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Time to decide

Small, mid-size and large farms all are 
searching for more hours in the day. As it turns out, the solution is the same for all of them

When James Perry became director of human resources at the United States Department of Agriculture some 30 years ago, he fell into the trap. He felt instantly overwhelmed. Faced with being in charge of training, development and education for 3,600 employees, he spent more time deciding what he didn’t have time to do than he spent trying to find ways to use his time more effectively.

Farmers can sympathize. Like Perry, they know the helpless feeling when you just can’t get it all done, let alone have time for a life too.

Like Perry, farmers know there are loads of self-help books on time management. They also know there are time consultants, and most have heard of the Franklin Covey time management empire.

The difference is, Perry has gotten past his doubts and suspicions, and today is utterly convinced that the hocus-pocus actually works.

About six weeks into his job at USDA, the Cincinnati-born Perry’s boss paid him a visit to see how things were going. “I’ll never forget what I said to her,” he recalls. “I said, ‘I’m so busy that I don’t have time to get organized.’ When saying that, I realized the fallacy of it — that if only I’d have spent more time getting organized, I likely wouldn’t have been so busy.”

Perry’s boss recommended he enrol in the Franklin Covey time management program, which he did. “Coming out of that program, my thinking turned around completely,” he says. “I began doing more effective planning, which is essentially time management.

“I was no longer running, scurrying around, getting frustrated, stressed, and uptight, and not being able to get things done. Once I gained a better understanding of how to manage my time effectively, everything began to work for me.”

Now retired from the USDA, Perry has become a time management teacher in his own right, delivering an eight-hour version of the Franklin Covey system called What Matters Most. He’s also a facilitator for Nikken’s Humans Being More (HBM), teaching the program around the world.

After all those years, however, the basic problem hasn’t changed. Neither has the solution. “Effectively planning for what you want takes only about 15 minutes a day, and that will significantly contribute to you achieving what you want in life,” Perry tells me.

The individual causes vary from farm to farm, with Perry rattling off a list including “poor planning, failure to listen, unclear goals, socializing, lack of self-discipline, unrealistic time constraints, unwillingness to say ‘no,’ lack of motivation, attitude, failure to delegate, being overly concerned with details, indecision, and a cluttered environment.”

Sound familiar?

“I believe in the process of effectively planning for what you want, putting it into a formal plan, and goal setting,” says Perry. “We must effectively plan for what we want instead of settling for what we get.

“It all comes down to what you want to achieve.”

On the farm

“On a scale of one to 10, I’d probably put myself as a six, but I want to be closer to a nine,” Geoff Dyck tells me. Dyck, 45, owns and operates Boundary Creek Farm in the interlake region of Manitoba with his wife, Theresa, and he admits he has thought about learning more time management skills, and has put it off at least once.

“There’s always room for improvement when it comes to time management,” Dyck says. “I want to not be totally consumed with the farm and have time for other things.”

The Dycks run an 80-acre farm based mainly of vegetables grown under Community Supported Agriculture agreements, where their customers register and pay cash up front in the spring, and in return get a weekly delivery of fresh vegetables throughout the growing season.

The Dycks raised their family while living in Winnipeg, but about 12 years ago decided to return to their rural, farm-living roots. They sold their house, quit their jobs, and apprenticed on farms in southern Ontario for two years.

They then moved back to Manitoba, found a farm, and away they went.

Today, the Dycks do the same kinds of time management that most farmers practise. They keep calendars as well as lists of jobs that need doing. They also sit down once a week, often on Saturdays, to look at the week ahead and to block out big chunks of time that they can dedicate to important jobs without interruption.

Like other farmers, they do seasonal planning too, spending time in the winter to review their past year and look for opportunities to gain efficiency.

South of the Dycks, Pamela and Clint Cavers own and operate Harborside Farms in southern Manitoba, with Pamela saying that on a scale of one to 10, she believes time management on their farm scores a nine for importance. “It’s probably the biggest downfall in our farm management,” she says.

The Cavers’ farm is located in Pilot Mount, Man., about 10 miles north of the U.S. border. Clint grew up on a conventional cattle farm in the Pilot Mound area his whole life, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.

Along the way, the Cavers have picked up some time management training. “We took a holistic management course quite a few years ago,” says Pamela. “We learned from there how to set personal goals — for our farm and for our family. We make sure we know our family is equally important as everything else. If we don’t have that family or refreshing time, the farm, everything, will fail.”

The Cavers have continued to work at time management too. “We actually use Google Calendar to schedule a lot of our farm tasks,” Pamela says. “We’re part of a group that’s pretty keen on the Internet and computer stuff, so they recently introduced that to us. It works well. We’re all aware of what’s needed and what’s going on.”

Now, however, they’re coming up against the limits of their informal time management system.

“Oftentimes, people get overscheduled, with lists for absolutely everything,” Pamela says. “That can become destructive.”

Perry’s pointers

Perry recognizes that every farmer faces a tough time challenge. “A farmer’s time is very busy, and they’re typically not involved in things that are merely optional,” he sasy. “They typically spend their time on essential tasks.”

Still, he thinks his formula will help farmers too.

Perry sticks to the rules himself. He writes down what he wants to accomplish each day and assigns a value to it, with “A” being urgent, “B” being important, and “C” meaning optional. Then he sticks to the list. “I’m always writing things down, and when I set a value to it, I stay focused,” Perry says. “I highly recommend that everybody do this.”

The writing down is important, he says. Once a goal is on paper, you have to deal with it.

At the same time, Perry also sets monthly, annual, and long-range (over two years) goals. “I often write things down in my planner the night before just so I won’t forget it,” says Perry. “I don’t wait to write time-sensitive tasks down. I’m always thinking and planning ahead, considering goals and how to achieve them.

“Getting things done on your list gives you satisfaction, a rush of endorphins. If there’s something on my list I meant to do that day but didn’t, if it’s important to me, I’ll put it on the next day’s and the day after that’s list. But if I find myself continuing to not get it done, I deem it to be unimportant and drop it off my list altogether.

“If a particular task is going to take me six hours, I’ll be especially aware of the tasks on my list that day. It can be very discouraging to look at your list at the end of the day and to only have completed two tasks. Putting my list together, I’m keenly aware of about how much time each task will require. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself, getting into a pattern of self-defeat.”

Something else Perry learned a long time ago is that family comes first. “The goal is to create a balance between family, society, finances, physical, spiritual, mental, and such. One’s life can’t be all about work.”

Perry and his wife sit down together within the first few days of each new year, and, first and foremost, acknowledge that they are truly blessed. “As we put together our annual goals and look at the different areas of our lives we want to balance, we put things into categories. This way, when we’re doing our weekly, monthly, and yearly planning, we’re allocating time in a balanced way to each of the areas we want to fulfil.

“Some things are seasonal, especially in the life of a farmer, but then you just need to make adjustments around those seasonal periods,” Perry says. “You may be busy for extended periods of time, but then in your downtime you can catch up with the other important areas of your life.” CG

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