Make sure you are getting the best use out of your time

Here’s somewhat of a rhetorical question: what are you doing right now? And then a follow-on question: what should you be doing right now?

The second question warrants some discussion.

A farm business requires a considerable investment in capital — assets such as land, buildings, equipment, livestock and quota.

However, an investment is also required in energy, ideas and time.

There can certainly be constraints on the availability of credit, and your energy can be variable. Ideas — well, there’s usually no shortage of ideas.

But your time, that’s a different issue. There’s only one absolute finite resource and that’s your time. Which leads to a third question: how do you spend it — your time, that is?

I’m finding that increasingly, farmers are starting to think more critically about where they’re spending their time.

It’s somewhat relevant — if not too simplified — to think about your time as being organized into two blocks in a year: the “heavy production block” from April through October and the “go to meetings block” from November through March.

The “heavy production block” would rather you just not sleep at all.

Seriously, though, time is at an ultimate premium during this period. You still have control over where you spend your time during that period but admittedly, there is a long list of things that mandate how you use it.

The “go to meetings block” is a different story. You have much more control over how you spend your time during this period. Many farmers I talk to tell me that they are actively looking at the value they will expect to receive from making an investment of their time in attending a meeting. One exasperated farmer told me recently that it feels to him that as soon as it freezes up, everyone wants some of his time.

Meetings can take a lot of time. There’s a concept known as return on time invested. It can get fairly complex, but here’s a simple way to rate or score the effectiveness of a meeting.

When the meeting is over, think about it and “vote” with your hand:

  • Five fingers means the meeting was extremely useful.
  • Four fingers is an indication that the meeting was above average and that you gained more than the value of the time spent.
  • Three fingers is average, essentially a break-even on what was gained from the meeting compared to the time invested.
  • Two fingers says the meeting was useful, so not a complete waste, but a losing proposition from a return on time invested perspective.
  • And lastly, one finger. It means the meeting is a complete waste of time.

If you find that the meetings you’re attending are getting lots of one and two finger scores, it’s time to critically look at the purpose and function of the meeting and make some changes so that there is an acceptable return on time invested.

Back to the discussion on how you spend your time. Key to the longer-term success for many farms is focusing more on doing the “right things” in the business than doing “things right.” It’s easily said but not easily done.

There is no debate that things need to get done “right.” Seasonal pressures are great, and the margins are just too thin not to make sure that things are getting done right.

“It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trip, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder at climbing the ladder of success only to find it’s leaning against the wrong wall,” says Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

“Is it possible to be busy, very busy, without being effective?”

I think the answer for farmers and farm families is yes. “Busy-ness,” though is not about doing the right things. A focus on doing the “right things” would help to ensure that you end up with the ladder leaning against the right wall. In other words, you’ve ended up where you wanted to get to.

Ultimately, it’s about choice. Goodness knows there’s no end of things to do on a farm. It’s generally easier to just be busy. Is that, though, going to win the day? If so, then just get at it.

For a great many farms, though, they will be better served by making different choices about how they “spend their time,” which could very well mean a whole lot less time on a tractor than in an office.

Terry Betker is a farm management consultant based in Winnipeg. He can be reached at 204-782-8200 or terry.betker@backswath.com.

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