Last year, I found myself in a frustrating situation at my off-farm job as a structural engineer. I had multiple projects with overlapping schedules and similar scopes, and I could barely keep them straight. OK, sometimes I couldn’t keep them straight.

Organizational skills have never been my strong suit, and I was running in too many directions. Something had to change.

Luckily, moments before I lost my mind, I stumbled upon an article a colleague had shared with some insights and suggestions that made a big difference. I’ve lost track of the article and don’t recall the title, but I hope to share my takeaways.

The gist was that to find – or maybe to induce – order in the madness, you must first organize your mind. The first step was to actually schedule time to do just that. The article also suggested using lists to identify tasks. Once everything is written down, it may still be overwhelming, but there’s no worry over not remembering it all.

Instead of stopping there, though, the article went into some details of how to approach list-making, which is where this particular piece was more useful to me than previous advice I had received. Making lists helps keep track of tasks and measure progress, but it also allows me to identify priorities and better manage my time.


The author also specifically noted listing tasks that were automatic would help morale, and that breaking larger tasks into smaller, intermediate steps might make those tasks less daunting.

Too many of my days in the office were derailed the minute I logged onto the network, before I could even make it through my emails. Now when I arrive at work, before I log in, I make a list of tasks I plan to accomplish that day. I’ll then note any critical items or priorities that need to be completed first.

Then, I log in. Sometimes the day still gets completely derailed, and a slough of unfinished items get moved to tomorrow’s list, but at the end of those days I’ve usually at least accomplished what was necessary, and I’ve already got a list to start from the following morning.

You may be wondering what this has to do with dairy farming. When friends visit the dairy, one of their biggest takeaways is often the quantity and variety of tasks that occur every single day: milking, mixing, feeding, bedding, cleaning, milking, mixing, feeding … the list sometimes seems endless.

Then there are weekly, monthly and seasonal tasks on top of the daily grind. A dairy farmer wears so many hats, and I think the magnitude of all of it can overwhelm the best of us.

How often is your day derailed 15 minutes after you get to the barn and you find the cows are out, or the machinery is acting up, or the third cow is a slow milker and the fourth cow kicks the unit off? I know that I too often get caught up in things I can’t control; it can really spoil a day. Implementing a process similar to my office routine has helped me to keep my head on straight, even when the day doesn’t go exactly as planned.

My list-making process for the farm is not quite as structured or methodical as my process at the office, but the concept is the same. If I start the day by assessing what has to get done, what I would like to get done and the simple steps that will help me accomplish the tasks I need to complete, things seem to go more smoothly.

Taking it one step further, this year we’ve applied a similar concept to goal-setting: listing goals for a variety of aspects of our operation, broken up into monthly and longer-term goals. For those goals that were too overwhelming to tackle, we have sub-goals, so to speak.

I’ve often heard the advice: Don’t sweat the small stuff (and it’s all small stuff). The problem is, it’s not all small stuff. The task of managing even one aspect of a dairy can be extremely daunting – it’s big.

However, using a little basic organization, I’ve found that you can break down the big stuff into more manageable pieces. I’m in the early stages of applying this approach to my work at the farm, but I’m pleased so far. Maybe next I can organize my housework, assuming I find time to do some.  PD

Jennifer Heim