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Matt Deer says to imagine you're at the dentists's office. You're in the chair. You're nervous, fidgety, worried, uncomfortable ... and your dentist is completely unorganized. 

He’s going through plastic bins, looking for tools he needs while you’re waiting for him to fix a cavity,” he says. “That’s never the case, right? Instead, he’s got everything laid out. I’ve got the same approach.”

The lead technician at Evergreen AutoWorks in Bothell, Wash., compares how he operates on vehicles to “surgery.” It’s precise, it’s disciplined, and it goes beyond having an organized work area. Deer is constantly evaluating his environment, looking to eliminate any unnecessary movements and keep a consistent stream of work flowing in and out of his two lifts.

After 20 years in the business, Deer has crafted a workflow that allows him to operate at a mad rate: His productivity numbers are consistently just over 100 percent, his efficiency is closer to 165 percent (sometimes as high as 175 percent), and he pretty much never, ever stops.

“It’s all about how motivated you are to get as much work out as possible,” he says. “If I’m going to be here, I might as well be busy the entire time I’m working.”

as told to Travis Bean

In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking of ways to manage my day. My brain is always looking at how to get the next job done, how to get it done as fast as possible, and get it completed correctly the first time.

I usually have five or six cars assigned to me each day. Sometimes even more. First thing in the morning I’ll work on the smaller jobs: quick diagnostics, failed emissions, oil leaks. If I’ve got a transmission to pull out, that’s the last job I would do for that day. By doing the smaller work, I can get those back to the service writer so they can start their estimate process, get customer approval and get parts ordered. Then I can start on the other jobs I have.

It’s all about making sure I’ve always got a constant flow of work for my two lifts. I never back myself into a corner. I don’t lock up both of my assigned lifts at the same time. If I’ve got two large jobs, I’ll start on one and I’ll leave the other one as a floater. That way I can lift something up to check for a leak or do an oil change or a brake inspection.

When I have a vehicle on one of my lifts, I make sure I get the courtesy vehicle inspection out of the way immediately. On every vehicle, the first thing I’ll do is check the lights, check the tires, and then pop the hood and check the fluid levels.

Even if there’s a brake job that needs to be sold to the customer, I’ll put the car back together, get the car off the lift and move on to the next job. That way, if we end up selling brakes, an oil change, a brake fluid flush, I’ve got the courtesy inspection out of the way. I may not have to go back to that job for another day, so now I’m backlogging and creating work for the future. The parts will be ordered ahead of time and I’ll be able to start on that repair first thing the next morning.

I’ve seen technicians who will prop up a car for a brake inspection, pull all the tires off, and the car will just sit there. They’ll wait for the customer to give the approval for parts. A lot of times, a customer can’t be reached immediately, and the car just sits idle. You’re going to be more productive getting that stall opened up and utilizing it.

Your productivity and efficiency is going to depend on what type of worker you are. If you’re a smoker or an excessive coffee drinker, that’s going to take out of your day. I stick with coffee in the morning and that’s it.

IN ITS RIGHT PLACE: Deer compares his preparation to that of a dentist; everything is laid out and organized before beginning each job or task. It all starts with organization, he says, and all else will follow.I’m able to stay efficient and productive because of what I’m doing with my downtime. I use that downtime to get ahead of little issues, like making sure my oil container is empty, all my batteries are charged, any oil spills are cleaned up, rags are put away, oil filters are in the recycling bin. If I don’t do all that, I’ll get a job and, oh no, my oil can is full. Then I’m wasting time on something else. I’m never just standing around. It’s all about staying busy.

I’m always thinking about saving steps, eliminating any unnecessary movements. I recently told the service advisors I needed the parts placed somewhere else because I couldn’t see them. I’m aware of how long it takes me to walk from my stall to see if parts are here. Basically, I’m trying to make the entire process as efficient as possible throughout the day.

My work area is like the factory floor at General Motors, Boeing, some big corporation—I need to have it on that level. If you go on the assembly line of any corporation, you’re not going find any wasted space. You’ll get written up for having your stuff out of place. Everything has to be inventoried, and the only way to have an inventory is to be organized. How else are you going to know if you’re missing a part or a tool? When you’re losing tools or leaving stuff underneath the hood, you’re losing money, and you’re definitely not being productive.

In my station, everything goes in certain spots. Everything is inventoried in our management system, and all the parts and tools have to be clean. After every job, I clean my tools, put them away and start on the next.

I have a magnetic tray on top of my toolbox. The parts and tools I use for a particular job go on that magnet. There’s no sense in putting them away in their organizers. If I pull the transmission out, I’ve got all the tools I need to put the transmission back in right on that magnetic bar. It helps me work in a much more orderly fashion.

I will lay a fender cover out on my workbench. All the bolts are laid out exactly the way they’re supposed to be, like a surgery table. I’ve got the water pump, timing belt, and all the bolts I took off perfectly laid out in order of how they came out of the car so they can go back in the reverse order. You start at the front and work your way back. If you missed a step, you may have to pull two or three things back out. That’s not efficient. Everything that comes out has to go back in, and it has to go back in the same spot. That way I know a job is 100 percent complete.

It makes it sound like I’m taking a lot of time on this stuff, but in reality it makes me more productive and efficient. Most jobs for me go back together faster than they come apart. For many people, it’s the other way around. When I’m tearing apart, I’m taking inventory, I’m throwing parts in the parts washer. By the time I’m ready to put the vehicle back together, I’ve got everything lubed, cleaned, changed out, and ready to go.

Getting organized at the end of the day is very important, especially in the winter. If I’ve got two or three jobs customers dropped off that evening, I will bring them in the shop. That way they’re not iced up in the morning, and I can instantly do the inspections on them, check all the fluids, and then I can work on what they actually brought their car in for. If I’ve got six or seven cars for the day, I’ve already got a good handle because I’ve done inspections on half of them. I may be able to get all my work done, and then still be able to take more work in for that day.

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