If you’re like me, sometimes when you read something, it just clicks. This happened recently when I read an article by Bryan Orr of HVAC School, titled “Technician Head Trash.” In his article, Bryan discusses how negative thoughts, or “head trash,” accumulate in our minds. These thoughts influence us to think and act in ways that are often contrary to our nature. As a result, we act like victims instead of taking ownership of our own thoughts and actions.

Near the end of his article, Bryan mentions ways to take out head trash. That’s when the connection happened. I realized there’s a link between HVAC maintenance and personal maintenance. Let’s look at this parallel and see what we can discover from principles we use daily.


The Importance of HVAC System Maintenance

When you maintain an HVAC system, you give it planned and proactive continuous care. Our industry commonly schedules maintenance either yearly or seasonally, and it covers factors like operating environment, equipment type, and system usage.

HVAC performance slowly degrades unless you regularly maintain the system. To prevent this issue, you promote maintenance benefits to your customers. The goal is to find and fix problems before they cause major damage and lead to expensive repairs.

Most HVAC companies believe in the importance of maintenance so much that they use various systems to send out reminders and schedule appointments well in advance. Their customers intentionally plan for this, so they don’t neglect their system and worry about what might happen.


Common Results of HVAC System Neglect

There are repeating maintenance issues that need attention during a maintenance call. When ignored, they can slowly destroy an HVAC system. Common problems include:

  • Dirt and crud that gradually accumulates.
  • Condensate blockage causing overflow and costly damage to a home.
  • Friction resulting in parts not working together as effortlessly as they should (Eventually, these parts grind to a halt and stop working altogether).
  • Electrical shorts from wires rubbing together and tripping the fuse or breaker.
  • Refrigerant leaks causing the equipment to lose the gas that keeps it operating to condition a building.

All these issues result from neglect. They take a long time to show up and often leave no clues they are creating damage until it’s too late. What’s sad is that they are preventable with a little diligence and work.


So, How Does This Apply to Me?

Oddly, people are a lot like HVAC systems. We both have complex processes going on simultaneously. Engineers have a good grasp of HVAC dynamics, but researchers are just now understanding our minds and bodies.

Also, like an HVAC system, we will eventually fail if we neglect ourselves. Our thoughts can get plugged with crud, stuff backs up in our lives, and eventually overflows. There are sources of friction that wear us down and affect our relationships. Day by day, we keep going until something breaks, we trip a fuse, or burn out. Eventually, our initiative dies because we’re out of gas.

We need a regular maintenance plan — a strategy to maintain ourselves daily so we can achieve the best results. When something is off, we can identify it and make necessary adjustments. Otherwise, life will change drastically when we least expect it. Sometimes this breakdown is mental; other times, it’s physical.


Equipment Connections and Your Connections

Most HVAC maintenance plans focus on the equipment. However, duct system issues often lead to equipment failure since they’re what the equipment connects to. A bad duct system affects equipment operation.

These connections lead to component failures, such as compressors or heat exchangers. They can also allow harmful gases, such as carbon monoxide, to enter the equipment and the building. It’s easy to overlook the duct system because we often don’t consider it a maintenance item.

The people we associate with also play a huge role in how we operate. This includes everyone we spend time with, from our family to our friends and our employer. They are our connections and they influence our performance. It’s been said that we are the sum of our five closest friends. But consider this: Those five friends are the sum of their five friends, and so on. The impact either improves or deteriorates exponentially.

Think of good connections like a good duct system. They help us operate at our best and get the most out of our potential. Similarly, bad connections are like a bad duct system. They wear us out prematurely and add unneeded stress to our lives.

Remember, maintenance uncovers issues that lead to premature failure. If your connections make it hard for you to maintain a standard of excellence, it’s probably time for new ones.


Personal Maintenance Obstacles

HVAC system maintenance can be tough. It’s also boring and repetitive. You often have to crawl, climb, and squeeze into uncomfortable areas to get the job done. Personal maintenance is the same way. You have to address some uncomfortable truths to operate at your best.

For example, if you read the previous section and started blaming everyone else for your problems and shortcomings, the problem isn’t them. Chances are high that you are the top maintenance obstacle you’ll need to overcome. I know this because I’m often my own worst enemy. I can rationalize with the best of them.

The most common ways we sabotage personal maintenance usually boils down to our attitude and thoughts. As Bryan points out in his article, “head trash” accumulates unless we take it out. It’s our responsibility to get rid of it. No one else can do it for us. Do you ever notice some of the following traits in your life?

  • Anger.
  • Arrogance.
  • Complacency.
  • Doubt.
  • Entitlement.
  • Fear.
  • Laziness.
  • Negative attitude.
  • Overthinking.
  • Procrastination.
  • Selfishness.

At one time or another, I have been guilty of everything on this list. Maybe you have too. These and other traits prevent us from doing our best. Of course, there are things we have no control over. We can’t maintain these things. Instead, all we can do in these instances is control our responses to them.

The results of our decisions often don’t show up immediately. Many times, we don’t even know that we’re preparing the way for horrible things like drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, or worse. The opposite is also true. The right things, repeated over time, have a way of compounding in the right way.


How to Create a Personal Maintenance Plan

Successful HVAC maintenance always has a plan and/or checklist to follow. For your own self-maintenance, start by capturing several things that you know you should do consistently but don’t. Be honest with yourself because these will serve as your first maintenance tasks.

Next, figure out the easiest way to begin. It might be tempting to make an elaborate plan. Don’t. The harder your plan is, the less likely you are to stick with it. Instead, think of simple baby steps. Break your tasks down into smaller ones because the tinier you go, the greater your chances of success.

Finally, put your maintenance tasks where you can see them. They should be in plain sight, not hidden from view. As an example, I have written my own maintenance tasks on everything from a large dry-erase calendar on my office door to post-it notes on my dash. Get creative.

To stay on track, you can also use habit trackers, calendars, and task managers on your smartphone to automate the process. These tools make it easier to stick with your plan. I use them to make appointments with myself and set repeating reminders. Otherwise, I’ll forget.


The Challenges of Maintenance

I wish I could say I have 100% success with my plan, but I don’t. I often fail. When this happens, I figure out where I got off track and start again. It’s an imperfect process that’s hard to embrace. Plus, there’s no single plan that fits everyone. What works for me might not work for you. So, experiment and find out what works best for you. It’s easy to get discouraged during this phase, but if you stick with it, you’ll figure out the best choices.

As I mentioned earlier, maintenance is boring. That means it’s easy to fall away even with the best intentions. This is one reason we need plans and accountability. Measurement is crucial to your success because, as we like to say at NCI, if you don’t measure, you’re just guessing. The changes often happen so slowly that unless you measure, you’ll never notice the improvement.

If you haven’t read Bryan’s article, I would encourage you to check it out. See if you suffer from “head trash.” If you do, it might be time to implement your own maintenance plan. Starting isn’t easy, but once the momentum builds, the plan is a joy to work on each day.