Mike Brady: Why time really is money for farmers
Planning and delegating are essential skills for getting the most out of the working day
As time moves on into Autumn 2019, a common theme amongst farmer clients is 'where has this year gone', the Latin phrase 'tempus fugit' or time flies comes to mind.
Time is a precious commodity many of us, including farmers, fail to manage properly.
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"Work expands itself into the time available to do it," an experienced agricultural consultant once advised me, words I have found to be very true, especially if you love your work.
Many farmers are guilty of throwing themselves headlong into their work. As a general rule, they get out of bed early and many work late into the evening. In fact, starting and finish times vary from region to region throughout the country.
In my experience, traditionally, farmers in West Cork and Kerry like to start later in the morning and finish later in the evening. Whereas farmers in Meath, Waterford and Tipperary like early starts and prefer to finish earlier too.
The origin of this variation in practice could be the size of farm holdings. Larger holdings have more workload and have to employ staff with a defined start and finish time, whereas on smaller holdings, getting up early is not as critical and the work is still completed before the end of the day.
Many of these traditions continue on in townlands throughout the country. We all remember the local shame of a sleep-in; i.e. when the neighbour has his cows back out to grass after the morning milking and yours are not yet in the parlour! This farmer pride determines when the cows are milked in most areas.
They reality is it does not matter what time you start and finish once you do the job properly and manage your time well. Many farmers are very efficient at using their time well, while others are disorganised and never seem to be on time for anything.
Working smarter, of course, is better than working harder, but those who know when to work hard and smart for important periods in a farm business are those who pull ahead of the field.
In my experience, here are the characteristics of farmers who manage their time well...
Tasks - plan and prioritise
Good time managers are goal focused. They have a clear picture of where their farm business is and where they want it to be, i.e. the developed system. When they set about doing a day's work, they plan the tasks needed to be done that day to help them achieve the holy grail of the developed system.
All tasks cannot be done at once, therefore prioritising tasks and estimating the time required to complete them is a critical skill. Many farmers try to do too much in a day and, as a result, often feel deflated after the day ends because they did not complete all the tasks.
If they took a moment to plan tasks at the start of the day, they would quickly recognise that getting all the jobs done was impossible in the first place.
There is a sense of satisfaction in achieving all tasks you set out to do in a day. Under-plan rather than over-plan the number of tasks but, most of all, be realistic and build in some spare time for emergencies.
Decide, delegate and disappear
The best time managers recognise they cannot carry out all tasks themselves, so they decide, delegate and disappear.
This is the most difficult skill of all to learn. Farmers have huge pride in their work and often incorrectly expect employees to achieve the same standard of work.
Sometimes, it is better to get the two tasks done 50pc correct rather than spending the time on getting one 100pc correct.
The best delegators are the most successful farmers.
Needs versus wants
Time mangers who recognise the difference between 'needs' and 'wants' run better farm businesses.
An example would be a farmer who likes a neat and tidy farm holding and has purchased a new hedge-cutter.
On the first day of September, he has the option of spending the day hedge-cutting or spreading slurry. He prefers to go hedge-cutting, 'a want', but he 'needs' to empty the slurry tanks before the slurry deadline and get a fertiliser benefit before the slurry spreading deadline day.
Needs before wants are best for the farm business most of the time.
A defined start and finish time
It is advisable to have a defined working day. This is the law for employees, but it is frequently abused by self-employed farmers, who, for some reason, feel it's a badge of honour when they work longer than their neighbour.
Of course, there are times of the year when working on late is vitally important, i.e. sowing crops and calving cows, but for the majority of the year, there should be a disciplined start and finish time to the working day.
Finally, the most important time management tool of all for farmers is to have an off-farm interest, preferably away from farming and agriculture.
Sport is the perfect pastime. If you or your children are playing an important match at 7.30pm and the coach demands you arrive on time or else you don't start, it's amazing how time management improves on the farm that day.
You get up on time, plan and prioritise the tasks better, ruthlessly delegate and do not waste time so that you arrive on time for the game.
An off-farm interest forces better time management and returns your mind in a fresh state for the next day's work on the farm, it's a win, win situation.
Time and money must be managed carefully to run a successful farm business.
Many farmers are excellent at managing money, but many have yet to learn how to best manage their time. It's time for them to realise that 'time is money'.
Mike Brady is Managing Director at Brady Group agricultural consultants & land agents; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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