Blog page

Three major improvements to time and materials

by Bill

Our customers love the time and materials tracking feature where SortScape prompts you to enter your time spent and materials used when marking a visit complete. You can then use this information for invoicing the customer. Our customers submit time and materials multiple times a day, every day so we want to make it easy for them to do so whether they’re sitting at a desk in an office or using a mobile device out in the field. Here are three new features that now make it easier to enter your time and materials.

1. Enter time spent on breaks

In order to track breaks, you previously had to make multiple entries for each employee. For example, if Trevor worked at a job from 9-12 and took a break from 10:30 – 10:45, he’d need to add a line for 9-10:30 and another line for 10:45-12. This could become very tedious if you had multiple employees on one job. To make it easier to account for breaks, we’ve now added a “break” dropdown where you can select the amount of time to remove from the total hours for breaks. Now you can just add one line saying Trevor worked from 9-12 with a 15 minute break.

Select the amount of break time to remove from total hours

2. Search for employee names and materials types

When adding materials used, the material type dropdown could get quite long and therefore cumbersome to use. When adding time and materials to a visit, you can now search from within the dropdown fields, making it easier to work with a long dropdown containing items with similar names. You can also search within the employee dropdown when adding hours.

Search within the dropdown fields when adding time and materials

3. Configurable start and end times

When using SortScape in the field on your mobile phone, every second of time-savings counts. That’s why we’ve now made the start and stop times configurable which lets you keep the dropdowns as short as possible. You can also set the minute interval which allows you to shorten it even further if, for example, you increase the interval from 5 to 15 minutes. The images below demonstrate how changing these settings can reduce the dropdown length.

You can fine tune this setting to get all the options you need in the list and no more.

8AM start time with 15-minute interval
7AM start time with 5-minute interval

These are just a few features we’ve added recently to make the user experience nicer and to save you time in the field. More improvements are underway so stay tuned.

Now use SortScape in any time zone

by Bill

As you may know, we started SortScape from Sydney, Australia. Naturally our first customers are all located here on the east coast of Australia so SortScape assumed that everyone was located in the Sydney / Melbourne time zone.

Recently, however, we’ve been hearing from business owners in the United States and Canada who want help running their maintenance businesses more efficiently.  (Evidently the world is much bigger than this little strip of coastline in the UTC+10:00 timezone.) Naturally we want to help them out we’ve just added the ability to custom your site’s time zone.

Now you can use SortScape no matter where your business is located. To update the time zone on your SortScape site, follow our online documentation.



Introducing the monthly schedule view

by Bill

By popular demand, we’re introducing a major new feature I was initially hesitant to add … monthly schedule view.

Why I was hesitant

When designing SortScape, we modeled it off the weekly scheduling whiteboards seen at our customers’ offices. Scheduling whiteboards are simple and great for visibility but terrible for “update-ability” and portability. SortScape takes the simplicity of the weekly whiteboard and makes it easy to update and accessible from anywhere. The last thing I wanted to do is lose this simplicity by adding unnecessary features like (I thought) the monthly view!

SortScape keeps the simplicity of the whiteboard while adding automation and portability.
SortScape takes the simplicity of a whiteboard and adds automation and portability.

“Why a monthly view?” I thought. The landscape maintenance business is so dynamic that it’s almost impossible to accurately schedule jobs months in advance. Certainly the schedule will change somewhere along the line due to sick employees, bad weather or extra work.

How I was convinced

But by talking to customers, we’ve come to learn that you value the predictability and visibility that SortScape gives you and you want even more visibility … You want to know how much business you have scheduled this month, next month and the month after that. You need to know how many staff to hire or what open slots you can fit new customers into. All of that requires you to have a 30k-foot, monthly view of your schedule, even if it’s likely to change in the future. That’s why we built the monthly schedule view.

The monthly schedule view gives you a 30k-foot view of all your upcoming jobs
The monthly schedule view gives you a 30k-foot view of all your upcoming jobs

Not your typical calendar

The monthly schedule view displays  jobs in a more compact format than the weekly and daily views. It shows just the street address and nothing else…no suburb, contact info or related issues. (Clicking on the job will give you all that info.) You can drag and drop jobs across days just like you can in the day and week views. And if you want to add a new job, simply click on a day in the monthly view and SortScape walks you through the rest.

A unique aspect of the monthly view is the statistics feature. Click on the statistics icon to view key stats for the month like how many hours of work are scheduled and whether you have enough employee hours available to do the work. This can help you with your long term planning and hiring.

monthly job statistics
Click on the statistics icon to view key stats for the month


Give it a try!

The monthly schedule view is now available for all customers. So if you’d like to get a 30k-foot view of your upcoming jobs, click on the “month” button.  And don’t forget to tell us what you think in the comments below.

Printed flyers – reaching customers in the REAL world

by Bill

SortScape landscape maintenance scheduling flyerWhen doing customer research in the process of developing SortScape I had many “AHAH!” moments. Perhaps my biggest revelation was that I live in a bubble. I spend most of my working day in front of a laptop and the remainder of my day checking my iPhone.  Naively I assumed that customers of SortScape would behave much the same way. But I was wrong.

SortScape is made for people in the real world and people in the real world don’t spend their entire day in front of a screen. They spend their day driving, doing onsite inspections and meeting with customers. Many of them don’t have laptops…they work off an iPad or mobile phone. Hell many of them don’t even have EMAIL addresses, at least email addresses that they check on a regular basis.

There are a million marketing books on how to reach customers online. But how do you capture the attention of customers who live in the real (i.e. offline) world? You can’t email them if they don’t check email! So I took he advice of my brilliant mates and followed the lead of my landscaping clients by creating this beautiful flyer. I’ll be posting it in places where people who’d benefit from SortScape are known to visit…nurseries, garden supply stores, lawn mower shops…even my local taqueria.

It’s not the most amazing creation ever put onto A4 paper but it gets the main points across. What do you think? Is it clear? Compelling? If you’re a Mac user, feel free to use the template for your own business.


How long does it take to mow a one-acre lawn?

by Bill

Whether you’re a professional landscaper looking to create a customer quote or a homeowner deciding on what kind of equipment you should buy for mowing your lawn, you’re your probably wondering the answer to this question.

We’ve heard rules of thumb like “one acre takes 5 hours to mow” or “a half acre takes an afternoon to complete.” Unfortunately, the answer is never this simple. Your neighbour might even have the same sized property as you but it might take him half the time to mow his lawn. Why is this the case?

As you can see on our online lawn mowing calculator, the time it takes to mow a 1 acre property (or property of any size for that matter) depends on a number of factors:

1. Size of property

Naturally, the time it takes to mow your lawn will largely depend on the size of your property. All other things being equal, a 1-acre property will take twice as long to service as a 1/2-acre property. Okay, that’s probably not news to you so lets move onto the next major factor.

2. Walking speed

If you’re using a walk-behind mower, the faster you walk then the less time it will naturally take to complete the job. Walking speed is largely dependent on your equipment, condition of the grass and quality required:

Equipment – Commercial mowers generally go faster than consumer-grade mowers so professional landscapers automatically have an advantage over the  here.

A consumer mower might go 2-4mph whereas a commercial mower could go up to 8-10mph.

Condition of the grass – If it’s the first time you’ve mowed in a month and the grass is really long then the mower is going to go slower as well.Extremely wet grass will also clump up and slow you down. So keep in mind that you’re not necessarily saving time by mowing less frequently!

Quality desired – Faster isn’t always better. There’s generally a trade-off between speed and quality so if you go too fast then the end result won’t be as beautiful as you’d like and you might even need to re-do a few places. Yikes!

long wet grass
Long wet grass slows your walking speed

3. Deck size

The size of your deck (i.e. the cutting-width of your mower) will also impact the time it takes to complete the job. In general the bigger the deck, the faster the job.

For example, lets assume you have two mowers that go the exact same speed. The only difference is that Mower A has a 21-inch deck and Mower B has a 42-inch deck. Mowing a perfectly flat rectangle at the same speed will take twice as long with Mower A since you need to make 2x the number of passes.

deck size time to mow lawn
Mowing a perfectly flat rectangle at the same speed will take twice as long with Mower A since you need to make 2x the number of passes.

However, not many lawns are perfectly flat rectangles. If you’re mowing a small, urban lawn with lots tight turns (we have plenty of those in Sydney) don’t expect to cut your job time in half by getting a bigger mower. In fact it might slow you down trying to manoeuvre the damn thing!

consumer vs commercial mower
Consumer mowers generally have smaller decks and therefore take more time to mow a typical yard. **

4. Efficiency

If all lawns were perfectly flat, long rectangles then you wouldn’t need to account for “efficiency” when estimating the time it takes to mow a lawn. Unfortunately, the real world isn’t so simple and you need to consider the following factors when estimating your efficiency:

  • Turning required -Turning slows you down so your efficiency goes down as the number of turns required goes up. As demonstrated above, a smaller deck will be more inefficient on a flat rectangle because it requires twice the number of turns which slow you down. Commerical-grade equipment is generally designed for faster turning than consumer-grade equipment so the pros also have an advantage here.
  • Overlap – each trip you make with the mower back and forth will entail some overlap which automatically reduces your efficiency by 10%-20%. A more experienced, professional operator will naturally be more efficient than your typical homeowner here.
  • Other factors – There may be other factors that impact your efficiency like a funkier-shaped yard or lots of trees. As you get more experienced you’ll become a better judge of what most impacts your efficiency.

Try our lawn mowing calculator!

If you’ve read this far you’ve probably gathered that estimating the time to mow a one-acre property (or any property for that matter) is more of an art than it is a science. Many of the professional landscapers and gardeners we work with won’t even give an estimate before performing an on-site inspection for this very reason….there are just too many factors that determine the amount of time required to mow and service a property.

To give at least give you SOME guidance we’ve put together this online lawn mowing calculator to get you started. We’d love your feedback so please tell us if it works for you and how we might be able to make it more useful in the future!


* wet grass photo compliments of Peter Corbett 
** lawn mower photo (right) compliments of Tim Wilson