By LeeAnn Bonds
There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory. –Josh Billings
That last call was a bear. You arrived an hour late because of an accident on the freeway. The customer was sweating and seething when you got to the door. The tech who ‘fixed’ his AC last week had made a poor impression to say the least, and now the AC was dead again, on the most sweltering day of the summer so far.
A quick look showed you the other tech did a real hack job on the repair. You could fix it, but when you went out to the truck you didn’t have the parts you needed. You then remembered—too late—that you’d meant to restock that part yesterday when you got back to the shop. Your assurance that you’d return first thing in the morning with the part to make the repair only ticked the guy off more. He demanded your supervisor’s number and was bellowing a sulfurous stream of threats and insults as you closed the door behind you.
There are worthy reasons to keep a work journal even on good days. But on bad days, a log of events can be a life saver, or at least a job saver. In the sorry scenario described above, your work journal would have started working its magic the day before, when you wrote down a reminder to restock your truck with that part. Just that one thing would’ve made this call go so much better.
Then today you’d have recorded the time when you set off for this call, noting that you and half the city were parked on the freeway for 45 minutes waiting for an accident to be cleared away. The customer would still have been pissed when you got there because you were late, his AC was broken and it’s hot enough to peel paint today. But the rest of the call would’ve gone far better. You have had the parts, you’d have fixed the AC, (and maybe gotten the name of the other tech). When you got back to the shop this time, you’d have a record of all the details that might keep the boss from peeling your paint.
Listen to the wisdom of many years’ experience from Jeff Taylor, Faculty Lead at HVACRedu.net:
“One of the first things I do with students in my classes is give them a pocket protector, note pad and pen….I carried these every day that I was in the field. That pad was used on every service call. I recorded customer name, brand, serial number, model number, pressures, volts/amps, and any action I took. Between 1977 and 2005 when I left the field I accumulated a very large collection of these pads. Through the years they came in handy when the boss would ask about what happened on a call to a particular customer. More than once I was able to win a dispute by keeping my records.”
Jeff adds that if he was in the field today, he would be taking down the same info, “but not with a pad anymore. I want records in the cloud.”
Need more reasons to keep a work journal? Here are ten.
- Keep track of accomplishments for your benefit. It can help keep things in perspective when you have a record of the good with the bad.
- Maintain a record of your activities for your boss. Document sales made, successful repairs, favorable customer comments, etc. Also note the reason if you’re behind in your tasks (traffic snarl, vehicle breakdown, client wasn’t home, truck not stocked w/needed parts, illness, additional work assigned, etc.) just so you know, and in case someone asks.
- Justify a promotion or raise at your year-end review. See this post on LifeHacker: How to do a proper self review…
- Record mistakes, how you fix them, and instructions to yourself on how not to make the same ones again!
- Make note of procedures that went well, especially if you were figuring them out as you went. You want to write down what you did so you can do it that way again.
- Capture Aha! If you hear of a good diagnostic trick or an excellent way to do a specific repair, or if you figure one out yourself, write it down! It’s easy to lose the critical details after a few hours or days.
- Jot down things you must not forget. (87th Street doesn’t go through! Restock the truck! Buy diapers on the way home!)
- Catch any and all ideas before they fly away. Write them down and they’re captive.
- Use as a safe place to vent. You can’t mouth off at the unreasonably irate customer, but you could let off steam by writing down what you wanted to say…
- Note recurring problems: documenting what’s happening is a huge step toward solving the problem.
Convinced to give it a try? Good. Now take a few minutes to think through your set up and your process.
Platform: Paper or pixels?
If you’re a serious DIY person, investigate the Bullet Journal phenomenon. It’s pretty extreme, but one idea from the site stands out as brilliant: Reserve a page or so at the front of your notebook to use as an index. When you record something during the day that you may want to reference later, go to the front and write the page number (or date, if you don’t have numbered pages) and a brief description of the info.
Along those lines, you might also use the back pages of your notebook for reference materials such as checklists, schedules, maps, conversion charts, etc. Tape or staple the keepers there, and you won’t have to hunt around for frequently used information.
- Evernote, my absolute favorite magic bucket (bigger inside than outside, never gets full, never leaks or wears out). Make a “Work Journal” notebook in Evernote, and title new notes with the date and any other descriptive info you want. Apply tags liberally for easy searching later, and you’ll have a wealth of information at your fingertips that doesn’t take up any shelf space at all and is easily forwarded to whomever needs to see it. Set reminders for yourself. Set up checklists that remind you to look at them. Your data is backed up in the cloud and synced across devices. It’s free and available for Windows, iOS and Android.
- Day One Journal This popular journaling app is available for mac, iPhone and iPad. Entries you make on one device sync across all. Also backed up in the cloud.
- IDoneThis, free for personal use, lets you jot down quick entries on things you accomplish. It will email you to remind you to write down what you did today. Works on Windows, iOS and Android devices, and now lets you set goals to help plan your day. Sort of a “I haven’t done this yet but I want to” feature.
- One Note, part of the Microsoft Office suite, is similar to Evernote. It’s a magic bucket in which you can set up notebooks, reminders, etc. It will sync to SkyDrive, and works on PCs, phones and tablets.
- A spreadsheet works too. List the items you want to track down the first column, write dates across the top and fill in as you go.
The magic bucket options (Evernote and One Note) also allow for reference sections. Set up a Reference notebook for your checklists, maps, charts, etc.
Also cool: many devices will give you the option to speak your note instead of typing.
NOTE: Stay tuned for more suggested apps to help you on the job, coming soon to the HVACRedu.net blog near you.
Okay, one or more of these set ups is going to resonate with you. Pick your favorite and start simple. We have WHY and WHERE to keep a journal figured out. Now think about WHEN and WHAT to record.
WHEN should you write?
- Definitely reserve a few minutes at the beginning of your shift to review yesterday’s notes and plan today’s work. See this piece at the Harvard Business Review site for the importance of planning.
- Keep a running log throughout the day, especially of names and numbers as Jeff suggests above. Those details are hard to remember later.
- Consider taking another few minutes at the end of your work day to recap. Scan through your notes for actionable items (restock the truck!) and reminders. Making sure today is stowed neatly goes a long way toward smooth sailing tomorrow.
WHAT to write?
Here’s a starter list. Customize for your situation and keep tweaking it as time goes by, and you’ll eventually have a tool that will minimize stress and maximize your productivity on the job.
- Date/Day of Week
- Time you’re starting. (Note why you were late if you were.)
- Today’s Crew:
- Notes at beginning of day:
- Plan your work, work your plan.
- What’s on deck? Meetings? Calls? Appointments? Goals?
- Notes throughout the day:
- Time you start each Task/Project/Call
- Other pertinent info (see Jeff’s suggestions)
- Ideas—record them when they pop into your head
- Notes at end of day:
- Plan for tomorrow?
- Equipment/Parts/Supplies to reorder? Restock soon?
- Reminders to act on?
- Add to Index? Scan through the day’s notes and add key items to the index at the front. Or tag the day’s entry with applicable tags if you’re going digital.
Some days are still going to be terrible, horrible, no good very bad days. But most won’t, and a work journal will not only help you remember the good stuff, it just might tip the balance away from terrible and toward terrific.