How to Minimize Interruptions in Your Heavy-Duty Repair Shop

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Have you ever put in a 10-hour day, but felt like you didn’t accomplish a thing? Do you ever walk into the shop and feel in your bones that you’re not going to get anything done?

You’re hardly alone. Modern technology has made it easier to multitask, take on more customers, and just do more – but it has also negatively impacted our ability to just hunker down and get work done.

To paraphrase Jason Fried, the modern repair shop has become an interruption factory. The typical manager is interrupted on average once every eight minutes. And when the interruption is over, you don’t just get back to what you were doing. It takes 25 minutes to regain your focus. By then you’ll be interrupted again!

Interruptions take on a whole new level of seriousness in a shop, where they can break a technician’s concentration and cause them to make a mistake that will result in a comeback. So not only do interruptions decrease the shop’s efficiency, they can also have a real financial cost.

It’s likely impossible to eliminate interruptions altogether, but today we’re discussing ways to help you reduce them.

Get in the Zone

According to the founders of 37 Signals, you get your best work done when you’re “in the zone.”

“When you have a long stretch when you aren’t bothered, you can get in the zone. The zone is when you are most productive. It’s when you don’t have to mindshift between various tasks. It’s when you aren’t interrupted to answer a question or look up something or send an email.”

You can avoid the brain drain and distractions that stem from shifting between tasks and get “into the zone” by setting up times you can devote to specific tasks.

Make a priority list
What do you absolutely, without a doubt, need to get done today? Move those tasks to the top of your list and get to work on them as soon as you can.

Delegate types of work.
This isn’t going to work for every shop, or even every workplace, but if you can assign certain types of work to various people, you’ll have less overall brain drain. Say one person deals with phones, while another deals with emails.

Organize your work into blocks.
We realize there’s a limit to how much you can deploy this trick, particularly if you’re working in the shop itself. But try grouping tasks of the same type together so you aren’t switching brain gears constantly. This is admittedly easier with office tasks, such as grouping all your invoicing work between 10-11 or handling cleaning between 1-2.

If you’ve got the right software in place, you can also work remotely for part of the day, eliminating some of the distractions you’d have in an office. But we’ll get into that more below.

Train Your Staff

In the Fullbay lab shop, we noticed that constant interruptions were a total productivity killer. We were designing software and running a shop simultaneously, so time was precious. We couldn’t go five minutes without a phone call, knock at the door, or someone just bursting in. And it wasn’t just us being interrupted – we were interrupting the techs and office staff, too!

Of course, some things justify an interruption. If it is truly urgent and important, you need to deal with it. But the vast majority of interruptions were neither truly urgent nor important. We felt that less urgent items could just as easily be put in an email or text message, and that way we could respond to it during a natural break in our activities.

So we trained the staff on de-escalating things that were not really urgent. The goal was to minimize interruptions for everyone, which we hoped would make us all more productive and actually decrease mistakes and comebacks.

It took some time, but eventually caught on and became part of our shop culture.

Take Care of the Back Office

Odds are your office staff needs help facing interruptions, too! They’re facing the distractions provided by the shop itself (noise; techs wandering in and out) and the distractions of a retail establishment. Your office staff probably encounters walk-in customers first – and they’re also likely answering phones, emails, and trying to manage things like payroll and billing.

Your office staff can utilize some of the strategies above to help keep themselves moving, but the following tips may also come in handy:

Limit email time.
An email pops up. You feel compelled to answer it. After all, it’s probably a customer, right? Instead of responding to every single email as it comes in, limit yourself to answering emails at, say, the beginning or end of each day. You can also stack them at the beginning or end of each hour.

By the way, this trick works for other computer-based distractions like social media (which you shouldn’t be on, anyway…aren’t you at work?).

Get noise-cancelling headphones.
The good ones are pricey, but they let your office staff block out some of the noise that comes drifting out of the repair bays. Some are Bluetooth-equipped so your office staff can go on answering phones.

Encourage breaks.
You can’t work straight through eight or 10 hours. You just can’t. Encourage everyone on your staff to take occasional breaks. Go for a walk, call a friend, or just switch over to something funny on the web.

Turn to Software

Where is the most time in a repair shop lost? When people leave their posts.

They aren’t always leaving just to mess around on social media, by the way. A tech might head over to the parts manager to place an order. The service manager might have to talk to a customer who has a question. They’re leaving their posts for perfectly legitimate reasons – heck, they’re doing their jobs – but it takes an average of 15 minutes to get back to work. That adds up to a lot of billable hours lost.

Using the right shop software can cut down on that. Good shop management software makes the following possible – and lets you reclaim that revenue:

No need for techs to leave bays.
The right software lets your techs clock into and out of a job, as well as order parts and enter notes as necessary. There’s no need for them to drift away from the job itself, which is how they end up losing time.

Parts managers can check stock instantly.
If you’ve been keeping up with inventory, then your parts manager can check on (and, if necessary) order parts quickly. No need to jump on the phone with vendors or dig up email addresses; if they do need to place an order, they can do so through the software.

Check in from anywhere.
Lots of shop owners are pretty much chained to the building because they always need to be looking in on things. The right software frees you from the back office; it keeps every job, past and present, up to date, so you can check in on how things are going from just about anywhere.

This opens the door to remote work, by the way. While it’s true that your techs need to be in the shop to make their repairs, your office staff may find that they have fewer distractions at home, and can more efficiently handle, say, paperwork and administrative business without coming into the shop.

More customer interaction.
We wanted to save the best for last.

When something happens to a truck, it can be emotionally stressful, and that emotion stays with the customer until at least they can get the problem communicated to their shop. With the repair request just a touch away on their phone, they can put it in their own words and be totally confident that the technician will read exactly what they wrote. No telephone involved.

In the Fullbay lab shop, about 80% of repeat customers adopt the online repair request. They also use the portal to check the status of repairs. All this serves to dramatically reduce the number of phone calls coming in, but actually increases the number of repair requests per customer, because submitting a request is so much easier.

Conclusion

There are some common sense steps you can take to reduce interruptions in your day, like training your staff, giving your customers an online portal, and grouping certain types of tasks together to help you “get into the zone.”

We built Fullbay to eliminate most interruptions and allow you to get into the shop, get things done, then get out and have a great life outside the shop. Request a demo today.

Jacob Findlay

About Jacob Findlay

Jacob Findlay is the CEO and co-founder of Fullbay. Five years ago, he made the leap from healthcare to truck repair. He wanted to take the best ideas from the electronic medical records world and apply them to heavy-duty repair. In other words, build a medical record for trucks. Today Fullbay is the number one fleet repair platform in North America. Jacob is a CPA licensed in Arizona, has a Master's degree in Accounting, a cellist, a so-so surfer, and the father of eight children.

Jacob Findlay on LinkedIn

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