The smart technician is always looking for an edge. What technique or tip can he learn today? Will it be an idea to better organize the service truck? Or will it be a filing system for manufacturers’ service bulletins? A technician’s got game when he utilizes available resources to increase his efficiency and skills and broaden his overall knowledge. Some technicians strive for an edge to increase their wages, while others are driven by a ferocious passion to be the best technician in the city. Whatever that motivation might be, here are a few tips to help you along:

Day planner — Use a day planner to organize activities in your personal and professional life. Document important family dates, events, and upcoming training classes. Keep track of your hours worked and revenue generated. For each service call, write down the invoice number, description, hours, and amount billed. Develop your own abbreviation system for the description. For instance, a clean and check could be written as PM (preventive maintenance).

Most technicians have revenue goals that they must achieve. A good personal tracking system can help when following up on quoted work. The technician can remind the office staff and request to be assigned to the follow-up call. When documenting your information, include a follow-up symbol. Then mark that symbol along with the original date one week ahead. When that day comes up, inquire with the office staff as to the status of the follow-up call.

Using a day planner is a great way to plan the week ahead. Sit down on Sunday evening for a half hour. Make notes of items you would like to accomplish for the week. You will also be able to review any planned events for the upcoming week.

Notebooks, tablets, and PDAs — All information documented in a day planner can also be recorded in a computer. The ultimate use of a computer is only limited by your imagination. For starters, the basics could include company information, vendor contacts, manufacturer service bulletins, and parts breakdowns.

Personal journal — This could be part of your day planner or a separate notebook. Document the events of the day. Write about people you met, equipment you worked on, or what you learned. Write about the future, too. Who would you like to meet, what kind of equipment would you like to work on, and what would you like to learn? Keeping a journal is a great way to learn about yourself and clarify your thoughts as well.

Digital camera — Take pictures of your work. Your customer may not want to go up on the roof or into the basement to look at equipment. Simply show them a picture to help explain your recommendation. A picture will also help the learning experience when getting assistance from another person.

Personal library — Start your library with a bookshelf and file cabinet. Organize books by topics: Keep Dan Holohan’s The Lost Art of Steam Heating with your other boiler books. Use magazine holders to separate your trade journals by the year. Start folders in your file cabinet with one for “Heating” and another for “Air Conditioning.”

As you begin to accumulate information, set up additional folders. For instance, the heating folder could expand to controls, boilers, and furnace folders. Each day that you encounter something new in the field, study up on it that night and add new information to your folders. Make sure you have a set of installation instructions in your library for every piece of equipment that your company installs. The Internet is a great resource for building up your library. A file can be set up on your computer for storage.

Cassette recorder — Use a cassette recorder to survey a worksite. It might be brutally cold outside and you need nomenclature from 20 rooftop units. Record information on a cassette and transcribe it later in a warm environment. A cassette may also be useful for note taking or putting together a material list.

Specialize — As you work your way down the path to becoming the ultimate service technician, consider developing specialties along the way. Become the expert in your company on heat pumps, home automation, or radiant heat. The bottom line is that a go-to technician will have greater opportunity for increased wages and career advancement.

Certification — Get NATE certified, period! Go to for information. The NATE Reference Manual and the fourth edition of Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Technology are two of the best resources available to help prepare for certification. Remember that NATE certification is for technicians who have had at least two years of experience in the field. For those who are just getting started in the industry, take the Industry Competency Exam (ICE). You can learn more about ICE at

Trade associations — Trade associations can provide a wealth of knowledge and training. One in particular is the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES). Visit to get more information.

Mentor — Find a veteran technician who goes by the book. Pay him or her the respect that they deserve. Listen to what they have to say and ask plenty of questions. A helpful mentor can be one of your most valuable resources.

Rothacker is a member of the National Comfort Institute’s Advisory Board and a National Comfort Team Founding Member. For questions or comments on the Tech Page, contact Rothacker at

Publication date: 08/18/2003