Category: Business

Productivity Isn’t About Time Management. It’s About Attention Management.

“Time management” is not a solution — it’s actually part of the problem.

A few years ago during a break in a leadership class I was teaching, a manager named Michael walked up looking unsettled. His boss had told him he needed to be more productive, so he had spent a few hours analyzing how he spent his time. He had already cut his nonessential meetings. He couldn’t find any tasks to drop from his calendar. He didn’t see an obvious way to do them more efficiently.

“This is going to sound like a joke, but it’s not,” he confessed. “My only idea is to drink less water so I don’t have to go to the bathroom so many times.”

We live in a culture obsessed with personal productivity. We devour books on getting things done and dream of four-hour workweeks. We worship at the altar of hustle and boast about being busy. The key to getting things done, we’re often told, is time management. If you could just plan your schedule better, you could reach productivity nirvana.

But after two decades of studying productivity, I’ve become convinced that time management is not a solution — it’s actually part of the problem.

For most of my career, the most frequent question I’ve gotten is: “How do I get more done?” Sometimes people ask because they know I’m an organizational psychologist, and productivity is one of my areas of expertise. More often they’re asking because they’ve read in a New York Times article or a popular book that I get a lot done.

But the truth is that I don’t feel very productive. I’m constantly falling short of my daily goals for progress, so I’ve struggled to answer the question. It wasn’t until that conversation with Michael that it dawned on me: Being prolific is not about time management. There are a limited number of hours in the day, and focusing on time management just makes us more aware of how many of those hours we waste.

A better option is attention management: Prioritize the people and projects that matter, and it won’t matter how long anything takes.

Attention management is the art of focusing on getting things done for the right reasons, in the right places and at the right moments.

According to conventional wisdom about time management, you’re supposed to set goals for when you want to finish a task. I decided to try it for this article. The target was 1,200 words, so I sat down at 8 a.m. and gave myself three hours, which would allow me to write at the leisurely pace of six words per minute. I then spent the next six minutes writing a grand total of zero words, staring at a flashing cursor. The only task I completed was a Google search of whether the cursor was named in honor of all the writers who have cursed it. (Yes, I know you’re mocking me, you poor blinking excuse for a rectangle.) Then I wondered how many words I actually type per minute and took a typing test. I wasn’t happy with my score, so I took another … and another.

Eventually I got frustrated and shifted to attention management. E.B. White once wrote: “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” But in my research, I’ve found that productive people don’t agonize about which desire to pursue. They go after both simultaneously, gravitating toward projects that are personally interesting and socially meaningful.

So instead of focusing on how quickly I wanted to finish this article, I asked why I agreed to write it in the first place: I might learn something new when synthesizing the research; I’d finally have somewhere to point people when they ask about productivity; and it might help some of those people. That led me to start thinking about specific people who might read this, which reminded me of Michael. Boom.

Often our productivity struggles are caused not by a lack of efficiency, but a lack of motivation. Productivity isn’t a virtue. It’s a means to an end. It’s only virtuous if the end is worthy. If productivity is your goal, you have to rely on willpower to push yourself to get a task done. If you pay attention to why you’re excited about the project and who will benefit from it, you’ll be naturally pulled into it by intrinsic motivation.

Attention management also involves noticing where you get things done. I grew up in Michigan, and when I went back there for grad school, I tried to convince a friend from the West Coast to join me.

“It’s too cold and gray,” she said after a visit during a snowstorm. She then went off to Stanford. That next Michigan winter was the coldest, grayest season I could remember, and I have never been more productive. There was nothing to do but work!

Sure enough, a series of studies led by Julia Lee (now at Michigan) show that bad weather is good for productivity because we’re less likely to be distracted by the thought of going outside. Researchers found that on days when it rained, Japanese bank employees finished transactions faster, and on days when the weather was bad in America, people were more efficient in correcting spelling errors in an essay. With that in mind, I deliberately waited to start writing this article until the day after a snowstorm, when the melting slush outside my window was not appealing.

My favorite part of attention management is the when. Most of our productivity challenges are with tasks that we don’t want to do but that we need to do. For years, I thought the way to handle those tasks was to do them right after the most interesting tasks so the energy would spill over. Then my colleague Jihae Shin and I ran a study in a Korean department store and found that when employees had a highly interesting task, they actually performed worse on their most boring tasks.

One possible reason is what’s called attention residue: Your mind keeps wandering back to the interesting task, disrupting your focus on the boring task. But in an experiment with Americans watching videos and then doing a dull data entry task, we found support for a different mechanism: contrast effects. A fascinating or funny video makes the data entry task seem even more excruciating, the same way a sweet dessert makes a sour vegetable taste yuckier. So if you’re trying to power through a boring task, do it after a moderately interesting one, and save your most exciting task as a reward for afterward. It’s not about time; it’s about timing.

I’m guessing your goal is not just to be more productive — you probably want to be creative, too.

The stumbling block is that productivity and creativity demand opposite attention management strategies. Productivity is fueled by raising attentional filters to keep unrelated or distracting thoughts out. But creativity is fueled by lowering attentional filters to let those thoughts in.

How do you get the best of both worlds? In his book “When,” Dan Pink writes about evidence that your circadian rhythm can help you figure out the right time to do your productive and creative work. If you’re a morning person, you should do your analytical work early when you’re at peak alertness; your routine tasks around lunchtime in your trough; and your creative work in the late afternoon or evening when you’re more likely to do nonlinear thinking. If you’re more of a night owl, you might be better off flipping creative projects to your fuzzy mornings and analytical tasks to your clearest-eyed late afternoon and evening moments. It’s not time management, because you might spend the same amount of time on the tasks even after you rearrange your schedule. It’s attention management: You’re noticing the order of tasks that works for you and adjusting accordingly.

Paying attention to timing management also means thinking differently about how you plan your work. I love Paul Graham’s suggestion to divide the week into “maker days” and “manager days.”

On manager days, you hold your meetings and calls. On maker days, you block out time to be productive and creative, knowing you’ll be free from distractions that would normally interrupt your flow. Unfortunately, few of us have the luxury to manage every week that way, which means we need to find ways to carve out maker moments.

 

Time management says we should eliminate distractions altogether — not just interruptions from other people, but also the times when we interrupt ourselves. If you’re getting sucked into social media, you’d need to stop cold turkey. Attention management offers an alternative: Be thoughtful about the timing of those distractions.

When I was in middle school, I lost a whole Saturday to watching TV and I felt pretty disgusted with myself afterward. But I didn’t give up TV. I made a rule: I would only turn on the TV if I already knew what I wanted to watch. I’ve adopted the same policy on social media: In times when I could be working, I only log in to share content. I save scrolling for windows when I couldn’t be getting anything done, like waiting for a flight to take off or cooling down after exercise.

Most of the writers I know wait for maker days to start writing, believing they need at least four or six hours to dig into a big idea or a complex problem. But there’s evidence that binge writers actually get less done than people who write in shorter bursts. You can make meaningful progress in surprisingly small intervals: When graduate students were trained to write in 15-minute intervals, they finished their dissertations faster.

If you’re trying to be more productive, don’t analyze how you spend your time. Pay attention to what consumes your attention. I’ve just looked at the clock for the first time since I thought of the story about Michael. It’s 10:36 a.m., and I’ve gone about 500 words over my target. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the past 156 minutes were a good use of my attention — and whether the past few minutes of reading this were a good use of yours.

Which brings me to one more thought: I’m pretty sure there’s an eighth habit of highly effective people. They don’t spend all their time reading about the seven habits of highly effective people.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, is the author of “Originals.” For more on building your career and connections, listen to WorkLife with Adam Grant, a TED original podcast on the science of making work not suck. You can find WorkLife on Apple Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

8 traits for effectively leading the family ranch forward

Want your family business to succeed and transition to the next generation? It starts with being an effective leader.

Amanda Radke | Mar 27, 2019

I received a phone call from a college student yesterday. He was a freshman studying animal science and had been assigned the task of interviewing beef industry leaders to learn about their careers and to gain advice and insights for their own futures in agriculture.

I took the call while driving to a FFA fundraiser where I was speaking, and he asked me a wide variety of questions. What would you do differently in your college years? What advice would you give to a college student wanting to be involved in the industry? Who do you look up to in agriculture? What motivates you in your career? Why is it so difficult to bridge the gap between consumers and producers?

Honestly, the conversation spurred many ideas for future blog posts.

However, one question in particular got me thinking during my road trip. He asked me, “What challenges do you face on your family ranch?”
Admittedly, I had a hard time answering at first. Our problems seem so “common,” and I wasn’t sure which one to pinpoint as a challenge worth noting. Do we communicate well? Is our transition plan solid? Does our multi-generational business operate as smoothly as it could? Is there room for improvement?

I decided to go the route of transition planning. Depending on the day, my dad will say he’s retiring in one year or 15 years. To me, that uncertainty is one of the biggest challenges my husband and I will face in the upcoming years.

We certainly don’t want to “push” him out before he’s ready. On the contrary, I could use a little more time to get my own affairs in order, so I feel confident and financially secure to purchase assets as he transitions into retirement.

It’s just the unknowing. How soon will we need to be ready? What will a purchase agreement look like? How much can we take on?

In thinking about those variables, I noticed I was placing the burden squarely on my folks to figure everything out. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t necessarily expressed these concerns or vocalized how much or how little we were willing to take on, should my parents decide they are ready to retire.

So I made a goal for myself — to schedule a meeting for all of us this summer. The discussion of this family business meeting wouldn’t necessarily be on the “when,” but on the “hows,” so when the time comes to transition the operation into new leaders — whether that’s six months or six years from now — we’ll know what the plan is and how it will be executed.

I’m sure it will take more than one discussion, but we’ve got to start somewhere, and it needs to start with me. By being transparent in my own goals and plans and by being willing to communicate and walk through all scenarios and potential pitfalls, I hope it will be a seamless transition that leaves the business intact and the family harmonious.

I recently read an article that addresses what it takes to be an effective leader in the family business. Written by Steve Moyer for SKM Associates, the article recaps management guru Peter Drucker’s list of traits that make for a great executive in the business. Although it was written from the perspective of what it takes to be a good executor of an estate, I think it applies whether you’re a Millennial or Boomer producer working with another generation in a family business.

Drucker’s list includes:

1. Ask what needs to be done.

He says, “Get the knowledge you need by asking what needs to be done, and take the answers seriously. Failing to ask this question will render the leader ineffective. Once you know the to-do list, set priorities and stick to them.”

2. Ask what’s right for the enterprise.

“Don’t focus on what’s right for individuals (i.e. owners, family members, employees or customers.),” writes Drucker. “What is right for the enterprise may not be right for individual stakeholders or family members.”

3. Develop action plans.

“Set a plan that specifies results and constraints compatible with family and organizational goals,” he advises. “Create check-in milestones and revise your plan as necessary to reflect new opportunities or insight.”

4. Take responsibility for actions.

“Ensure each decision specifies the person accountable and the appropriate deadline,” says Drucker. “Define whom it affects and whom to keep updated and informed.”

5. Take responsibility for communicating.

6. Embrace change.

7. Run productive meetings.

8. Say “we” not “I”

Read Drucker’s tips in full by clicking here.

I would love to hear what has worked for your family in effectively running business meetings, guiding conversations and making meaningful and lasting decisions for the operation and the family. Please email me your advice to amanda.radke@informa.com. Thanks!

Is Average Good Enough for You?

Kit Pharo – Pharo Cattle Company

As silly as it sounds, average is good enough for most cow-calf producers.   In agriculture, average is breakeven.   Below average producers are losing money.   The only way they can stay in business is to subsidize the farm or ranch with outside income.   Above average producers are profitable.   A few are extremely profitable.   They are profitable because they do things differently from status quo (average) producers.   They have a distinct competitive advantage.

Most PCC Customers are well above average.   Many have doubled or tripled their profits.   They are focused on production per acre – instead of production per cow (bragging rights).   They are using ultra-low-maintenance bulls – instead of the status quo, high-maintenance bulls everyone else is using.   They know stocking rate affects profitability, or lack thereof, more than anything else.

Ag economist Danny Klinefelter explains how you can get a competitive edge simply by rejecting the status quo.   That’s right… by rejecting the status quo!   Klinefelter says, “The only truly sustainable competitive advantage today is the ability to learn and adapt faster than your competition.”   Click on the link below to listen to what he has to say.

Reject the Status Quo

Following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing is never the best way to manage a business.   In most cases, it is the absolute worst way to manage a business.   If you are part of the status quo herd, you will never be above average – and you will never have a competitive advantage.   Dare to be different.   Dare to be a Herd Quitter.

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t try to compete.”   ~ Jack Welch

EMOTIONS ARE REAL: MANAGING THE EMOTIONAL REALITY OF TRADING

The market is an auction. The purpose of an auction is twofold: to provide an environment where buyers and sellers can come together; and to provide price discovery. If a farmer retires and you go to the estate auction, there is one seller—and the more people who show up, the more potential buyers you have. Every buyer has a number and the ability to bid what they are willing to pay. The auctioneer facilitates the discovery of price for each good. The auctioneer is operating as an agent on behalf of the seller—they are trying to get as much out of each item as possible. Good auctioneers get lots of people to show up and they also get people bidding.

This is an important analogy to be able to apply to the world of commodity and equity trading. If you’ve ever been the person at the auction to pay way too much for something, you know that emotions can get the best of you in the moment. But the fact is that over time, an auction is the most effective and most efficient way to discover the value of something. That being said, in the short-term auctions can be overrun with emotion. You may see something selling way too cheap—which indicates there is a lack of buyers or more likely too many sellers. The flip side is when you see someone paying more for an item on auction than they would have paid to buy a new one at retail! Auctions are the best price discovery over time, but emotion will get them out of whack in the short-term.

Just like an auction, the market is made up of the emotion of its participants

  • Regret: Quite paralyzing. The price of the commodity gets to a level that isn’t quite what we were hoping for and then it suddenly falls. At that moment we now know what we COULD have had for our commodity if we had acted…but we didn’t. Now suddenly our brain shifts into what we think the product should be worth or what we would be willing to accept. But in reality, the commodity is worth what it is trading for today. The best antidote is drafting a script for our future actions: “What will I do when price starts falling?”
  • Greed: This usually plays out in the market as a case of “Perpetual Price Dissatisfaction.” If corn is $3.60, it’s wanting $3.80. When corn gets to $3.80, I now will only accept $4.00. It’s a failure pattern of saying to ourselves that UNTIL I get a higher price, I won’t be happy. The failure of this is that it’s never a high enough price for us to be satisfied. We end up kicking the can down the road until we’ve run out of time on the calendar and we now have to act. How can we counteract greed? One way is to make smaller decisions, more frequently instead. The other tool can be using targets. If I have a good handle on either my projected profitability or, after harvest, my actual profitability—I can reduce my greed factor by using price targets and placing orders at the elevator or in my commodity account. It takes out the risk of wanting to wait until tomorrow to see how price acts and get just a little bit more.
  • Fear: Can be a significant motivator for people. There’s a concept that has grown with social media and contributed to a lot of people’s anxiety—“FOMO” or Fear Of Missing Out. In marketing, fear manifests itself in many different ways: Fear that price is going to collapse further, so I end up selling out on the lows. Fear that I’m not going to grow a crop so I don’t sell ahead. Fear that if I sell, the price will rally later so I freeze. Fear that price can never rally so I sell everything on the first 10-cent rally I get. The key to managing fear is first and foremost to know yourself. Fear is a good thing and it’s a survival mechanism, but taken too far it can keep us from really being able to thrive.
  • Envy: We stop at the coffee shop and someone’s talking about how they sold the high in the market. We hear our neighbor talk about how high one of their fields yielded. Here’s the problem with all of these scenarios: none of them shares all the information you need. The guy in the coffee shop sold one percent of his crop on the high and at the end of the year, ended up getting a worse price on his crop than you. The neighbor with the big yield isn’t talking about his break-even levels or the profitability per bushel. We feel envious of the actions or lives of others, but much of what is presented to the world is far from the whole story. So what can we do? Tend to your own garden first. The farmers who focus on the basics (doing everything you can to lower your cost per bushel) are best equipped to compete in the long run. This gets the focus on a scorecard that fits the game. If I go to the gym and see the guy bench pressing 400 pounds, I’m not envious—we’re playing a different game. Focus on good financials and a fanatical approach to building your own ability to improve your cost per bushel. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to learn from these others—you can ask the guy at the coffee shop what led him to price it; maybe there is some insight there. The neighbor with the big yield, maybe he has a production practice that you can learn from. But stopping at envy will always be a roadblock to progress.

Thanks for listening! Email me any questions or comments at dean@modernfarmbusiness.com.

A Great Dream – By Kit Pharo

In response to last week’s PCC Update, a subscriber in Illinois sent me the following quote.   As you know, I like to share favorite quotes in our PCC Updates and Quarterly Newsletters.   This quote really packs a punch!

“A great dream is not as good as a great memory.   The dream can be had by anyone.   The memory – must be made.”    ~ Eric Thomas

This quote speaks for itself and does not require commentary.   Nevertheless, I feel compelled to comment.   In my lifetime, I have met many, many people who had GREAT dreams.   Unfortunately, very few of those people made their dreams come true.   Most never did get off the starting line.   They always came up with excuses to put off the most important things in their life.   As I think back, I find this to be very sad.

I want to challenge you to get off the starting line and do what it takes to make some of your dreams come true.   Turn those great dreams into great memories.   Do you have some personal dreams or family dreams?   I hear people all the time talking about the things they have on their Bucket List.   Most of those people, however, never get beyond talking about their dreams.   Before you know it, they no longer have the ability or the desire to do the things on their Bucket List.   Consequently, they did not create any great memories.

Do you have some business dreams?   Would you like to make your business substantially more profitable, enjoyable and sustainable?   Would you like to create a business the next generation is excited to become a part of?   As Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”   Please remember, though, the present is different from the past and the future will be different from the present.   Creating a bigger and/or better business will involve CHANGE.   There is no getting around that fact.   While everyone else is afraid of change, we should be embracing it!

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.”   ~ John Barrymore

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“Success is simply a matter of luck.   Ask any failure.”   ~ Earl Wilson

Resistance to Change –

By Kit Pharo

People hate change!   Nowhere is this more prevalent than in agriculture.   It seems to take years for people in agriculture to make simple changes – even though they know the change will be for their own good.   I must confess that I too am reluctant to change.   I may not hate change as much as most people, but it still makes me uncomfortable.

I read a neat little Seth Godin book entitled Tribes.   In this book, Seth spends a considerable amount of time discussing the status quo and its fear of change.   He believes change is inevitable.   I don’t think anyone can argue with that.   Change is a normal and necessary part of life – and the sooner we embrace it, the better off we will be.

Seth says, “Change almost never fails because it was too early.   It almost always fails because it was too late.   By the time you realize your corner of the world is ready for change, it’s almost certainly too late.   It’s definitely not too early.”   Mr. Godin goes on to say, “There may be a small price to pay for being too early, but there will be a huge penalty for being too late.”

We use the term Herd Quitter to refer to people who have enough courage to break away from the status quo, herd-mentality way of thinking.   It is more about thinking for yourself than anything else.   Following the crowd (herd) and doing what everyone else is doing is never the best way to manage a business.   Dare to be a Herd Quitter.   Dare to enter the New Frontier in beef production.   Dare to make the necessary changes in your operation while you still have a choice in the matter.   The sooner, the better!

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“Change before you have to.”   ~ Jack Welch

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 1

By   /  February 25, 2019  /

We think it is far more important to stop making hay on your land than it is to stop feeding hay on your land. Here are some things to think about.

What Made Sense in 1973 Doesn’t Make Sense Today

Making hay is a whole lot more expensive than it used to be. This table compares input costs for making hay in 1973 in contrast to 2013.

 

All of the input costs have increased at a much faster rate than the value of beef cattle, lamb, or milk. To be on par with costs experienced in 1973, fed cattle should have been $284/cwt, not the $148 they were.

Hay = Inexpensive Fertility

While making hay is expensive, in much of the US, hay can be bought for less than the cost of production. When you buy someone else’s hay and feed it on your property, you are buying their fertility at a highly discounted rate. In some years in some locations, you can buy beef cattle hay for less than the fertilizer value it contains.

This is a great opportunity for improving your land in a way that also benefits soil health.

Feeding Uniformly is the Key

The key to soil improvement is to get the hay fed uniformly over your pastures. This is how you can realize the greatest benefit from purchased hay as a planned fertility input.

Large round bales are still the norm in much of US cow country. Round bales can be unrolled with relatively low-cost equipment. Bales don’t unroll uniformly all the time, but the subsequent manure distribution is way better than feeding bales in ring feeders.

Big square bales can be flaked off easily in a systematic way to cover a specific area with each bale fed.

Bale processors are expensive pieces of equipment. If you are invested in something like this, make sure you are feeding all of your hay to optimize the distribution of manure across the pasture.

We need to be thinking about how much nitrogen and phosphorus is in each bale we are feeding so we can plan our daily feeding to apply appropriate levels of nutrients rather than feeding too little and not realizing the benefit we expected or feeding too much and overloading the soil and environment with excess N. We’ll look at that next week!

Stay tuned! Jim will be covering all the data and math in this series to help us figure out how to do the best we can at improving pastures with hay feeding. If you have questions for Jim, do share them in the comments section below!