Managing your time as a manager

Chuck Schwartau Regional Director, University of Minnesota Extension

As in any business, time on the farm is of the essence. Whether it is planting, managing and harvesting a crop or breeding and managing a livestock enterprise, a couple days, or even a few hours can make a big difference. Most farmers are tuned into those major time-critical activities, but are you as well tuned into the daily time management that can be equally as important?

I have delivered more than a few time management lessons over the years and one of my first questions is, “Do you really know what you do each day?” When pressed for details, many farmers have trouble answering with anything more than general statements.

It’s not uncommon; I sometimes get caught the same way. You get so wrapped up in going from one job to the next that you lose track of small tasks and how much time some tasks actually take out of your day. It also becomes more difficult when your tasks are more ‘management’ tasks than they are physical tasks because the management tasks tend to run together and are less distinguishable.

While working on a beginning farmer program a few years ago, I encountered a program that asked farmers to actually keep a detailed daily diary for a short time to better determine what skills should be emphasized in an apprenticeship program. They were surprised at their findings, as many farmers would be. Keeping the diary did take a little extra time, but they felt it was well worth the investment based on what they learned. I have suggested more than once that farmers do the same for a few days to better understand their own challenges and needs for better time management.

Record as much detail as possible for a week. It might be on a pocket notebook or just a few notes on your smartphone. Make brief notes of what you have been doing and approximately how much time you spent on the task. Don’t forget to record “the little stuff”. That can chew a lot of time out of your day.

How long you keep a diary can be up to you, but when you stop to take a look at it, ask yourself a few questions:
• What was I doing?
• Are there routine and frequently repeated tasks in my day?
• Is there someone else on the farm that could perform some of these tasks as well or even better than I can do them?
• How long did I spend on tasks that someone else could have done?
• Which of my tasks are high priority to the business and which might be dropped or passed to someone else?
• Of the tasks that cannot or should not be passed to someone else, what are implications to the farm business if I don’t get them done on a particular day? What if they don’t get done at all?

A second part of my exercise with farmers has been to list tasks that need to be done each day and at the end of the day, do a “close out” to see how you did.

Again, several questions should be asked and honestly answered:
• What didn’t I get done?
• Why didn’t it get done?
• Does it need to be done at all?
• Did not getting it done really make a difference somewhere in the operation?
• Were some high priority tasks not completed because low priority items got in the way?
• How can I change for tomorrow?

Finally, congratulate yourself for what you did get done rather than beat yourself up for what you didn’t get done. You day isn’t any longer than anyone else’s on the farm. Just use the information to plan and execute a more productive day tomorrow with priority items getting more attention.

The purpose of these exercises is to help you as the manager make more time to perform the tasks you as an owner/manager should be performing because they are key to the success of the business. We can all find ways to fill a day. The important part is how you fill the day to be sure what you accomplish will forward the business for which you are responsible.

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