Business Perspectives

Ray Hull: The art of getting it done

I was born and raised on a farm – actually, three farms considered as one farming operation.

There was lot to do to maintain three sizable grain operations, a large dairy, a large feeder pig operation, row crops, alfalfa and beef cattle. The totality of the organization and management was on the shoulders of one man – my father.

I was his main hired hand during my high school and college days. I was in charge of making sure our two or three hired hands were completing their tasks. My primary responsibilities revolved around morning and evening chores: feeding calves, making sure the cows had fresh hay, making sure there was fresh water in the water tank. Either my most liked, or most disliked, responsibilities involved working in the fields plowing, driving a truck during wheat harvest and silo filling time, among others.

The thing I most enjoyed about all of those chores? When it was finished, it was done! After I plowed a field, I would stop the tractor and look back to make sure that it was complete. If it was, my work there was finished. It was a good feeling to look back over that field and to know that the job was done, and that it looked good!

That’s the problem with so many other occupations we are involved in today. Oftentimes there are so many things that need to be done at nearly the same time, we wonder if we will ever get them done. Nothing ever seems to be finished.

I was reading a book recently written by David Allen entitled, “Getting Things Done: Stress Free Productivity”. He gives some good suggestions on how to prioritize, organize and simply get things done. I’m paraphrasing here, but what he says is very much akin to what my father did to maintain a well-organized farming operation.

Here are a few:

1. Make a list – write it in long hand on a pad of paper. The top item on the list needs to be done immediately. No. 2 needs to be completed next. No. 3 is next, and so on down your prioritized list.

2. Don’t keep the list of what needs to be accomplished in your head. That gives you a false sense of control regarding all you need to do.

3. Remember, if you don’t complete a task before you leave for the day, you haven’t failed. It will be waiting for you tomorrow morning when you arrive at work.

4. Reflect on your to-do list by breaking it down into workable steps so that it doesn’t overwhelm you.

5. Be sure and ask, "What am I trying to do, and why?" Is it important that No. 4 on the list be completed now? Can it wait for a little bit while you make sure that No. 3 is absolutely complete to the best of your ability? Making those decisions can be tiring. But, it is far better to make those decisions about the absolute importance of the tasks on your list than not make them. Not making those decisions allows us to simply remain in our daily “busy” mode. We look busy, but are we accomplishing much? And, not making those decisions is still making a decision. Sort of like not voting in elections is still voting, whether we think so or not.

How did my father manage that very complex farming operation all by himself? He did it by way of organization. He was impeccably well organized, and he lived by his lists of what needed to be done and when.

Ray H. Hull is a professor of communication sciences and disorders at Wichita State University. His new book with Jim Stovall, “The Art of Learning and Self-Development: Your Competitive Edge,” was released earlier this month.

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