Hot Topics, Cool Solutions 8: Staying Focused, And More

October 1, 2004
Al Levi
Editor's note: Consultant Al Levi helps contractors run their businesses with "less stress and more success." HVAC and plumbing contractors seek his advice regularly. Al has agreed to let us share with readers of The News some of the questions he gets and the answers he provides. The focus is strictly on problem solving and handling the day-to-day operations of a successful contracting business.

To send Al your own questions, which if selected will run anonymously, send him an e-mail at or fax him at 212-202-6275.

This column is meant to be a resource only. Please check with your own trusted business advisers, including your own attorney, to make certain that the advice here complies with all relevant laws, customs, and regulations in your area.

Dear Al,

I come to work with dozens and dozens of things on my to-do list. And then life hits me as I enter the door and my to-do list is forgotten.

What should I do to stay focused?

To Do Or Not To Do

Dear To Do Or Not To Do,

There was a great commercial awhile back that said, "It's not how many ideas you have.... It's how many you implement."

That's why you have to make a commitment to solve the long-term challenges and pursue the opportunities beyond just putting out today's fires. To help, I suggest you put your to-do list in priority order.

Limit yourself to your top five priority projects that will either solve your biggest challenge or give you your greatest opportunity. And then, commit to work on this list every week and knock off a project one at a time. This is what I do with all my clients and they love how much they accomplish with this disciplined approach.

Al Levi

Dear Al,

I've been able to hire some talented people, but after a short while they all act the same. They seem to be so demanding and I already get enough of that from my family.

Eventually, it's so problematic that they either quit or I have to fire them, and then the process starts all over.

How do I get out of this hiring rut?

Stuck In A Rut

Dear Stuck In A Rut,

If you don't know how to recruit, hire, indoctrinate, train, and retain employees the right way, you'll be stuck in this vicious cycle forever. To end it, stop hiring ready-made talent with bad attitudes and commit to building the training systems that allow you to take willing people and teach them the skills they need to do the work your way.

It begins with a comprehensive operations manual and checklists, and ends with the building of a training center and training curriculum. There are many ways to accomplish this and it can be done in stages, but ultimately it's the only way to say goodbye to the hire, quit, and fire syndrome that is a natural result of trying to hire ready-made talent because you can't provide the training needed to build your own.

Al Levi

Al Levi of Appleseed Business specializes, as his Web site says, in "Making Contractors' Lives Less Stressful and More Successful." Through private workshops, on-site assessments, customized operating manuals, and staff training programs, Levi delivers the benefit of the experience he gained from years of operating a large family-run HVAC and plumbing business. Learn more by visiting You may also contact Levi by e-mail at or by fax at 212-202-6275.

Publication date: 10/04/2004