Farming is such a unique occupation because the intensity of our work oscillates with the seasons. For most farmers, winter marks a time for some rest and reflection. Although 2018 was a very challenging year for many of us, a new year ushers in new hope. Ideally, you had the chance to finish your harvest and now have a couple months of slower-paced work ahead before the next planting season is upon us.
For the average person, New Year’s is the time of year for New Year’s resolutions. You know: that time of year where individuals identify their shortcomings and create an ambitious plan to turn themselves into the best they can be starting on January 1. They intend to exercise more, lose weight and learn a new language. However, by the end of January, they are likely canceling their new gym membership and finding that the only Spanish they learned is on the menu of their local Mexican restaurant. According to Forbes, an astonishing 92% of Americans fail to accomplish their New Year’s resolutions. And, that figure is self-reported, which means the actual percentage of success is likely far lower.
Goals vs. Systems
For the majority of us, our identity is not our problem. We know who we want to be. So, why do we fall short over and over again when it comes to making our actions consistent with our desired self-image?
According to best-selling author James Clear, the fault lies in the way we set goals as opposed to focusing on processes as part of a larger system. There’s a lot to unpack in that statement, but here’s what he means. Instead of setting a goal to lose ten pounds in 2019, deconstruct that desire into a set of objectives. Goals are something to accomplish whereas objectives are targets to move towards. That difference is subtle but important. Instead of just saying that we want to achieve our goals, we actually should craft a plan to move towards our objectives. Here’s what that approach looks like.
First, determine what habits you can practice on a daily basis to achieve the outcome you want. The key to turbocharging your success is this: focus on the process, not the results. This means that, at the end of January, you aren’t measuring the success of your objective by the results (the amount of weight you’ve lost) but rather by the consistency of your process (such as having exercised twenty minutes each day). These small actions repeated consistently can compound into massive results.
Second, identify what milestones you need to reach along the way in order to support your overall process. Milestones aren’t checkpoints for a goal; milestones are one-time tasks that need to be performed. For instance, to continue with our weight-loss example, instead of saying you want to lose five pounds by March, you can create the milestone of attending a six-week boot camp on March 1. If you have a daily planner, and you should, then you can add milestones to your calendar while making sure to record relevant reminders months ahead (such as the reminder to actually sign up for the boot camp).
At this point, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “That’s great, but what on earth does this have to do with farming?” Glad you asked. As farmers, the slower winter season is the perfect time to reflect upon our desired identity and check in to make sure we’re on the right track towards achieving our long-term objectives.
Farming is such an awesome, unique occupation. We get to be businesspersons, mechanics, agronomists, heavy-equipment operators, etc. Hence, we have a ton of areas upon which to improve. And, one of the most exciting aspects of being a farmer is that we have our whole careers to master such diverse skill sets. In short, we have plenty of room to grow and evolve year after year.
The Drill-Down Method
I have a challenge for you. Let’s call this the drill-down method because we want to start at a high-level overview and drill down into an almost daily review of your long-term objectives. One day this week, grab a cup of coffee and shut your phone off (while putting it in another room so you don’t feel like you need to check it). Get your planner or a notebook and a good pen. At the top of a blank page, I want you to write one question: where do I want myself and my farm to be in ten years? Take the time to think on that question and write down anything--I mean anything--that comes to mind. Don’t filter your writing here and remember to leave yourself some room to come back later to add more if you think of something else. These are your long-term objectives.
Everyone’s long-term objectives will be unique based on their age, ambition and current circumstances. There’s no right or wrong answer; rather, you want to look into the future and say, “This is what I want our farm to look like in ten years.” Here are some examples of long-term objectives that you may see across the ag landscape. They can range from broad desires to very specific objectives. It’s ok if they’re broad because we are going to drill them down into specific action steps later.
I want to have X amount of acres under irrigation.
I want to be self-financed.
I want to have my own shop.
I want to transition my grandson into my current role on the farm.
I want to maintain a clean and efficient fleet of equipment.
I want to vertically integrate my vegetable production.
Now, do the same exercise for three years out. And, repeat the process again for one year. Are any of the three-year or one-year objectives supporting a long-term objective? For example, if your ten-year objective is to have one-thousand acres under irrigation on your farm and your one-year objective is to install one-hundred acres worth of irrigation, then you have a milestone along the way to achieving your larger, long-term vision. As you drill down from the long-term to the short-term, you want to break the longer-term objectives up into as many milestones and habits as you can. Some items will have plenty of supporting milestones without an obvious supporting habit and vice versa. For example, you may not identify a daily habit that’s related to your objective of having one-thousand acres under irrigation, but maintaining a clean fleet of equipment could be as easy as making end-of-day equipment cleanup a habit.
I mentioned earlier the importance of keeping a daily planner. Not only is this great for taking notes and remembering dates, but you can use your planner to break your milestones down even further into small objectives. If you can break your quarterly objectives into monthly ones, and your monthly ones into weekly ones, you’ll find that once-daunting milestones are now in reach.
The Review Process
Once you have sufficiently broken down your long-term objectives into smaller milestones and habits, then you’ll want to establish a review process. To stay on top of our objectives and keep our focus, we need a proper review system to make sure that (A) we’re making progress towards our objectives and (B) that our objectives haven’t changed. Our review system will have us look one level higher at each stage of our journey towards our objectives. Here’s what I mean. Once you have your longer-term objectives written down in your planner, then you will review the following items based on the stated timeframes.
Your weekly objectives at the start of each day.
Your monthly objectives at the start of each week.
Your quarterly objectives at the start of each month.
Your yearly objectives at the start of each quarter.
Your ten-year and three-year objectives annually.
Of course, you’ll want to record these different review sessions in your planner or on your phone. A simple hack is that you can add these entries as events on your phone and then set reminders that repeat on a desired basis. For example, you can set a “Monthly Review” event that repeats every Monday morning at 7AM.
Your Daily Habit
I mentioned habits earlier as something to identify and work on when trying to achieve your long-term objectives. Now, I want to introduce what is termed a keystone habit and also suggest an initial keystone habit for you to try out.
Keystone habits are habits that cascade or compound into other good habits. Hence, these keystone habits are basically a trigger for additional good behavior. Once you master your keystone habit, other habits fall into place. For example, someone may realize that, when they exercise, they tend to also eat healthier, sleep better, feel better and perform better. Consequently, working out would then be their keystone habit. Once you identify your keystone habit, you just need to nudge yourself into a way to properly repeat that good behavior on a daily basis. Using the previous example, this nudging could include laying out their gym clothes before bed each night or having a workout partner that holds them accountable.
The keystone habit that I would suggest all businesspeople develop is that of a daily review. Determine a location and time of day that you can sit and think undisturbed. This review only needs to take five or ten minutes at the most, but--if you’re not focused--then the review will quickly fall apart. Again, a simple nudge here would be to set out your planner beside your coffee maker each night so that your planner is the first thing you reach for in the morning.
The actual review part is pretty simple but still powerful. Look over the objectives that are one step higher than where you’re currently at and determine what action steps or milestones need to be reached in order to keep your objective in focus. This means that, during your daily review, you’ll quickly glance at your weekly objectives and make tasks for today that support your weekly objective. For example, let’s say one of your weekly objectives is to winterize farm equipment. During your daily review, you would look at that objective and break it down into smaller steps like “Add antifreeze to combine” and “check insulation around pipes in the shop.”
During your daily review, you’ll also take time to think about your day and add different tasks that come to mind. This is also a great time to track any habits that you’re actively trying to create or break. Depending on what day of the week, month or year it is, it may also be time for you to perform a larger review like a weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual review. In those cases, just do the larger review before your daily review.
Putting It All Together
Once you have identified your long-term objectives, supporting habits and milestones and have implemented your daily review routine, you’ll be well on your way to turbocharging your productivity and moving towards some huge objectives. Of course, success doesn’t happen by accident. Thomas Jefferson once said, “I’m a great believer in luck. It seems that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” This is especially true for farming, which is one of the most long-term-oriented professions there is.
We often hear of a farm being someone’s life work so I hope this article has given you some ideas on how to best position your farm business for long-term success amidst the day-to-day grind. The days are long but the years are short. Those who know where they are going and move towards that objective on a daily basis will ultimately triumph.