Mind Your Management Hours

February 24, 2016 02:28 AM

Why farm leaders should spend their time strategically

You have more demands on your time than ever. On any given day, you balance production, management, human resources, marketing and family life. 

“As in any business, time on the farm is of the essence,” says Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension regional director. “A couple of days or even a few hours can make a big difference.”

Most farmers are tuned into major priorities such as planting or managing a livestock herd. Yet Schwartau says they might not be dedicating time each day to managing their business. As you shift from being a doer to a manager, focus on accomplishing tasks that will propel your operation forward.

Know Your Role. To understand how you are spending your time, write a list of your duties and responsibilities. Have your team do the same so you can define roles and job descriptions, suggests Joe Kluender, president of Farm Family Dynamics in Mankato, Minn.

“One of the biggest mistakes I see on farms is a duplication of management,” Kluender says. “You have one, two or three people all making the same decision. This confuses employees and reduces efficiency.” 

Once you have your list, determine where your energy is best spent or where you still have strong passion, Kluender advises. 

Also identify which duties you can transition to other family members or employees. “Each year at your annual family or business meeting, choose which role or responsibility you will give up,” he says. “Challenge the next generation to pinpoint duties they can take over.”

As you spend more time thinking long term about your business, you might need to change your daily definition of success. 

“You don’t tend to have the same sense of accomplishment in the office as finishing a field or filling a bin,” Kluender acknowledges. 

“But not shifting leadership duties may create a glass ceiling for the next generation.” 

Prioritize Tasks With A Time Diary

You can’t improve the way you manage your time unless you comprehensively understand how you are spending it. To get a handle on what fills your hours, keep a detailed time diary, suggests Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension regional director.

“Record as much detail as possible for a week on a pocket notebook or by making a few notes on your smartphone,” Schwartau says. “Make brief notes of what you have been doing and approximately how much time you spent on the task.” 

After you have several days or weeks of entries, Schwartau says, you should ask yourself these questions: 

  • Are there routine and frequently repeated tasks in my day?
  • Could someone else on the farm perform some of these tasks?
  • How long did I spend on tasks someone else could have done?
  • Which of my tasks are a high priority? Which might be dropped?
  • 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?

A second part of the exercise is to list tasks that need to be done each day. Close out the end of the day with an evaluation: 

  • What didn’t I get done, and why? Does it need to be done at all?
  • Did low-priority items get in the way?
  • How can I change for tomorrow?

“Congratulate yourself for what you did get done rather than beat yourself up for what you didn’t get done,” Schwartau advises. “Your day isn’t any longer than anyone else’s on the farm—use the information to plan and execute a more productive day tomorrow with priority items getting more attention.”

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