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Time Management on the Farm: The Eisenhower Method

I don’t know about you, but Spring through Summer always feels really chaotic to me at the barn. Between the added farm chores (darn tansy), prepping for show season, and summer camps, time can get away from me quickly. I absolutely hate feeling rushed (my general vibration is a bit slower and methodical - it’s no wonder I landed in the general dressage world personally) and the chaos of it all could be a bit overwhelming and anxiety-inducing.

When I was in the corporate world I was introduced to a time management tool and process called the Eisenhower Method. It really served to help me get my arms wrapped around all of my to-dos and feel a bit more organized. Despite the time it takes to use this method, I actually found myself with more time and space and greater peace in the day-to-day by taking the time to use it.

Eisenhower Method

What is the Eisenhower Method?

The Eisenhower Method, also known as the Eisenhower Matrix or the Urgent-Important Matrix, is a time management tool that helps prioritize tasks based on their urgency and importance. It is named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, who is said to have used this principle to organize his workload (if a President can use it to get organized, I figure it’s good enough for me!). The method categorizes tasks into four quadrants:

Urgent and Important (Q1: Do): Tasks that require immediate attention and have significant consequences if not completed promptly. These are top-priority tasks.

Important but Not Urgent (Q2: Decide): Tasks that are important for long-term goals but do not need immediate action. These should be scheduled for a later time.

Urgent but Not Important (Q3: Delegate): Tasks that require immediate attention but are not crucial to long-term success. These tasks can often be delegated to others.

Not Urgent and Not Important (Q4: Delete): Tasks that are neither urgent nor important. These tasks can be minimized or eliminated to free up time for more important activities.

Using the Eisenhower Method helps us focus on tasks that matter most, improve productivity, and reduce time spent on less critical activities.

How Does this Apply to Me?

Well, let’s take a second to consider an example (I’ll use my own life to showcase this process in practice). 

I typically start with a brain dump of everything on my mind that needs to get done each week outside of the day-to-day (lessons, stall cleaning, feeding, etc) - that’s already scheduled in my calendar. This, in itself, can be so helpful - putting it on paper and getting it out of your brain, where it takes up mental bandwidth remembering all of the things. I also break things into small enough tasks that I can shove them in small spaces throughout my day. The list can get quite long doing this but it’s better than avoiding a task altogether because it will take too long then feeling rushed to get it done when absolutely necessary, potentially foregoing other important responsibilities. This is what my brain dump last week looked like (note, some of these tasks will happen after the week you’re working on and that’s okay; it’s mostly to get it out of your head): 

  • Pull tansy in top pasture 

  • Pull tansy in middle pasture

  • Pull tansy in left pasture

  • Pull tansy on corner pasture 

  • Pull false chamomile in pastures 

  • Pull thistle in pastures

  • Bathe Cedar for horse show

  • Clean tack for horse show

  • Pack trailer for horse show

  • Clean up from corner pasture pitcher pump work

  • Wash horse blankets

  • Mow grass arena

  • Get groceries

  • Water new trees (x2)

  • Pay mortgage/bills

  • Corner pasture gate mud management project

  • Ride Cedar (x3)

  • Clean out corner feeders

  • Put “caution horses” sticker on trailer

  • Work on rock arena panels 

  • Spray paint ground poles for grass arena

Whew, that’s quite the list! I already know I won’t get it all done, but at least I can be strategic about how I prioritize it to keep myself moving forward, feeling good about my productivity, and on top of my farm tasks. 

Next I’ll order these based on the Eisenhower Method above. I like to use Q1-4 to help me keep track in an easy-to-read format. You can see which Quadrant maps to which number above, but the general concept is: Q1 = Important/Urgent, Q2 = Important/Not Urgent, Q3 = Not Important/Urgent, and Q4 = Not Important/Not Urgent. An important thing to keep in mind is that you are likely to focus on the things in Q1 and Q2 first, as they are  important. Their urgency may change throughout the week. So, for example, if it’s really something I need to do now I put it in Q1. If it is something I can push to later in the week I put it in Q2. I re-evaluate each night so I can shift things around if I need to the next day based on my pre-existing commitments (this takes less than 5 minutes and helps so much with peace of mind). You’ll see what I mean, below.

  • Q1: Pull tansy in top pasture (looking like it will be going to seed soon, so important to pull sooner rather than later)

  • Q1: Pull tansy in middle pasture (about to go to seed)

  • Q1: Pull tansy in left pasture (about to go to seed)

  • Q1: Pull tansy on corner pasture (about to go to seed)

  • Q3: Pull false chamomile in pastures (one of my horses is allergic so I can’t put her in that pasture until it’s pulled)

  • Q4: Pull thistle in pastures (annoying but not necessarily detrimental as the horses have learned to avoid it)

  • Q2: Bathe Cedar for horse show (important but can schedule for end of the week - this will flip to Q1 as I get closer to the end of the week; why the re-evaluation is important)

  • Q2: Clean tack for horse show (important but can schedule for end of the week - this will flip to Q1 as I get closer to the end of the week)

  • Q2: Pack trailer for horse show (important but can schedule for end of the week - this will flip to Q1 as I get closer to the end of the week)

  • Q3: Clean up from corner pasture pitcher pump work (I can’t turn horses out in this pasture until I do this. This is not yet urgent as I have other pastures but as they eat down the grass it will become more urgent)

  • Q4: Wash horse blankets (Not needed until Fall)

  • Q1: Mow grass arena (I need it mowed low enough to practice our patterns for the show this weekend)

  • Q1: Get groceries (It’s important to eat and we’re 15 minutes outside of town so I don’t really want to run in every time I need something as that takes more time)

  • Q1/Q2: Water new trees (x2) (Important to keep them alive so one water session is urgent/important and the other can be scheduled for later in the week)

  • Q1: Pay mortgage/bills (I’d like to keep the farm running and my credit score up, so timeliness is important here)

  • Q4: Corner pasture gate mud management project (This will come into play in the Fall so is not currently urgent or important, but I do want to keep it on the radar)

  • Q1/Q2: Ride Cedar (x3) (One is urgent, the other two can be scheduled but they are all generally important in preparation of our show)

  • Q4: Clean out corner feeders (While this needs to be done at a regular cadence, it’s neither urgent nor important this week)

  • Q4: Put “caution horses” sticker on trailer (While I would like to have this on the trailer before we haul out to the show, it’s also not urgent or important. I can still haul out without it on there)

  • Q4: Work on rock arena panels (We use rocks under the railing to mitigate erosion in the winter and I have a pile of them to place after a project this winter. Since we are not in the rainy season here it is not currently urgent or important.)

  • Q3: Spray paint ground poles for grass arena (Right now I have to trek poles between our two riding areas, which is a pain and takes a lot of time, but for me it is not important when compared to other tasks and responsibilities I have this week)

As you can see, I prioritized riding Cedar, watering the trees, mowing the arena, pulling tansy, getting groceries, and paying my bills. When I narrowed it down in this way I was able to fit these tasks in between my schedule on Monday and Tuesday and could “forget about” the other tasks for a few days. I consider Q2 items things I can schedule to later in the week. On Wednesday I re-worked my matrix a bit I had managed to get through most of the tasks above with the exception of pulling all the tansy, but that’s okay because I cleared enough pastures that I was able to rotate the horses and pull them off of the pastures I didn’t get to. Pulling tansy became a Q2 task at this point and my Q2 tasks became Q1 tasks in anticipation of the show weekend. 

So, what about Q3 tasks? Frankly, I didn’t get to them this week. It’s just the reality of prep for a show weekend amongst all of the other tasks needed on the farm. They are still urgent because other things are dependent on them (like getting to rotate the horses again and saving time down the road by not having to move poles all over the place) but they were not important this week. I am a solo team on the farm during the week, but if you have staff or working students, these would be the tasks to give them, especially while you may be away from the farm. On the weekends my partner is around and I don’t teach (to prevent me from having to cancel/reschedule too many lessons during the show season) and he often helps me get a little further down the to-do list. 

And Q4 tasks? I will sometimes have Q4 tasks on my to-do list for months. I’m not really able to fully delete them as many of them will eventually shift to greater importance over time. In my mind, though, they are “deleted” for the time being. They’re just on the list so I don’t completely forget about them but also don’t fret about them living as to-dos in my head for months on end. 

Now, last week was not a summer camp week for me. I try to schedule summer camps so that they don’t coincide with a horse show weekend, as I have learned that is more than I can take on in a given week with regular lessons, too. During summer camp weeks your Q1 and Q2 task list will need to be smaller because you will likely have even less available time. That’s okay. This process enables you to plan accordingly. I tend to look at things a week at a time, and use this method the weekend before so I’m prepared. It may behoove you to expand out to look at the month or shrink down and take it day-by-day. Play around with the Eisenhower Method and see how it works best for you. 

Want to take it a step further?

After completing the Eisenhower Method process weekly, I take my Q1 and Q2 tasks and schedule them into my Google calendar (which is readily accessible on my phone and also includes both my lesson schedule and time for my daily to-dos) for the next week. This helps me really see where I will have the space to work on different tasks and allows me to literally just check my schedule for what’s next each day instead of having to keep track. Mid-week I typically re-evaluate my tasks under the Eisenhower Method and adjust my schedule for the second half of the week accordingly. 

Now, I’m notorious for underestimating how long tasks will take me. This leads to a constant feeling of needing to catch up, which is not great for my preferred life pace or my anxiety. I have learned to adjust tasks to take roughly 1.5x as long as I think they will take to give myself some space and peace of mind. If it takes less time than I schedule, I can start on another task early and I’m ahead of schedule. Win-win!

I hope this process and tool helps you feel on top of your riding or training business this summer (and moving forward). Share how it’s working for you or if you have other methods you like to employ to keep on top of your schedule and tasks, below.

Happy Riding!


If you have questions, want help with your business operations, or need help finding resources don’t hesitate to reach out. Little Bird Advising offers business coaching for equine business owners like you!

Blog posts from Little Bird Advising are not meant to replace individual professional legal advice.

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