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Plan Your Time Wisely

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When I first started working in the collision repair business, my first role was as an estimator. I worked for a hard-charging, energetic and successful shop owner who never missed a day of work. He taught me a lot about damage analysis and repair planning even before these concepts were prevalent in our industry. He helped me develop negotiating skills that I still use and teach today when dealing with appraisers and vendors.

After about two years of working for this owner, he began to show me some basic “above the line” P&L results to help me understand the concepts of gross profit and how my estimate accuracy and cost controls were the driver of overall profitability for the business. 

Then, one day, he stopped coming into work. I recall that, on a Thursday afternoon, he said he was going to take Friday off because he had a doctor’s appointment. On the following Monday, he didn’t come to work and I was told by some of his family members that he had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and would be going through some intense therapies to eradicate the disease from his body. 

I didn’t see him again for two years.

His wife came to me very soon after the diagnosis and asked me to, “stay on with the company and run the business like my husband taught you.” With the little experience I had, I knew this was going to be a very big challenge for me, but, at the same time, I appreciated the trust being placed in me by the wife and family. So I said yes to her and vowed that I would do my best to make the business thrive. 

I realized that I was taking on a lot more responsibility and workload, and I knew that I had to figure out how to manage my time effectively in order to keep up with the additional demands. I’m a pretty voracious reader, so I decided to start by reading some books written by well-known business leaders on the topic of time management. My desire was to find some sort of philosophy and system that I could adopt in order to best utilize the allotment of time I had every day. I naively imagined that I could read a couple of books and—presto-change-o!—I would be on my way to being an expert on time management. 

That didn’t happen and, in fact, I’m still experimenting with and fine-tuning some of what I learned over the course of 20 years of studying and developing my time management skills. I want to share with you some of what I’ve learned on this journey and, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll guide you to some of the more practical and effective teachings I encountered.

To begin, let me share a few notable quotes that resonated with me when I started researching time management. Many of these quotes illuminate the core principles of time management. Time management is basically defined as how you choose to plan, prioritize and spend your time. 

  • “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”--Benjamin Franklin
  • “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have 24-hour days.”--Zig Ziglar
  • “He who every morning plans the transactions of that day and follows that plan carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life.”--Victor Hugo
  • “The most efficient way to live reasonably is every morning to make a plan of one’s day and every night to examine the results obtained.”--Alexis Carrel

The recurring theme about planning within these quotes suggests that you must be steadfast in developing a plan for every day, you must adhere to that plan throughout the day, and then you must review your outcomes and accomplishments at the end of the day. For me, this simple and sage advice sounds deceptively easy to implement, but I’ll be the first to tell you that I still occasionally struggle with this, even today. 

It’s really easy to get derailed from your plans in the fast-paced world we live in. It’s easy to sluff off and stop making plans altogether. We will dig into this further in future columns, but, right now, I want to suggest that one reason that planning is so difficult is that we don’t have any real sense of what we do throughout each day. 

Here’s a little experiment for you to try today: At the end of your workday today, take some time to reflect on all the things you did today and write them down. You find your list may include answering emails and returning phone calls, dealing with a difficult customer, attending a webinar on marketing, etc. But I also bet that your list will include surfing the web for the latest on the sports scores, political intrigue, and celebrity gossip. 

I didn’t have this option way back when I started learning about these concepts, but you might want to use an app or software to help you track your time throughout the day. I did a quick search online and came up with apps like Toggl, Harvest, and Timely. You might be interested in using one of these apps or you might do your tracking the old fashioned way and use a Day-Runner or paper day calendar to jot down your activities as you go throughout your day.

I don’t know exactly what your list will include, but the point is that one way to get good at planning is to begin by tracking on what you currently spend (or waste) your time. Try this for a few days and, when we take a deep dive into planning in a future column, you’ll have a head-start on implementing the concepts I present.

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