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Experts cover today’s key dairy labor issues and offer fool-proof techniques to optimize employee performance, sat­isfaction and longevity.

Time Management is a Task for Every Day

Jul 25, 2011

Planning helps get important tasks done before they become critically urgent and helps put unimportant tasks in their proper place. 

 
ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension
 
Dairy operators frequently ask about time management. Sometimes it is the owner/manager fretting over having enough time to do all he or she needs to get done. Sometimes it is concern about utilizing employees’ time efficiently. In either case, it is a topic that should be in front of the team every day – not as a problem, but as an opportunity. 
 
Good time management helps owners/managers maintain control of the business because they know the important tasks are getting done in a timely fashion. Good time management prevents activities from becoming emergencies because they were ignored earlier.
 
A big factor of time management is planning. Look ahead for important tasks and write them down to be sure they stay in front of you rather than suddenly catch up with you.
 
Put major tasks on your calendar first to help insure you are ready. This also helps you avoid putting less important but more frequent tasks into the time necessary for the big job.
 
Most dairies have routine tasks that probably happen as expected, but their scheduling impact may not be fully realized. If you are drying cows, setting cows up for timed breeding, performing herd checks and moving cows between groups on the same day every week, do you have these tasks spread out, or have you gotten into a habit of performing them all on one day?
 
Trying to accomplish too many tasks on one day puts extra stress on the staff and the cows. This tight scheduling creates an atmosphere for making mistakes and cutting corners because you feel like you are running out of time. It takes more staff on the given day, resulting in overloads (and maybe overtime) on one day, and a relative shortage of work another day. Spreading those tasks over the week enables them all to be done by the same staff and allowing more time to be sure each gets it proper attention on its assigned day. 
 
For less frequent tasks, set up a system to assign priorities for attention. There are many variations on Steven Covey’s time quadrants that help sort tasks into priority lists. Whether you use Covey’s or some other priority-setting method, such a tool will help get important tasks done before they become critically urgent, and help put unimportant tasks in their proper place. 
 
Once priority items are identified, note when they should be done and get them into the schedule. If you schedule a time, they are much more likely to be accomplished than if you set them aside for “when I have time.”
 
If you identify tasks that take more time than you or your staff can afford to take, consider hiring a contractor for the specific task. The proper contractor will probably have the right tools for the job (do you have them?) and the skills to get the job done more quickly and competently. An example of this is hoof care. Most farms hire the hoof trimmer. What are some other tasks that might be better handled the same way?
 
How much time do you or your employees waste looking for a particular tool or supply item only to finally give up and go buy one? I know at my house the lost tool only shows up the day after I bought its replacement. Avoid both the wasted time and possible expense by having a message board on which you list “lost” or “missing” items, and items someone thinks needs to be purchased. Someone else on the staff might know exactly where an item is located and never thought it might be on someone else’s “misplaced” list. 
 
One last item: Schedule and make known the time for people to take off. A balance in life helps keep good employees on your farm. It shows you value them and their contribution to the farm business. You want them to take time with their families or do things for themselves. Time away from the farm also helps give the mind a break as well as the body. People who take vacation tend to come back refreshed and ready for more productive time at work.
 
Don’t forget to schedule that time off for yourself as well!
 
Chuck Schwartau has been with the University of Minnesota Extension Service for 31 years. As part of the Extension Dairy Team, he focuses on workforce development and management, dairy business organization and risk management. Contact him at cschwart@umn.edu or (507) 536-6301.
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