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Why Time Management Isn’t Working on Modern Dairy Farms!

I will never forget the day that a former co-worker once told me that “farmers will never buy into laptops and personal computers!” That co-worker is now retired! I call myself re-fired! At that time, fifteen years ago, I was a crusader for saving time and money for our national company by making better use of available technology such as laptops, conference calls, and email instead of flying boards of directors everywhere, the laborious taking of minutes and monthly, instead of daily, updates. For me, as the Information Director, everything moved too slowly. Today we have access to devices and platforms that weren’t even imagined then. And, in my opinion, as far as time management goes, traditional methods are as outdated as the grandfather clock that chimes the hours at Huntsdale!

Goodbye offices. Hello, telecommuting!

Traditional time management teaches us to “start with a list of things you want to accomplish today!” In 2016, once you have checked Facebook and email, that list is already unrealistic and woefully behind.

Traditional time management also teaches us to “Set Priorities: 1, 2, 3, etc.” I can’t tell you the number of discussions we have about prioritizing. It seems that everything is “high priority” and “urgent.” I am genetically opposed to crisis management. Well-managed time is not driven by the current crisis. It prevents them!

Traditional time management teaches us to “close the door” to prevent being distracted. Closed door or not, our brains are spinning with incoming lures from the internet, cell phones, iPads, and pagers. On dairy farms and ag businesses, the concept of a schedule is already three hours behind before 8 o’clock in the morning.

Distraction From Work? OR Distraction By Work?

The problem is not that we are getting distracted away from the task at hand. The problem is that we are being distracted by other work continually presenting itself. How many times have you started to complete an important task on your daily priority list, only to be lured away by incoming emails, service providers driving in the lane or Mother Nature putting a special spin on the simple logistics of feeding, raising and moving cattle? Today’s dairy managers are so overwhelmed by incoming information; they spend much of their time “fielding” incoming issues. They end up operating without a big picture look at their total responsibilities. Work is coming at them from half a dozen sources. Interruptions seem non-stop. It feels like there is no time for anything let alone for managing time itself.

Techniques we Learned in the Past Are Failing Us

Look around your office. Are there too many sticky notes beginning to curl up at the corners? Are the paper lists landing in an ever-growing pile of printouts? Does it happen that flagged emails quickly fall below the scroll and get buried? When was the last time you had a day where you didn’t feel you were in a state of constant distraction and multi-tasking?

Are you Busy or are You Productive?

A study out of the University of Illinois (Disruption and Recover of Computing Tasks) concluded that ” More than a quarter of the time someone switches tasks, it’s two hours or more before they resume what they were doing.” (Source: Time Management Doesn’t Work) I don’t know of any statistical analysis of farm routines that compares the effect of multi-tasking, but common sense confirms that if you are always managing distractions, you are consistently reactive instead of proactive. This means that you could be missing the financial benefits of moving your business forward.

The truth is, we have to work differently now.

Effectiveness is the measure of time management success. Employees need to be trained to improve their productivity skills and overcome the challenges of modern day problems.

There are three critical components required in order to build effectiveness:

  1. Manage role priorities rather than task priorities.
  2. Manage attention rather than managing time.
  3. Set up a comprehensive workflow management system for staff.

If employees use these three steps, they won’t spend their time being distracted by incoming issues. Priorities will arise only from those things that are priorities for their assigned role. They gain clarity and focus when they manage their attention.

Dairy Managers Must Align Roles and Goals

One of the hardest habits to overcome is “being busy”. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that your day has been full. However, just as working late doesn’t mean you are working efficiently. A busy day does not mean that you have dealt effectively with your dairy priorities.

If you find yourself balking at taking the time to work out the goals of your dairy farm, then time management will never be a useful tool for you and your staff. Managers and employees need to be very clear on what is expected of each position on the farm. When employees know how to focus on their primary job roles, it is easier to filter out the irrelevant noise and take effective action. For example, when a vet/nutritionist/feed salesperson arrives unannounced at the farm, it should be clear how this interruption is to be handled and by whom. Hubby reminded me of a sign that was posted on a farm: “We shoot every third unannounced visitor and the second unannounced person just left!”

If these distractions and others are handled on a first come first served basis, there will never be enough time to raise the effectiveness in any area to the next level.

Little Things Make a Big Difference

For example, as a dairy manager, how often do you feel that you are spending too much time working at the dairy farm rather than working for the dairy farm.

A renewed focus on clearly defining the role of the dairy manager, calf manager or milking manager can reduce the temptation to spend too much time on email and other day-to-day minutiae or interruptions.

Do You Go with the Flow or Do You Control the Flow?

There are many unique situations that arise every day on dairy farms. These irregularities force changes in order to accommodate weather, planting season, harvesting … equipment challenges and animal sickness. And those are just a few. This is where communication is crucial. Everyone needs to be aware of how their role changes during seasons of added activity or high stress. The temptation is just to put your head down and do whatever it takes to get through everything. Too many of us have been raised to accept that if it means multitasking…so be it. If the days are long and strenuous…so be it. If everything doesn’t get done to the highest standard…so be it. At the end of the season – or a particular stress — the hope is that everything has turned out all right. The question I have each time relates to the fact that, although it’s unusual, the stress does return. Perhaps at some point, it becomes time to plan ahead. We want change, but we are not committed to changing anything. The planning — in 2016—needs to move beyond sticky notes left in the milkhouse … quick notations on a calendar or something you scribbled on the back of the seed delivery invoice.

Measured Success

The modern dairy form doesn’t survive by having the longest list of jobs that got done. Success turns on the interaction between feed production, animal care, nutrition and financial management. The old fashioned “Get a whole lot done!” must evolve into “Get it done right!”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The true measure of time management is its effectiveness. It isn’t easy to be productive and efficient on dairy farms that are overloaded with information and fighting for survival alongside fast changing technology, genetics, and economic pressures. When the right work is done right by using the right resources, the results are intentional, measurable and financially and personally rewarding.



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