I’m a big fan of doing more than one thing at a time. It kind of gets back to my philosophy of how the farm should work, that is, a system of interconected elements supporting one another (intersystem support). I figure that if I can do more than one thing at a time, it’s kind of like cloning myself . You know, there are never enough hours in the day as it is, and I’d like to get as much done out here each day as I can. So multitasking is the order of the day, almost every day.

In order to make that possible I need to work out both short term and long term prioritized schedules. There are certain things that have to be done every day, things like watering, feeding and caring for the livestock, plants, etc. and then there are tasks that change from day to day depending on a variety of factors, there are also the long term projects. Time management is crucial and a prioritized list is always a handy thing to have on hand. The list (with the exception of day to day typical tasks) is flexible and I like to model it on the system that Dave Ramsey highlights in his book, EntreLeadership (yes it’s spelled that way). EntreLeadership, is on my recomended reading list for anyone wanting to go into business (be it farming or any other endevour). Dave’s book can be found at Amazon.com and most major book stores.

The list is stuctured by prioritizing tasks by urgency and importance (and then further prioritizing by the order in which they need to be done in a given time frame), by quadrant. In the book he lists four quadrants – Important and Urgent, Importand but not Urgent, Not Importand but Urgent, and Not Importnant and Not Urgent.

Here’s how I prioritize tasks on the farm (and in my life in general) using that quadrant method –

Imporant and Urgent (first quadrant) are things that need to be done ASAP, Important but not Urgent (second quadrant) need to be done but not immediately. These are the two quadrants that absolutely have to be adressed within a given time frame and receive priority on a daily basis on the farm.

Not Importand but Urgent, Not important and Not Urgent make up quadrants two and three. These two quadrants may get done or not, some may be put on the “Do sometime in the next 6 months” list.

Things on the Important and Urgent list include emergencies (obviously), picking up feed if I’m out and haven’t fed yet, moving stock to new areas for foraging purposes for that day (stock gotta eat and if they’re harvesting their own food I’m not buying it for them), fixing fence so the stock doesn’t get out, dealing with disease or pest outbreaks, harvest and/or planting that’s on a tight schedule, milking,  etc.

Things on the Important but not Urgent list include – daily/weekly planting and seeding schedules, some harvests, the farm’s newsletter, daily feeding and general maintenance (it doesn’t really make any difference whether the stock gets fed at 8:00am or 10:00am as long as they get the morning feeding), most building projects, weekly/monthly/seasonal farm plan action items, etc. Also included are articles like this one which are important to write, and while I don’t need to write an article every day, they and the status updates on Facebook  are important to publish. The farm’s blog is on this list as well (note to self, not everyone’s on Facebook…).

Things on the Not Important but Urgent list may include tasks that I feel the need to do, but they’re not absolutely necessary here at the moment, because of the time of year, time or financial resources, etc.. I may feel a sense of urgency when thinking about them because they would make things easier at certain times of the year (but not right now), or if I expand into a different endevour on the farm. They are things I know could become important and urgent, but haven’t yet. Items on this list include non emergency fencing projects (I want to raise pigs next year and if I do that, I definitely need to upgrade the fencing before I get the pigs), dairying next year (I may get a couple of lactating goats to supply milk to the calves and/or lambs if I raise any next year), aquiring more brush control goats (not really important right now as the 3 I have are working pretty well at the moment, but come spring, I will need more and then it will be both important and urgent). etc.

Not Important or Urgent – Things and tasks that are neither important nor urgent at this point in time, but that I would like someday to get done. These may also be dependant on increasing the income from the farm to fund certain projects. In other words, my wish list. One of these was aquisition of the malt mill for brewing. I didn’t actually HAVE to buy a malt mill. I brewed home milled grains all last winter. But now that I have it, that task will be a whole lot easier and more efficient as the grains will be milled properly and I’ll be able to mill 10 lbs (my normal grain bill for a 9-10 gallon parti-gyle) all at once, instead of 1/2 cup at a time in a hand mincer that wasn’t designed for milling malting grains in the first place.  Building the mechanichanical chicken plucker, and processing shed are on this list. As long as I’m only doing 12 or fewer birds one or two days/week, I really don’t need a processing shed or mechanical plucker. But it sure would be nice to be able to do 50 in a day (which is pretty much impossible right now). So, not having a processing shed at the moment isn’t a deal breaker for poultry production on the farm, but in 6-10 months it might be, so it’s something that’s on the back burner and I’m working on it as I have time and pick up materials.

I use the four quadrants aproach to prioritize tasks and projects on the farm both on a day to day/week to week basis as well as for long range (monthly, seasonally, annually) planning. I multi task on all levels so I look for tasks on each list that can be done together. For instance, I’m writing this article while I wait for the water to heat in the steam juicer and during other parts of the juicing process I’ve been cleaning the indoor chicken brooders and feeding/watering animals. Tasks that I can devote 15 or  20 minutes to in between checks on the steamer.

That sounds like a lot when I read back over what I’ve just written. But really it isn’t. It’s just a matter of making a plan and then excecuting it. Start at the begining and continue on to the end, while allowing some flexibility to deal with unplanned things if/when they come up.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the things I need to do in my business and my life. But using prioritized lists like these can help order my life so that I don’t get discouraged. And they can also help keep me focused and provide a record of accomplishments to keep me motivated and on track. My lists do that for me. These types of lists can probalby do that for you as well.