One of the keys to running a successful heavy duty repair shop is effective planning. This can range from daily and weekly planning, to tracking preventive maintenance for customers, which will take your shop to another level. (He who controls the PMs, controls the repairs.) Planning helps you get ahead of the day to day. To move from being constantly reactive, to more proactive.
Benjamin Franklin said “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Those words were never truer than in a diesel repair shop. Don’t plan to fail.
A common complaint of those who resist planning is that it’s just too restrictive. Days are too unpredictable, they say, and I don’t want to lock myself into something. You’ll notice that those same people are the ones constantly trying to keep their head above the water. When they finally recover from one unexpected hit, WHOOSH, another wave crashes over their head.
The reality is that if you want real freedom, real flexibility, you get scheduled. If you want to just cry about it all the time, and live from crisis to crisis, don’t plan.
Urgent & Important
Planning boils down to a battle between what’s urgent (and may or may not be important), and what’s important but not urgent. What’s in our face is urgent by nature, and may or may not be important.
Urgent (but important?)
Something that is right in front of us, in our face, is urgent, but may not be important. For example, a customer repair request is urgent and important. Someone coming into your office to show you the latest viral video is also urgent, but it’s not important. Understanding the difference is critical to good time management.
Chris McChesney calls the urgent things in our life the “Whirlwind.” If you don’t take care of what’s urgent and important, eventually you might lose your business. If it’s truly important, it has to get done.
Not Urgent (but important?)
In the same way, there are things that are not urgent, but are very important. Like dropping in on a customer. There are also things that are not urgent, and not important, like burning time looking for viral videos yourself.
If you don’t take care of the not urgent but important, eventually it will become urgent. So the more things you take care of while they’re not urgent, the fewer urgent things you’ll face in life.
It’s About the Planning, Not the Plan
German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke famously said, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” He wasn’t arguing that planning is a waste of time; in fact he meant just the opposite. Because the plan doesn’t survive, the experience you gained in the process of creating it is what helps carry you through. In other words, the significance is in the planning, not in the plan itself.
Planning our lives isn’t as bad as planning a battle, but the principle still applies. Our best plans still take a beating when reality hits. We have to be willing to fight for what we want.
Hyrum Smith vs Stephen Covey
When Franklin Quest started selling the Franklin Day Planner in the 1980s, they quickly became popular. The company later went public and made the founder, Hyrum Smith, millions. Through the 1990s it was common to see people carrying around one of these planners.
Meanwhile, Stephen R. Covey was running a small consulting firm called the Covey Leadership Institute. In 1989 he published The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which went on to sell 25 million copies in 40 languages. The Institute produced its own planner that it sold to consulting customers.
Smith and Covey had fundamentally different approaches to planning. Smith’s Franklin Planner focused on the day to day, with daily task lists that you would prioritize with letters. Covey’s focused on a week at a time, and didn’t put much weight on task lists.
Despite having two very different cultures, the two companies merged in 1997. So which approach to planning won out in the end?
Weekly and Daily Planning
Daily plans are good and are necessary. They help prioritize what’s urgent and deal with the day to day. A daily ritual of reviewing what you have on your plate is a great exercise.
For a diesel repair shop, repair requests, work orders, and emergency calls fill your days. In between you’re tracking down parts, ordering them, getting customer calls on the status of repairs, and MAYBE eating some lunch. Some days are almost unbearably busy, and it never feels like you can get ahead. There is simply too much urgency all around you, demanding your time.
Daily planning has an impact, but it’s not enough. The day to day is too chaotic to plan in a way that will bring long-term success. Daily plans are more tactical than strategic. That means they may help you hack your way through the trees, but won’t help you realize you’re in the wrong forest.
Monthly and yearly plans are also good, but are too far out to have a direct impact. We believe the most effective planning method is weekly.
The week provides a small enough snippet of time that it is manageable, but large enough that it is a microcosm for life. You can get a lot done in a week, and properly planned, make a big difference on your goals.
Covey used an object lesson to teach planning. He would get a volunteer and ask them to fit a pile of rocks and a bunch of sand into one glass jar. If you put the sand in first, there wasn’t enough room for all the rocks. But if you put the rocks in first, then the sand, everything fit because the sand would just fill into the empty spaces.
The big rocks are like the big priorities in our lives, like a strategic project, or time with family. The sand represents the whirlwind–the urgent things that are in our face and that we’re going to have to deal with no matter what. The whirlwind will always be with us.
If we don’t block out time for what’s most important, the whirlwind will devour it all. Do you have a family? Block out time with them. Schedule a family night. Write in your daughter’s recital, or your son’s football game. Carve out time to work on a strategic initiative in your shop.
Weekly planning eventually won out at FranklinCovey.
By nature, repairs are urgent; PMs are not. They’re both important. The more you can fill your day with tasks that are not urgent, but still important, the more of a good handle you’ll have on your shop, and on your life.
Schedule your PMs for early in the week. They are big rocks. Get them out of the way, and get the hours associated with them in your pocket. Ideally, you do PMs Monday and Tuesday, get any repairs you found authorized, then do the repairs Wednesday and Thursday. Maybe you’ll work Friday too, and Saturday on occasion.
The repairs that come out of your thorough preventive maintenance inspection will often be important, but not urgent. That means you can schedule them with the customer, and avoid downing the unit.
Scheduled repairs are much easier to time shift than repairing a unit on the side of the road, and you may even move some repairs into the next week (after you have finished your PMs of course).
This way you can attend your daughter’s recital or son’s game, you can go fishing on the weekend, and most importantly you have that great feeling that things are under control.
Proper weekly and daily planning is essential to gaining freedom and control in your life and in your shop. Schedule the big rocks first, and fight get the important things done before they become urgent. Apply these principles in tracking customers’ PMs.
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