February 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW1

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Teaching Time Management Skills To Farmers

An Ohio management education program for farmers incorporates time management techniques into its curriculum. Content is drawn from Stephen Covey's "First Things First" and "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People". Participants utilize Covey's model to determine the importance and urgency of activities and tasks. Participants categorize a number of typical farm activities as to their importance and urgency. Time management strategies complement the teaching of the five functions of management.

Mark Mechling
Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources
Muskingum County
Ohio State University Extension
Zanesville, Ohio
Internet address: musk@agvax2.ag.ohio-state.edu

Management education is being taught increasingly by Extension educators across the country. In Ohio, Extension personnel teach the five functions of management (planning, controlling, directing, organizing, and staffing) as well as the problem-solving process under the banner of "ManagementExcel."

During the last five years, successful programs have been conducted for both specific agricultural commodity audiences and farmers in certain geographic areas. In the East Extension District, a management education program entitled "AgExcel" was initiated to develop excellence in management among farmers and managers of rural, small businesses.

Five Extension agents within the East District comprise the AgExcel teaching team. Each agent is responsible for teaching a specific segment of AgExcel. This permits the agent to focus on a particular management function. The program includes ten hours of classroom instruction with homework assignments and follow-up visits to the farm or business. AgExcel is offered several times annually throughout the district.

Participants indicated during class discussion and post- program evaluations that they lack time to implement the functions of management. The AgExcel teaching team decided to incorporate a module on time management strategies into the curriculum.

Stephen Covey's books, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" and "First Things First" provide the basis for the content used in teaching time management techniques. Covey's themes of organizing and executing around your mission, identifying and focusing on what's important, and beginning with the end in mind fit well within the five functions of management.

Covey's time management model divides tasks or activities into four quadrants. These quadrants are characterized by two variables: urgency and importance of activities. Quadrant I indicates the task is both urgent and important while activities in Quadrant II are important but not urgent. Quadrant III is urgent but not important while the last Quadrant (IV) is neither urgent nor important.

In one AgExcel activity, participants use a graph of the four quadrants and individually characterize about 20 typical farm tasks or activities in terms of Quadrant I, II, III, or IV. These tasks include recordkeeping, building fence, handling salesmen and repairing equipment as examples. Discussion among the participants on their selections centers on why they placed tasks in certain quadrants. Differences among participants can be attributed to various factors including management abilities, differing mission statements, time of year, and availability of labor.

Several themes are emphsized in the time management module. Participants are encouraged to spend more time performing Quadrant II activities such as long range planning, monitoring farm records, and dealing with family and hired labor rather than Quadrant I problems, i.e. deadlines and crises. It is impossible to eliminate Quadrant I activities, but the goal for managers of farms and small businesses should be to focus on Quadrant II activities as much as possible. AgExcel participants are encouraged to learn to say "no" to the unimportant so they can say "yes" to the important.

Additional tips provided to participants on time management include developing a weekly or monthly calendar to encourage long range planning. Breaking down large projects into smaller, more manageable steps, avoiding time wasters and interruptions, and focusing on your mission are all strategies that are discussed in AgExcel.

The time management module of AgExcel has been evaluated positively by participants. It provides a simple yet effective method for farmers to focus on the business mission. This Ohio management education program, and others similar to it, will continue to improve the management skills of farmers.


Covey, S.R., (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Covey, S.R., Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R.R. (1994) First Things First. New York: Simon and Schuster.