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Urgent tasks vs important tasks: what’s the difference?

Your Farm Business

February 11, 2011
From Wayne Schoper and Rich Baumann, South Central College

Are the tasks that keep you busy each day important to the future of your farm business, or are they urgent tasks?

"What is the difference?" you ask.

Important tasks include things like making management decisions, putting together a cash flow plan or a marketing plan, planning what direction you want your farm business to be headed toward five years from now, etc. Urgent tasks would include things like answering the phone when it rings, fixing a piece of equipment when it breaks, etc. While these things are urgent because you need to decide what to do about them right now, how important are they to the long-term success of your business?

Article Photos

Rich Baumann and Wayne Schoper

Filling each day responding to urgent tasks can seem to be very attractive. Reacting to and solving each new crisis gives many people a feeling of accomplishment. This reactive trait is often something you might look for in a good worker. However, evaluating the success of a day reacting to urgent needs is difficult. Is success a list of crossed off things "to do" or a crisis averted? Or is success something more long-term, like operating a business that is profitable, running smoothly, and that can be passed on to the next generation?

In all of your farm businesses, you fill the roles of both labor and management. As a laborer, you are faced with an endless list of "to-do" tasks and you must concentrate on the present. But as a proactive manager, it is your job to look around and determine if you (or hired labor) are working effectively. Are you using the best, most affordable technology? Are the most important tasks getting done? For example, are the tractors and equipment maintained on a regular schedule, or has this job taken a back seat because you are too busy repairing broken equipment? The second job is certainly more urgent than routine maintenance, but not more important. This simple example shows just how easy it can be to keep very busy while at the same time accomplishing very little.

As a manager, unless you understand your own definition of success, it will be difficult to determine if you are laboring effectively. Each person's definition will be somewhat different, but without a definition, it is impossible to align labor's daily tasks to help you accomplish this success. Simply being reactive and busy probably will not get you there.

Most managers would agree that making time to do a budget, a marketing plan, an estate plan, a will, or a business plan is important. The existence of each of these documents could have a long-term positive impact on the success of a business. However, rarely does the preparation of these documents become urgent, so just as rarely do they ever get done. A common excuse for not having these or other important documents is, "We just get so busy. . . There never seems to be time to get those projects finished up." (Or even started!)

Try not to let the urgent parts of your life, personal as well as business, give you an excuse to avoid important tasks and projects. (This is a summary of an article by Barbara Dartt, DVM.)



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