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How to move away from ‘putting out fires’

Developing a future outlook helps clarify day-to-day focus, too.

When it comes to moving through a day on the farm, most of us have a ‘go-to’ way of operating. I often hear from farm leaders that they feel like they spend the majority of their time ‘putting out fires’ – all day, every day.

This typically means tending to whatever is most urgent at the moment. It can feel like running from crisis to crisis, solving every problem.

Others may have a different approach. They schedule their main focus each day. They devote most of their time to the scheduled item, but are flexible in case something major comes up. Most importantly, their day-to-day actions are all aimed around a bigger purpose or overarching goals that have been set within their operation.

Which of those two approaches best describes the way you operate each day? Most people tend to operate in ‘putting out fires’ mode – attending to whatever is most urgent at the moment. But we can miss out on opportunities to really focus our time and energy if we concentrate on the urgent, at the expense of what’s most important.

Get the right focus

First, give yourself a rating – on a scale of 1 to 10 – on how strategically your farm operates and how that’s informing your everyday work and actions. A 10 rating means you consistently plan your focus for each day. There’s always a direct link between your everyday work and the strategic direction and goals of the farm.

Most of us likely aren’t at that ‘10’ yet. But choosing to be more intentional about our focus, as I mentioned before, allows us to best apply the scarcest resources we have as a leader – our time and energy – where it will matter the most. When we know where our time and energy have the greatest impact in the operation, we can make better decisions as to which ‘fires’ truly require our attention in the moment and which do not.

To know what’s most important for us as leaders, we have to first get clear on our priorities for our operation and create a strategic direction. To do this, it’s key to set aside time for intensive planning. Not just a couple hours – for the time and attention necessary, it’s a longer project.

Work it out

Plan for a few days during the off-season to get the farm’s stakeholders together for a planning meeting. It’s important to get everyone together and on board. It can sometimes help to have a third party from off-farm facilitate the session. They can help guide the family through questions that help bring a longer-term view, to get everyone thinking about where they really want the farm to be in the future.

Planning together lets everyone on the farm get clear on the future focus. It can especially help the farm leader as they determine their own priorities each day – where their time is best spent working toward the strategic goals that have been set. It becomes easier to take the longer view of what’s important, not simply what happens to be urgent.

If you think your operation may benefit from getting more strategic about the future, get in touch with our business advisors for the farm.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.


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