Transport operations are all about managing time: time to load, time on the road, time to rest. So it’s unfortunate that we so often waste time, our most precious – and most irreplaceable – asset.
That’s why time management is possibly even more important than driver skill when operating a transport business. There’s been plenty written about time management generally, but what can we say about the transport industry?
“The big thing is quality of prioritisation,” says Kelly McLuckie, NTI’s Customer Culture and Transformation Manager. “Organisations that lack systems and processes have a poor culture that wastes time … it’s a really big challenge.”
Time management becomes ever-more important as your business grows. Too many owners are driving too much and spending their evenings, weekends and even their holidays working on the business.
“An organisation that prioritises putting in place that stuff realises the benefits immediately because people know what to expect and they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time a problem crops up.”
Kelly acknowledges that getting out of the truck is a big challenge, as that’s what generates revenue. There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but she reckons that by the time a fleet reaches 10 trucks you need to put time aside for management and admin tasks, and by the time it reaches 15 or 20 trucks there should be at least one person working full-time on the business. That is, one staff member who’s not a driver – “your person who’s doing the accounts, your health and safety, your client relationship management and sales”.
Outsourcing: Not the answer?
Often, businesses will try to save time by outsourcing specialist functions, such as maintenance, payroll or health and safety. And while consultants and external providers can be cost-effective when viewed separately, the risk is that “you have all these bolt-on things that don’t end up working for your business”.
Kelly gives the example of a business contracted to a large consigner with specific operational requirements. These include inductions, driving standards, incident management and more. The business adopts these systems, saving time and money, but they can become a big problem when the business takes on different clients with different requirements.
Plan, plan, plan
Kelly has four top tips for being more time-efficient:
- Plan your time: Set aside a regular time every week to be out of the truck and working on the business. You can be flexible, but it must be a priority.
- Differentiate between urgent and important: It’s easy and satisfying to respond right away to urgent tasks, but this can often lead to neglecting other tasks that are important for your business’s future.
- Play to your strengths: Use the skills in your business to fill key positions, and hire experts with the skills you need, whether that’s a financial controller or a lead driver.
- Use the right tools: Use the digital tools you already have, such as calendars and email systems, and buy the ones you need, like accounting or job-tracking systems, to save time and effort on simple tasks and coordination.
And don’t work too hard
Finally, Kelly notes that spending too much time at work can hurt more than it helps.
“We had an engineering client with a big fleet, but they were working the guys really long hours and were having huge quality issues – people would make mistakes or cause damage. When they scaled it back, they saw a marked improvement so now they insist that people work reasonable hours, get reasonable breaks and have a good period of downtime and rest.
“As a result, they come to work fresher, more alert and ready to work as opposed to being just so fatigued that they’re actually less effective, less efficient and less safe.”