The famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein is, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

That is a perfect description of how I approached work as a plumbing, heating, and cooling contractor at my family-run business. After all, I represented the company’s third generation, which boasted more than 40 years of operation by the time I showed up. So, why change anything?

Well, for me, I finally got worn out. I bet you feel the same way.

Every day, we worked incredibly hard to put out the fires we felt were necessary to fight until the next day, when the same fires broke out again or new fires we hadn’t anticipated were set ablaze by well-intentioned people running around with their heads chopped off.

We never spent a moment looking ahead and being proactive. We were locked in a batting cage with someone continually ratcheting up the speed of the pitches headed our way. 


Nothing changed for my company and I until I read “E-Myth Contractor: Why Most Contractors’ Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It,” by Michael Gerber.

Gerber’s book showed me that if you’re only working in the business and never on it, nothing substantive will change for the better. And, for the first time, I knew what was wrong and why I had to fix it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to fix it. But, just knowing what and why catapulted me on the path to the how.

And the first stop along that path was the creation of Planning Power.

Planning Power is all about three things:

  1. Working on the right things;
  2. At the right time;
  3. The right way.

How do you know what’s the right thing to work on at the right time?

You need to create a master project list. This is a giant list of all the projects and habits you need to work on at your company. Typically, when I do this work with clients, the first master project list is somewhere between 100-150 things.

Okay, stay with me. I can sense your eyes rolling at the thought of working on that many things with an already crazy work schedule. The truth is you don’t need to work on that many things at once. No one can work on that much at once, even if they had tons of time, energy, and money. And, if you tried to change that much at your company at one time, there’d be a revolt.


You need to filter your master project list through giant imaginary strainers. One strainer represents prioritizing projects and habits that either address your biggest challenges or solve your biggest problems.

For example, your trucks all drive 30 minutes away from the shop but they don’t have the right type of stock for 80 percent of the work they encounter most of the time. Or, they arrive at the job site with either incorrect information or not enough information to run the call the right way and maximize the opportunity.

Good so far?  OK, the second giant imaginary strainer is used to select the projects and habits that either give you the biggest chance to grow and/or be profitable.

For example, there’s another trade you could add so you could solve more customer problems and increase sales throughout the year. There’s another service area that has your target audience and they need to know about you through aggressive marketing.

Here’s the rub: You can only end up with a top 30 list. These 30 items should be what you work on and hope to accomplish in a one-year period. Now, you have a plan!

Unfortunately, working on 30 projects and habits at the same time will only doom you to fail. So, you need to use the same two strainers one more time to filter the top 30 down to a top five.

Once you arrive at your top five, you’re on your way to owning planning power.

Now, you need to commit to making these top five projects and habits come to life. No matter how crazy your week is, you need to devote time, energy, and money on these items. Remember, you said these items would give you the greatest chance to make a positive change at your company.

The last step is accountability for you with your team and your team to you. That’s why I have clients post their top five lists on a whiteboard in a place where everyone at the company can see them. If there are no changes to that board week after week, the staff knows nothing has changed for the better. But, if there are changes, and the board reflects those changes, they buy in.

Publication date: 4/24/2017

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