miles already generated and leaves time to be profitable during the rest of the week. There are more load opportunities on Monday than on Tuesday. Leaving home on Monday – vs. delivering your first load – means you are a “day late” in your drive to be profitable.

Unless it’s a 2,000-mile trip, delivering the first load of the week on Tuesday means the week usually won’t be profitable. This is the day to take a good look at how many miles you have and how many more you need to have a profitable week.

It’s hump day, the middle of the workweek. By now, approximately half of your gross revenue for the week already should be in hand. The other half of your gross revenue should be generated by Saturday to be profitable for the week.

This can be the make-or-break day of the week. A load picked up on Thursday should either be short enough (less than 600 miles) to deliver on Friday, or it should provide enough miles (at least 1,600) to carry you through the weekend. Ideally, try to average around 550-600 miles per day for the trip, although on Thursday it’s almost always better to take a 350-mile trip and deliver it on Friday. Turning down a short run just because it would mean laying over until Friday is an expensive mistake. A 350-mile load may be the one that can make the whole week profitable.

This usually is the best day of the week for freight. Being under a load with the longest possible miles during the weekend will make the best use of your time. Make the next week profitable by delivering Monday (unless the trip is short enough to deliver on Saturday or Sunday, or long enough to deliver on Tuesday).

The week is complete, and your work and planning should have resulted in a profitable operation. But like Sunday, Saturday is an extra day if you can pick up or deliver a load.