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Eisenhower got time management right

Business Basics: Using the Eisenhower Decision Matrix on the farm will save you time and resources.

May 22, 2023

4 Min Read
 farming couple looking at a tractor contemplating a decision
TOUGH CHOICES: Often farmers like to do it all — no matter the task, large or small. However, that approach leads to stress. It is time to decide which tasks warrant your time and those that should simply go away. Fertnig/Getty Images

by Wesley Tucker

The key to both profitability and our mental health is developing a system to ensure we are making the best use of our limited time.

Unfortunately, when many of us get off work, there is a list of 10 things that need done, but we only have enough daylight to accomplish two — and that’s if we’re lucky. So how do we decide what to do?

The reality is many of us become firemen and firewomen — trying to put out the biggest fires first:

  • The cows must be fed.

  • Fields need to be planted and sprayed.

  • Heifers calving require checking.

  • Hay needs to be baled.

But going from one fire to the next means we never get to preventative maintenance and efficiency improvements that can help prevent many of the fires we fight daily.

We never get time to make those forage improvements that might reduce the need to feed so much hay, or time-consuming machinery maintenance that can prevent costly breakdowns that seem to come at the worst possible time.

Some people like lists, others don’t. Writing down everything that needs done is a good visual exercise, and then you can prioritize where to invest your time.

We’ve all heard the 80-20 rule. Twenty percent of our actions produce 80% of the results. But how do we find the time to invest in those 20%?

Eisenhower Matrix explained

When Dwight Eisenhower was given the responsibility of shaping an army to defeat Adolf Hitler, he knew he needed to prioritize their actions. So, he developed the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, with the four quadrants based on a task’s importance and urgency.

1. Do. Items that are both important and urgent fall into this quadrant. These items need to be done immediately. Skipping feeding the cows today simply isn’t an option. However, we often spend way too much time in this quadrant putting out fires.

2. Schedule. Here items are important, but not urgent. These are things that can improve our efficiency and, in the long run, actually save us time because they lead to less time fighting fires. But just like date night with your spouse, unless you intentionally schedule them, they are unlikely to happen.

3. Delegate. The bottom left quadrant is where items are urgent but not important. They are time sensitive, but the reality is they are not where you create the most value in your business. Your skills and expertise could be better spent elsewhere. So as delegate implies, this means finding or hiring someone else to complete the task. Part-time producers actually struggle with this even more than full-time operations. With only so much time to spare, you need to allocate it to tasks with the biggest impact on your overall business.

4. Delete. The final quadrant consists of tasks that are not important or urgent but mostly distractions. We all have things we do that ultimately don’t add value to our future. If you stopped doing them, would it negatively affect your operation? Do those roadsides really need to be clipped just because it makes it look nice? Is the furthest leased property costing you more in time and fuel expense than value it creates?

Make family a priority

I want to leave everyone with one final caution: What is more important to you — the farm or your family?

Nearly everyone will immediately respond that family is their most important asset. However, do we truly prioritize our time accordingly?

With limited time to get everything done, the one thing that often gets pushed to the backburner is normally the most important — time with our families. Be very careful about letting the farm consume you. Remember what is most important.

For those of you part-time famers who have embarked on this journey, I salute you. Raising cattle and crops to feed the world is truly a worthwhile endeavor. But make sure to prioritize your tasks to be sure you are spending your time where it’s creating the most value for your operation.

Try to delegate and delete a few tasks off your plate, so you can schedule more important ones that will make the operation more efficient and profitable.

I have a lot of respect for firemen and firewomen, but when it comes to managing my farm, I want to get out of the managing fires business. How about you?

Tucker is a University of Missouri Extension ag business specialist and succession planner. He can be reached at [email protected] or 417-326-4916.

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