Tips for better time management on the farm

Sourcing labour is an increasingly important issue for many farm businesses, but potential recruits can be put off by farming’s culture of long hours.

Farm workers often want a better work-life balance and are no longer willing to commit to long hours, says Tess Howe, AHDB senior skills manager.

“We have many farmers in the industry that boast about the number of hours they’ve worked, as if it’s a badge of honour to do 80 hours overtime. But we need to say: Are they any better at farming?”

She suggests it may be time for the agricultural industry to start looking at minimal overtime as a benchmark, as opposed to maximum hours.

See also: 7 staff management tips from a dairy farmer

“There are going to be times when we are going to work 14-hour days, but just because we have always done something in a specific way doesn’t mean we should continue to do it.”

Ms Howe, together with management training specialist Alistair Gibb of Cedar Associates and arable farmer Will Oliver, recently took in an AHDB webinar on “Using your time effectively”.

This gave advice on how farmers could manage their time more effectively by taking a step back and assessing day-to-day activities.

Below are some handy tips from the session:

1. Manage your energy

Your ability to manage your energy is vital for managing your time.

There are four key types of energy that feed into this and affect our ability to manage time more effectively and efficiently, according to author and time management consultant Tony Schwartz.

  • Physical energy: How healthy are you? Creating time to recharge is really important. Are you and your staff getting adequate time off?
  • Emotional energy: How happy are you? Welfare is a key part of staff management and your own welfare. Use meetings as an opportunity to check how people are doing.
  • Mental energy: How well can you focus on something? Plan and review what you and others in your business have done and are doing, and set aside clear timeframes to focus properly on tasks.
  • Emotional time: Why do you do what you do, and what’s your purpose? Understanding this gives you the ability to plan long-term.

2. Challenge routine work

Every day you will most likely have a routine and a list of jobs that need to be completed, but it’s easy to get derailed in the course of this.

Unplanned and unexpected tasks, such as machinery breakdowns or requests from customers, suppliers or colleagues, can drain your time. Quite often, planned work is consistently put on the back burner.

So how can you control this to create more time? Most people will re-prioritise tasks.

But how often do we step back and challenge the way we do routine work? There’s a real opportunity to rewrite these jobs and achieve time savings, either through automating a task or speaking to staff that do the jobs.

A time management theory known as the Pareto principle suggests that 80% of your efforts contribute to 20% of results. Therefore, can you identify quick wins? Where can you work smarter rather than harder?

You can save time, cost and effort, creating more space to work on bigger projects.

3. Be clear about your goals and how you measure success

What are your goals and how do you measure them?

Financial and physical performance goals such as yields are measurable outcomes of efforts.

4. Prioritise your jobs

We often spend more time on the jobs we like doing, but these can be lower-priority work.

Although it may motivate you, are they helping to deliver your goals? You could be doing high-priority work but sometimes these are jobs you put off because you don’t like doing them.

For example, how many farmers leave office work until the end of the day, when they are tired? Get the important jobs done first when you have a clear head.

Assess what jobs are important and what are urgent. A lot of things are driven by urgency –  what needs to be done within a certain timeframe – but how often do you step back and assess how important that is?

Important things such as benchmarking and budgeting drives results.

If you don’t look at how critical and important jobs are you will just keep tackling the tasks that need doing. You need to ask yourself: what’s important and what will make a difference to my business? We are notorious as an industry for not putting a value on our time.  

Can you delegate milking cows or loading grain lorries so you can spend time doing more important jobs that will impact your bottom line?

5. Have a clear plan

Know what tasks you need to do daily, for the week and for the month ahead.

But don’t plan too much and risk not fitting it all in. Plan to spend 60% of your time doing jobs, to give you the flexibility for the unplanned.

If other tasks do get dropped on you, ask: When can this be done? Does this really need to be done now?

6. Maintain your attention span

Multitasking is less efficient and less effective. Switching from task to task means you have to pick up where you’ve left off.

Protect time to shut out distractions and give work your full attention.

  • Switch off all the things that will distract you, such as mobile phones.
  • Set a time limit for yourself.
  • Block out time in the diary so others know you’re unavailable; this can also help make staff self-reliant by giving them more freedom to make their own decisions.
  • Reward yourself after you’ve got it done.
  • Take regular breaks. Do 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break to allow yourself to catch up with other tasks. After four turns of that you can give yourself a longer, 15-minute break.
  • Give yourself deadlines to keep you focused.

7. Keep a log of your time

The reality of where our time goes is very different to how much time is actually being spent on jobs.

Keep a time log for three days and every time you finish working on a job, record how much time was spent on it.

You can then start to look at how much time goes to true priorities and assess whether there’s a better way to organise your day.

What to analyse

  • How much time is being spent on unplanned jobs? A lot of people spend 60% of their time working on unplanned tasks. The more of that time you can reclaim, the better.
  • How much of your time is spent working on true priorities? Are you the best person to be doing lower-priority jobs? What’s the best use of your time? Where can you play to your strengths?
  • Ask yourself: What’s the true value of my time? Farmers are notorious for not putting a value on their own time. Understand exactly how much it costs you to do a job. Are you suddenly an overpaid tractor driver or milker? Can anyone else be doing it?
  • If you’re a one-man band, can you delegate the contracting to take off some pressure?
  • Can you share machinery and labour with your neighbour?
  • Who has skills that can do the job better than you? Sometimes paying others may be cost-effective.

Professional Manager Development scheme

Applications for the ADHB’s Professional Manager Development scheme close on 24 June.

This offers agricultural workers a formal qualification in leadership and management. Successful applicants will be asked to attend an interview in July and if candidates get a place on the course they will attend 10 sessions over a 14-month period to develop their management skills.

AHDB levy payers are eligible for a discount, with the course costing £950 plus VAT (this includes tutor and hotel costs). Non-levy payers will pay £3,950 plus VAT.

To download the form and get more information about the course go to the scheme’s page on the ADHB website.

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