4 February 2013

‘I never seem to get to the Big Jobs!’

In the past I had a conversation with a young farmer about proactivity, and how it links to planning and prioritising. Like many farmers, Derek used to feel overwhelmed with many little jobs. The big but less urgent matters got left. He shared how putting a high priority on one long-term project at a time and treating it as an appointment was starting to make a huge difference.

His most recent example had been putting a race out to the back of his 450 hectare sheep and beef farm. He calculated what it cost him not to have a race. On his quad he could open and shut a gate in about 30 seconds, and there were five gates out to the back. On average he’d go there at least 5 times a week, and bring stock through weekly. When droving animals, each gateway took three to four minutes to negotiate, typically there’d be one paddock already occupied (which took extra time), and of course there were always a few break-aways. And, when he did yard work the animals had to linger in the yard until he’d finished. With a race he could let them straggle back to the grass, minimising lost feeding time.

Even without the lost growth opportunities, his calculations showed up a very conservative 80 minutes a week spent in these various ways – nearly two 40 hour weeks per year of wasted time, and that wasn’t taking into account the dollar value of his time or the lost opportunity cost as he stared up the backsides of his animals instead of doing something else.

If we calculate a farm manager earning (with perks) about $60,000 p.a., the lack of that race was costing Derek close to $2,000 per year (conservatively). Extrapolate for a few years and it becomes serious money.

Let’s just focus on the principle behind it. Derek had to put other day-to-day work aside, organise a fencer to come in and help him, and pay for and organise the materials. It slowed down his day-to-day routines for about a week. But it was proactive, long-term, and once finished, immediately sped up the farm management.

As we practice the long view we shift from short-term results and a sense of being bogged down, to permanent improvement. This is not to trivialise the constant, regular and often quite important work – of course it has to be done, and if ignored causes all manner of problems. But it’s very easy to be active in a maintaining, rather than an improving way.

The paradox is, in order to go faster, first we must go slower. It’s too easy to say, ‘I don’t have time to develop better systems’. But – if we don’t make the time, we’ll never move beyond our current state. Once the improvement is bedded in, we get results much faster.

How can we integrate proactive activities into our already-busy lives?

It’s all in the order of the activities we do each day. If we start with the most important tasks, or even a small part of a big task, it’s amazing how much more we can achieve. The less important activities somehow always fit in and around the major task. Also, the sense of satisfaction as you make progress on a major activity – before it becomes a pressing deadline – becomes a reward in itself. Stress is dramatically reduced.

Most people, as they should, start the day with the really urgent and critical items. Almost always, the wrong thing to do is then either to tackle some of the easy items on the list or just work down from the top, no matter what the priority.

Here’s the big key to improved proactivity – make sure, every day you possibly can, to spend some time on things that will have a long-term impact. What hard but important task are you procrastinating on? Do it early, or upgrade it to an appointment as Derek did.





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