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Do most important work first

Everyone has a ‘to do’ list. What about your 'stop doing list?'

Tim Schaefer, Founder

March 20, 2023

3 Min Read
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The farm to-do list never ends. It often seems like it has a life of its own, right? It continues to grow even as items get checked off. Many farmers feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that needs to be done.

What is the answer? As farms become larger and more complex, they must, as a business, become more professional wherever possible. One key to becoming more professional is to prioritize your time. This doesn’t mean doing more work. It’s about doing the most important work first.

You may have heard of Stephen Covey, businessman, speaker, and author of the popular book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” He realized that as businesses grow, executives lose momentum by getting bogged down with ever-increasing amounts of work. To regain momentum, Covey posited that leaders need to stop doing some tasks they have done in the past so they could focus on what’s truly important.

He created a matrix to help identify tasks executives should be doing and those they should consider stopping or delegating. Here’s how. Make a list of everything you normally do in a week, a month, a season, or a year. Now, place each of these tasks into one of these four quadrants:

Quadrant 1: Important & urgent

These need your immediate attention and cannot be delayed.

There are two distinct types of urgent and important activities: Ones you could not foresee and other tasks that have been left to the last minute. You can avoid the latter by planning ahead and avoiding procrastination. Be careful of this quadrant. We see farm executives get stuck because they have too many items here. If you feel stuck, I’m guessing you have many items in Quadrant 1 and need to build up your team around you.

Quadrant 2: Important & NOT urgent

Guard and plan your time here.

These are the activities that separate the great farms from the good ones. These activities require deep concentration, free from distractions. Strategic planning, crunching the numbers, and developing your team, go here.

Jealously guard your time here. We have seen the best results when this time is scheduled each week.

Quadrant 3: Urgent & NOT important

Delegate these to others or reschedule to a less busy time.

Urgent but unimportant activities suck up your time but don’t move you forward. You may even enjoy these tasks. Ask yourself whether these tasks can be rescheduled, or if someone else should do them. For example, while we think we are helpful to employees, we often allow them too much latitude to interrupt us. Sometimes it’s appropriate to say “No” and give them the authority to solve the problem themselves.

Alternatively, try scheduling regular meetings so that all issues can be dealt with at the same time.

Quadrant 4: NOT important & NOT urgent

Avoid activities with little or no value to your long or short-term success.

These activities are just a distraction, so avoid them if possible. Have someone else pick up the mail or drop off checks. Save the YouTube videos for your downtime, and maybe the neighbor's kid mows the grass.

Many farmers are amazed at where their time is spent. Yet they feel good when they achieve their important goals by saying “no” while focusing on the important work. Work that only farm executives can do and should do. These progressive operators have time to say yes to what they believe really matters.

Schaefer is an executive management coach and succession planner for farms and agribusinesses. If you have a management or succession planning question, contact [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Tim Schaefer

Founder, Encore Wealth Advisors

Tim Schaefer guides large, successful farm operations, helping them get and keep a competitive edge. His tools are peer groups via the Encore Executive Farmer Network, transition planning, business growth planning, and executive coaching. His print column, Transitions & Strategies, appears regularly in Farm Futures and online at He is a Certified Family Business Advisor, Certified Business Coach and Certified Financial Planner. Raised on a successful family farm, his first business venture was selling sweet corn door to door with an Oliver 70.

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