As business owners, managers and employees, our days are full of endless decisions and actions that affect the health, success and future of ourselves and our businesses. These choices can start to feel like they’re piling up, which creates pressure, stress and a feeling of foreboding that can negatively impact how we make (or put off making) decisions. Building prioritization and productivity practices into your day can help you gain a sense of control and keep you from feeling overwhelmed by what needs to be done. Additionally, developing your strategic thinking skill set can help solve complex problems, achieve goals and create future success.

Plaster stephanie
Farm Management Outreach Specialist / University of Wisconsin — Madison Extension

Strategic thinking is the intuitive, visual and creative process used to make decisions about your farm business. It is all about thinking ahead, anticipating what your competition is going to do and then taking risks to succeed. You want to envision all possible problems, solutions and outcomes to a given issue, challenge or opportunity. It’s important to start by thinking broad and deep to anticipate those possible outcomes from your actions or your inactions, and then choose the best path forward.

There are different methods available to help you set goals, make decisions and take action, and it may take some trial and error to find what works best for you. The following practices are a good place to start to build intentional time into your day to address priority issues that will help you reach your goals and meet the farm’s strategic vision.  

First, we’re going to address what you can do individually to be more productive, and then we’ll touch on what you can do as a farm team to help the business reach its goals and achieve its mission and vision.

Set aside time each day to set your strategy

This can be done one of two ways depending on your personal preference or working style. Assign 15 minutes either first thing in the morning or last thing before you wrap up for the day to plan and prioritize what needs to be done that day if planning in the morning or the next day if planning later in the day. It helps to create an accountability system to keep you on track, such as scheduling it into your calendar, setting a reminder on your phone, writing it in your planning book or letting a family member, friend or co-worker know and having them check in with you occasionally.  



Whether you are setting aside time to plan at the beginning or end of the day, write down the highest-priority issue to tackle or most timely goal to work toward for the upcoming workday. What one thing could you tackle that would make a difference? Is there one issue weighing on you or causing a feeling of dread? Is there one thing you need more information about before you can continue? What about one opportunity or connection that could help you be more successful?

Break decisions and actions into bite-size chunks to reduce feeling overwhelmed and reach a solution 

List one or two decisions that need to be made and one or two actions to take that will help you resolve the issue or achieve your goal. Keep these decisions and actions as simple as possible so they are realistically achievable and able to be completed within the day.

If this still seems overwhelming, consider how you can break that decision or action into a smaller piece you can make progress on or if there is someone you can talk to or a resource you can review.

The answers to the following questions may help clarify the issue and provide direction.

  • What problem or issue are you trying to solve/resolve?
  • What are the consequences of inaction or what happens if no decision is made?
  • When will you start to feel the consequences of inaction?
  • What does a successful outcome look like?
  • What outcome would make you happy?
  • Who could help you make a decision or complete an action?

Review what you accomplished or have yet to do

Take a minute to review what you were able to achieve this week or the day before, and don’t shy away from giving yourself a pat on the back. Small steps can add up to big victories over time.

Make note of any items that were not able to be completed or items that need to be modified based on new information. Monitoring, adjusting and replanning your goals as you progress is an essential part of the strategic process. Life on a farm is dynamic with plenty of curve balls thrown in from markets, policy-makers and the environment, and our plans should reflect this ever-changing nature.

Align your vision with the farm’s

Your daily goals and priority issues should be closely aligned with the overall goals and vision of the farm business. If you are a one-person show, these will often be the same. If you are part of a farm team, yours should be similar and should contribute to the farm’s overall strategy. 

Set the farm’s strategic vision

The day-to-day decisions on the farm should always be made with the farm’s goals, vision and values in mind. Each decision is a building block in the vision the farm is striving toward. Farms that lack a shared vision can find themselves adrift and struggling to know which direction to go. If this sounds familiar, investigate the opportunity to lead your farm through a strategic visioning and planning process. This gives each member of the farm team an opportunity to develop, understand and contribute to setting the farm’s strategy.

When you set strategy, you talk about where you are and identify where you want to go. This is where the team discusses what you currently have and what you want for the future. Then address how you are going to get there and what you can and will do with the resources you have to achieve the shared vision. From there, add the ideas into a plan and start taking action. You’re saying, “Let’s do this and see if it works.” Keep in mind you may need to adjust as you go, and that’s OK.

Strategic planning is an ongoing process because you’re adjusting as new situations arise using your established values, mission, vision and goals. As you regularly implement this process, it will become easier to manage since you always have your future vision and goals in the back of your mind. Before a plan can be effective, the strategies must be created, converted into action steps, communicated out and then put to work.  

A good way to regularly build this process into your schedule is to add it to your team meeting agendas, whether they be weekly, monthly or quarterly. Add goal and action plan check-ins to the agenda and assign a timeline and responsible person by each item.  

Build the habit

These practices are a good place to start building in intentional time in your day to address priority issues to help you reach your goals and meet the farm’s strategic vision. The strategic thinking and planning process encourages you to design your future rather than let the future happen to you.

Discover more tools and resources that can help you create your vision and achieve your goals by visiting University of Wisconsin-Madison - Farm Management.