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Not everything can be a top priority

Chuck Schwartau

I recently read an article about time management on the dairy farm that said, “the difference between a good farmer and a bad farmer is two weeks.” Timeliness can make a tremendous difference in forage quality, breeding success or general health management on the dairy.

At times, anyone can find themselves in the situation of too many things to do and not enough time to get them done. This may be the result of trying to do too many different things; or perhaps there is a shortage of labor to accomplish all the desired tasks; or maybe it is because no one has taken the time to prioritize the tasks at hand and determine their importance to the success of the dairy.

People vary in how they look at tasks and set priorities, but one fairly simple tool for setting priorities is built around two questions and combinations of the answers to each based around Steven Covey's work leading to time quadrants.

  1. “How important is this task to the well-being of my dairy business?” Some tasks make a significant difference to the business. If the cows aren't milked every day, the income source literally dries up and the farm business suffers. On the other hand, painting the fence makes the farm place look nice but it won't impact the business if it doesn't get painted. Importance tends to measure the value of a task.
  2. “How urgent is this task to the well-being of my dairy business?” Urgency takes time into account. If a task is not done in a proper sequence, or at an appropriate time in relation to other tasks, what will be the consequences? Could inaction have dire consequences for the farm?

Not every task can be clearly categorized, but combining the two questions helps put things in perspective. Consider the following diagram to create an action plan for priority tasks on your farm:

Creating an action plan
1. Create a TO DO list of actions
2. Set priorities

Priority 1: Important and Urgent
“Delegate it or do it now”

Priority 2: Important and Not Urgent
“Plan time to do it as soon as possible”

Priority 3: Urgent but Not Important
“Plan to not get these tasks”

Priority 4: Not Important and Not Urgent

3. Get into it – Do the actions marked “Priority 1” first
Priority Action Completed

Source: Managing Human Resources on the Dairy Farm, Dexcel Action Planner

In the simplest form, you would only need to ask yourself the two questions about any task on the farm with your answers to them put into one of the four Priority categories.

Priority 1 – “Important and Urgent” You or someone you delegate to do the task needs to take action NOW!! A milk fever cow needing immediate attention would be a good example.

Priority 2 – “Important and Not Urgent” Determine the time it takes to perform the task, and get it done as soon as possible. Set a time by which it is to be done. Paying current bills or checking feed inventories may fall into this category.

Priority 3 – “Urgent but Not Important” Watch here for items that may seem important but really have a minimal impact on the total farm business. It might be nice to get the mail read every day, but the farm won't collapse if you don't get it done.

Priority 4 – “Not Important and Not Urgent” Tasks falling into this category are often distractions that get in the way of other, more important tasks. The people involved get easily sidetracked or start tasks because they don't want to start other more important ones. Ditch these tasks!

A few simple steps can help you stay on track and get the important things done on your farm:

Finally, self–discipline is necessary to carry out step 3 in the diagram – putting the plan into action. Put the plan on paper or a whiteboard and hold each other accountable for completing assigned high priority tasks. These steps can move you farther along the path of operational excellence – always getting things done correctly and on time.

Published in Dairy Star December 9, 2006

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