Do most important work first

You likely have a to-do list, but what about a stop-doing list?

Written for Farm Futures and originally published March/April 2023.

The farm to-do list never ends and often seems like it has a life of its own. It continues to grow even as items are checked off. Many farmers are almost overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that needs to be done.

What is the answer? As farms become larger and more complex, we recommend professionalization wherever possible. In this case, prioritization and time management.


Time management and prioritization aren’t about doing more work. It’s about doing the most important work.


You may have heard of Stephen Covey, businessman, speaker, and author of the popular book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. He realized that as businesses grow, executives lose momentum by getting bogged down with ever-increasing amounts of work. To regain momentum, he posited that leaders need to stop doing some tasks they have done in the past while focusing on what’s truly important

He created a matrix to help identify tasks executives should be doing and those they should consider stopping or delegating. Here’s how. Make a list of everything you normally do in a week, a month, a season, or a year. Now, place each of these tasks into one of these four quadrants.

coveys quadrant NEW

Quadrant 1: Important & Urgent

These need your immediate attention and cannot be delayed.

There are two distinct types of urgent and important activities: Ones you could not foresee and other tasks that have been left to the last minute. You can avoid the latter by planning ahead and avoiding procrastination. Be careful of this quadrant. We see farm executives, who are stuck, have too many items here. If you feel stuck, I’m guessing you have many items in Quadrant 1 and need to build up your team around you


Quadrant 2: Important & NOT Urgent

Guard and plan your time here.

These are the activities that separate the great farms from the good ones.   These activities require deep concentration, free from distractions. Strategic planning, crunching the numbers and developing your team go here.   Jealously guard your time here. We have seen the best results when this time is scheduled each week.


Quadrant 3: Urgent & NOT Important

Delegate these to others or reschedule to a less busy time

Urgent but unimportant activities suck up your time but don’t move you forward. You may even enjoy these tasks. Ask yourself whether these tasks can be rescheduled or if someone else should do them. For example, while we think we are helpful to employees, we often allow them too much latitude to interrupt us. Sometimes it’s appropriate to say “No” and give them the authority to solve the problem themselves. Alternatively, try scheduling regular meetings so that all issues can be dealt with at the same time.


Quadrant 4: NOT Important & NOT Urgent

Avoid activities with little or no value to your long or short-term success.

These activities are just a distraction and avoid them if possible. Have someone else pick up the mail or drop off checks. Save the YouTube videos for your downtime, and maybe the neighbor's kid mows the grass.




Many farmers are amazed at where their time is spent. Yet they feel good when they achieve their important goals by saying “no” while focusing on the important work. Work that only farm executives can do and should do. These progressive operators have time to say yes to what they believe really matters.



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