Efficiency doesn’t seem like a sexy or glamorous subject when compared to discussing the latest and greatest climbing products or machinery on the market. The new, shiny, expensive gear and the latest machinery I keep looking at in the arb magazines all play a part in improving my efficiency practices. But think about it – would you buy a new ascender that was the coolest color and the nicest shape and had the best name if you heard it dragged badly on the rope, causing a lot of friction and making your ascent more difficult? With this prior knowledge, probably not.
Efficiency is accomplishing a task in the minimum amount of time with the least amount of energy expended.
In recent years, efficiency has become my favorite topic. It is something I focus on every day across every aspect of my job. The more I focus on efficiency, the more I understand where techniques and systems can be improved upon. I realize that the way I work – for example, my climbing techniques – can improve much more quickly if I take time to analyze and understand what I am doing and why I do certain things. This enables me to make major or minor tweaks with the aim to improve efficiencies.
Implementing efficient practices
To successfully implement efficient practices involves a mixture of planning, common sense and experience. If I am to complete a task I have never done before, I:
- Make a plan that I believe makes the most sense.
- Select the best equipment for the task.
- Delegate relevant tasks.
- Complete smaller tasks in a sequence that makes the most sense for completing the job.
Once the job is complete, I can then analyze and take note of what worked well, what went wrong and what worked but could have been improved upon. It is this process of analyzing and being aware of my systems that enables me to become more efficient. Each time I take on a similar task, my efficiencies should improve.
The process of understanding and analyzing systems, i.e., climbing techniques, job planning, rigging setups, etc., is key. If I didn’t pay attention to how things worked, I’d continue to use the same methods. This would result in my evolution as an arborist becoming stagnant. I’d miss opportunities to implement new, more suitable systems.
Looking at the bigger picture of an arborist’s career, implementing efficiency goals will result in less short- and long-term fatigue, more career longevity, reduced chance of long-term muscle injuries, stress reduction and a constant learning curve as you evolve your skills.
Improving efficiency through experience
Recently, my team member, Conor, and I were tasked to remove a very tall, dead hemlock tree. The location of the tree and gradient around the tree meant it would not be a straightforward job. There were multiple large trees nearby. The best and most efficient plan I could come up with was to set a rope between two live trees and install the rigging block in the middle of the rope that spanned the gap between these trees. We would then rig the hemlock off this point. This would make for quite a large swing, but, hopefully, would result in the pieces being rigged down into the flat driveway of the property.
We used a rigging hub on the end of the rigging line, as we needed to attach multiple ropes – a haul line for me as the climber, a tag line for Conor, the rigging line and the webbing sling. A couple of pieces got hung up in some smaller trees close to the ground, but the job went well on the whole.
Conor, only in the industry for three or four years, had never used or seen this exact setup and was unsure how everything would work. Being a quick learner and problem solver, Conor gained a full understanding of the system and figured out the adjustments required to prevent issues by the time the job was complete. Conor will now take the experience from this job and be fully aware of all aspects of the rigging technique, as well as where potential problems may lie when we next use this system.
Key efficiency considerations
When considering efficiencies for an entire job or a singular technique, these are the key elements I include:
- Make a plan and be willing to make adjustments to improve efficiency.
- Try not to allow pressure to cause you to rush. (Rushing/panicking can result in poor decision-making, not working with a systematic approach and not using the right equipment.)
- Choose the best tool or tools for the job.
- Select the best technique for the task; allocate jobs to crew members for completion in an order that makes sense.
- Share ideas and experiences with team members: Discuss your favorite and least favorite techniques, talk about jobs that went well and those that didn’t go as well and list the reasons why for both.
Saving time and energy with rigging systems
In the right situation, rigging systems can be huge time and energy savers. Creating the most complex system for a specific scenario that may require a two-hour setup can sometimes be more efficient. Moving wood without much effort to an end location, rather than using all manual labor, can be absolutely amazing. For me, I always weigh the options.
- How long will it take to set up the rigging components?
- How long do I estimate the job to take once rigging is set?
- How long would the job take without this rigging or setup?
If I feel like the rigging option will take the same amount of time or be quicker, I always choose rigging. If I can move wood in a way that reduces manpower and fatigue and can complete the job in the same amount of time, I would prefer to save the crew’s energy.
My obsession with efficiency
The biggest gains I have made in the last three to four years relating to my tree-climbing skills have come from my obsession with efficiency. Instead of thinking about my next move or task, I think about multiple tasks ahead of me. For example, take my work positioning while using a chain saw. I now focus on choosing the best lanyard configuration for the work. I select the optimum lanyard location to make the maximum number of cuts without having to change lanyard position, while still maintaining a safe, comfortable position for cutting. Compare this to only looking at the next branch to remove or prune, putting on my lanyard and then removing it after that one task. Doing that action for eight limbs will eat into my time, when I could select one lanyard position that allows me to reach all eight limbs.
Another technique I utilize to improve efficiency when I need control of the limbs while climbing is to make undercuts on multiple branches with a chain saw, then make the top cuts using a handsaw. This maximizes the use of the chain saw first to save energy.
Don’t let stubbornness stifle efficiency
I have owned a battery-powered, top-handled chain saw for a couple of years and love all the benefits that come from using it, which I believe improve efficiencies in various capacities. There have been times, however, when I have continued to use the saw too long during removals. As the wood gets too large, the saw begins to struggle. I then use more force, which causes wear and tear on a tool that is not fit for the purpose. This is because I was enjoying my new favorite tool and didn’t recognize when it was time to switch out for something more suitable and efficient.
Good communication to create seamless operations
Another great practice for efficiency is having clear communication. In recent years, Bluetooth communication headsets have become available for use in arborist helmets. These make a huge impact on my work sites every day. Communication has become so much more efficient while working. The crew members can have a full conversation at a normal volume and tone instead of the well-known practice of screaming from high in a tree with one-word demands. Even if those short instructions are said with the kindest of intent, they come across as aggressive and hurried and lack the reasoning around the request. Instead, asking for equipment through a headset – i.e., specific rigging equipment – you can ask for the exact components you require, explain where they are located and detail how you would like them configured and what your plan is.
If you are working with a crew of three or four people, all wearing headsets, even when your conversation might only be with one member of the crew, the other people on your team will hear the entire dialogue. This means the whole team is in sync with how the job site is running, which roles to take on and what to expect. If you have never used these headsets on a job site, hopefully this short example provides insight into how useful and efficient they can be. But you will really never know the full benefits until you actually use them.
Efficiency is so important within the tree-service industry. The more we are all aware of each and every aspect of our day-to-day tasks and how they can improve with greater efficiency, the better, more enjoyable and longer our careers will be.
Daniel Holliday is owner/operator of Climbing Arborist Jobs, Ltd., based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. This article originally served as a November 2020 blog post on the author’s website,