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Monday, December 1, 2008



by Kelly Bennett, WORLDPAC Training Institute (WTI) Business Development Instructor

In this series of fictional letters from a new shop owner to his former boss, WTI management trainer Kelly Bennett discusses basic business principles that apply to the automotive repair industry.

STRESSED to Kill! speaks to the inevitable build up of work pressures and the need to develop a strategy to relieve them . . . or else you’re gonna blow!

Dear Kelly.

Thanks so much for inviting us to the open house of your second shop. Wow, what a place! It’s so functional, attractive, and well laid out. It was a fun night out, actually. And I’m glad you got a chance to meet Brian, the raising star at my shop. He really has become my right hand man. He started as a technician, got bumped up to shop foreman, and now I’m grooming him for a management position. He was very impressed with your facilities, but even more so by how calm and collected you were. He’s seen me running around like a chicken with its head cut off more than once. Are you really so stress-free? Or are you a really good actor.

- Erol

Dear Erol:

It was great to have you attend our open house. Yeah… we’re quite proud of the new place. Did I look ‘calm and collected?’ If I did, it just proves you can’t see under the surface.

The predominant emotion I was feeling that night was relief. After all the work it took to get the new place up and running, I was just thrilled to see it finally finished! In recent months I’ve had my headless chicken moments too, Erol. Like most building projects, this one required more time and money than I’d expected. There were financing hiccups, and some computer glitches. At one point I thought we’d lost our entire client database!

Stress-free? Hardly!

It was really crazy for a while there, bouncing back and forth between the two shops. My stress level skyrocketed. It took a huge toll on my mental and emotional health. I didn’t have much downtime. I rarely saw my family. Finding time to read was virtually impossible. I wasn’t eating right… I started to wonder what I was doing all this for! I felt like I was headed for a nervous breakdown.

But I talked things over with the guys in my management group. They are all so supportive. And I managed to get some perspective on what I was going through. It allowed me to slow down a little.

You know, learning to manage stress is absolutely vital to success in business. No matter what you do for a living, it comes with its own unique pressures that can devastate you emotionally, rob you of energy, dull your senses, cloud your judgment, and – worst of all – drain you of passion. Once you’re out of passion, you’re done. It’s like running out of gas. You become a zombie at work. I had a real break-through when I learned to be more realistic about what I could and what I couldn’t accomplish in a given day. This might sound obvious, but not every project can be completed in one sitting. I had to learn how to be satisfied with daily progress – even if it was relatively small.

You see, some things on our to-do list fall into a category I call “Fix it Monday.” These are one-off tasks that are important but not urgent. They’re the little things that we know we ought to fix some day. Well, now I fix them on Mondays. I dedicate part of my day – the first day of the work week, when I still have lots of energy – to tackle these jobs. They bring enormous satisfaction because you can see the improvements in your business almost immediately. The stock room is neater. Or your desk is clean. Or the paperwork is done. Or the folders have been filed.

Congratulations. You’re getting there! But other tasks are long-term projects which aren’t going to be as quickly or as easily solved. And that’s when I have to commit to making progress – not completing them, just making progress. I don’t know about you, but I have become programmed to finish tasks. Just get it done, no matter the cost. And that’s great, if the tasks are doable. But let’s face it, some things are long-term projects. They require time and patience. Trying to rush them through just puts a lot of stress on you.

We all love to cross things off our list. See them get done. Move on to something else. It can be tough coming back to the same task day after day. You start to wonder if it will ever get done. But it helps to look at the big picture. You’ve got to break the big jobs into smaller parts and tackle them one at a time. It’s like writing one chapter at a time, rather than trying to write a whole novel in one sitting. I have come to see that I can complete one portion or section of a project and know that I’m getting closer to my ultimate objective. Work on something – even if it’s just a tiny portion of the whole – and then move on to something else. You’ll get some more done tomorrow… and the day after… and the day after. Eventually it will be done.

Stress management comes with discipline and practice. Here’s my plan of attack: Prioritize. Attack the most important tasks first. The tasks you face will fall into one of three categories.
  1. Important and urgent
  2. Important but not urgent
  3. Neither urgent nor important
This will help you decide where to put your energy. Limit interruptions. Maintain ownership of your own productivity. Remember you are your most expensive resource. If you have a door you can close, close it. If you can turn your phone off, do it. I know one person who wears a red ball cap during his crunch time. When he’s wearing the red cap, no one is allowed to talk to him unless the shop is on fire.

Eat lunch away from the office. Every one needs down-time. Even a small change of scenery will make you more effective when you get back to work. Take breaks when you need them. Walk, breath . . . relax! I have a route that I walk in the neighborhood. It takes me just 10 minutes, but I feel like a new person when I get back to my desk.

Reduce the noise. Take control of your environment. My guys have gotten used to seeing me with ear-plugs in my ears. It may look crazy at first, but I can’t believe how much better I can focus on my work when the outside world is shut out. I have even treated myself to a set of those fancy noise reduction headphones. I plug that into my iPod and I’m in a whole other world, as I plow through my work.

Open the lines of communication. Sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? Taking control of your environment (shutting other people out) and opening the lines of communication (dealing with people) are both necessary for productivity. Eat, sleep, and exercise. Don’t fall into the temptation of running yourself ragged. Those late-nights at the office are not your most productive. You’d be far better off to go home, reconnect with your family, and recharge your batteries for tomorrow.

Quiet time on the way home. Turn off the radio and allow yourself to put the shop to bed. Above all, remember to leave your work at work. There’s a time and a place for everything. Cheat your work, not your family.

What you saw at my open house was me enjoying the fact that a big project is finally finished. But there will be other projects and other challenges in the future. I’ll need to listen to my own stress-management advice as I try to operate two shops instead of one.

If you find your stress levels rising, slow things down, try to get some perspective, and stop expecting so much from yourself. You’re only human.

- Kelly

To learn more about Kelly Bennett's Business Development Classes visit the WORLDPAC Training Institute (WTI).

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I use some of these relaxation techniques now and find them essential to maintain focus and passion. I feel the burn out often and use a mountain bike trail near my shop as therapy. A 40 min ride 2times a week at least.

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