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How can I get more time in my day?

Wesley Tucker for Progressive Cattle Published on 29 June 2022

During a recent interview, a reporter asked me about the struggles of time management for the part-time farmer. First, have you ever met a part-time farmer? I haven’t. You’re either a farmer or you’re not. It’s just who you are.

Does it have to do with working less than a full 40-hour week? No, because many of you easily put in that many hours on nights and weekends to care for your cattle herd. In reality, most people consider a part-time farmer to be someone who earns the majority of their income from off-farm employment but also operates a farm.

Unfortunately, the size and scope of a cattle operation needed to make the debt payments and provide a sufficient standard of living precludes many of us from being full-time farmers. But that doesn’t diminish our love for the cattle industry. So, while our co-workers head to the lake or on vacation, we sacrifice our nights and weekends investing in our cattle herd. It’s a labor of love. But 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.

Prioritizing tasks

When many of us get off work, there is a list of 10 things that need to be done, but we only have enough daylight to accomplish two – if we’re lucky. How do we decide what to do? The reality is many of us become firemen and women – trying to put out the biggest fire first. The cows must be fed. Heifers calving require checking. Hay needs to be baled.

But going from one fire to the next means we never get to issues like preventative maintenance and efficiency improvements that can help prevent many of the fires we fight daily. We never get time to make those forage-management improvements that might actually reduce the need to feed so much hay, potentially freeing up days in the summer from baling it and in the winter from feeding it.

Some people like lists, others don’t. But writing everything down that needs to be done is a good visual exercise to see where you’re at. 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%?

062922 tucker more time

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Eisenhower Matrix

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

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

Good managers find a way to spend more time in the next quadrant, called “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.

The bottom left quadrant is called “delegate,” 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, find someone else to do them.

This may mean hiring someone else to complete the task. Margins for cattle operations are often slim, so spending money to hire someone to do something you could do yourself may seem counterintuitive. Why would I pay someone to build that stretch of fence or spray those weeds versus doing it myself?

The problem is, when will you find the time, and could your limited time be better spent elsewhere? 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. Would you become a better manager of your cows if you started buying your hay or stopped raising your own replacements?

The final quadrant consists of tasks that are not important or urgent. These tasks are distractions you should “delete.” 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 annual weeds really need to be clipped just because it makes it look nice? Is the furthest rental property costing you more in time and fuel expense than value it creates?

Family first

Before I conclude, 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 the family is their most important asset. However, do we 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 who have embarked upon this journey some call “part-time cattle producer,” I salute you. Raising cattle and feeding 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 women, but when it comes to managing my farm, I want to get out of the managing fires business. How about you?  end mark

Wesley Tucker
  • Wesley Tucker

  • Field Specialist in Agricultural Business
  • University of Missouri Extension
  • Email Wesley Tucker