Procrastination is a major roadblock for farm planning

Start by starting.

When you think about it, that’s logical, isn’t it? So much so, that when I googled “start by starting,” I found a bunch of references to it and numerous people applying it to what they do.

Meryl Streep uses it as part of what she has used to advance her career development as an actor. Arnold Schwarzenegger uses it to promote his fitness program, as do many other people, some more famous than others.

I see no reason why it can’t be applied to farm families who are managing their businesses.

I was in a conversation about management and change recently and someone made a reference to “start by starting.” It seemed to me to be a great way to frame a discussion about challenges associated with planning.

Procrastination is an obstacle for many people when it comes to planning. For farmers, procrastination’s close cousin is “busy-ness.” There is always something to do on a farm and with time being a limited resource, choices must be made where to allocate that time. It’s easy to procrastinate on things that aren’t, or don’t appear to be urgent. Planning would fall into that category.

The type of planning I’m referring to is longer-term planning that includes setting and implementing strategy.

Capital investment is high and increasing, and margins are thin. Of all the risk farmers face, the risks associated with longer-term business strategy may be the most significant.

How many of the unoccupied farmyards in rural communities are a result of a business decision (made or not made) in the past that really was a function of strategy? A decision not to buy some land at some point? Not to upgrade a piece of equipment?

If you find yourself caught in a situation where you are thinking about making some changes in how you approach the management of your business, but you can’t break through the challenges of procrastination, then I suggest that you start by starting.

It really is as the Chinese proverb says, the best time to plant a tree is either 20 years ago or today.

An effective action to counter procrastination challenges is to introduce accountability to your management processes. There are three easy ways to start and actually, the easier the better:

  • send an email
  • make a telephone call
  • make an appointment

The purpose is to engage someone (preferably someone at arm’s length to the business but it can be a family member) who will hold you accountable to getting things done — in this instance, developing a longer-term plan.

The following are some additional considerations:

Start with the end in mind

The purpose here is to answer the question of what it is you are collectively (all people involved in the business) working toward. Getting everyone on the same page benefits the planning process. In the absence of a common end goal, people will do what they think is best, which is understandable and not necessarily bad until there are disagreements about what is best for the business.

Nothing is set in stone

The most common reason I hear from farm families about their inability to plan is their belief that there are too many unknowns that can’t be planned for. I think of it differently. To me, that’s exactly why you should plan. With a plan in place, there is context to deal with the unknowns. I think farmers sometimes get caught in thinking that a plan is rigid. Long-term strategy for farms has to include agility — the ability to react to events that impact on the business.

Don’t let false starts become barriers

There are going to be bumps in the road. This is to be expected. What’s important is that you accept that they will occur and not let them derail the whole process.

Choose the appropriate level of detail

The second-most common comment I hear about the inability to plan is the thinking that plans need to be like textbooks. A farm’s strategic or long-term plan only needs to be at the level of detail that the family needs, given where their business is at and what it is they are working toward. Generally, a simpler plan will be easier to implement. Greater detail can always be added as required.

Commit the time required and set it aside

This one is important and where accountability can help. Determine early on what the timelines are for the planning discussions and then set the meeting dates aside. Having meetings at a location other than the farm office or kitchen can be helpful in ensuring that the commitments are kept.

Terry Betker, P.Ag, 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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