Drowning In The High Season
Year after year I find myself saying yes to too many projects. Whether it is out of motivation to try and make more money by doing more things, or even just to satisfy the wants and desires of the people I am working with, I somehow manage to be under water in the middle of the season, drowning in a sea of ambition.
My mid-season woes start in the winter with my planning. We have all been there, sitting in the living room with seed catalogs and farm maps spread out dreaming of how much we're going to produce that year.
We slowly and incrementally add on crops, livestock, events, and markets. What I had lacked until now was a good way to add up all the hours that go into accomplishing each of those things.
One thing we all lack is time. It is a finite and unstoppable resource forever marching forward whether we want it to or not. It can be one of the most difficult resources to control, and once it is gone, well, it's gone.
The Solution HAD To Be Easy
I have tried all kinds of things to get my farm season organized. Spreadsheets, paper calendars, digital calendars, phone apps, etc... You name it and I have tried it.
Every option had some flaw. There are things that a farm season planning tool should do and I couldn't find them all in one place.
- easy to edit and update
- doesn't take long to learn how to use
- easy to share with other people
- accommodated the complexity of a diversified farm
I am super excited about this new planning tool because it accomplishes all of those things.
Enter the Labor Hours Calculator
Working with one of my farms partners we created a tool I have been searching for for five years now.
A way to visually organize and plan for your labor hours on farm. Well, it really works for anyone doing anything, but I happen to love farmers.
The Labor Hours Calculator is a tool that gives you a way to line up your tasks, plot them out through the season, assign hours values to each one, and add up your hopes and dreams to make sure you don't end up drowning mid-season in a sea of your own ambition.
Add and Organize Everything
What I have wanted for years is a way to plot out everything I hope to accomplish in a season including daily chores, big projects, special events, and farmers' markets. I wanted a tool that could visually organize my complex and diverse operation.
Each operation is manually added into the calculator, and a certain number of hours are assigned to each task.
Each to-do item is organized by:
- Daily: something we do every day
- Weekly: happens weekly
- Project: happens once per year or per season
Then I put an "X" where it happens in the year based on 52 weeks. This starts to lay out my farm season. The more information you put into the calculator the more you are going to get out of it.
Identify problem weeks in your season before they happen. Don't get stuck putting out too many fires with no extra help.
As you add information and the calculator works its' magic you will be warned when you have gone over 40 hours a week.
- Over 40 hours planned in a week and your total turns yellow
- Over 50 hours planned and the total turns red
How It Works
This is for your task list. Write down all of your goals for the year and the tasks associated with completing them. Assign hours values to each task so that the calculator can add them up later.
Simply put an "X" in the right place. There are 52 weeks organized by month. If you know you are going to be starting seeds in April, harvesting apples in September, or running chickens in June then put an "x" in the right box for the right time of year. You can always change it later.
The Labor Hours Calculator takes the hours that you listed in Area 1 and the mark you put in Area 2 and adds up all your ambitions in a number that gives you the total hours per week. You can then identify where you have extra planned time and where you're going to struggle.
Time Management Philosophy
Remember Set Up and Clean Up
When we plan for getting things done we rarely plan for the transition time between different tasks. That, and we almost never plan time for set up and clean up.
I have personally done it, and I see my cohort do it all the time. We get so excited about getting the task complete that we forget to put all the tools away and clean up the mess we made while doing whatever it is we were doing.
The more difficult the task the less likely you are going to be to do a good job cleaning up after yourself. "Oh I'll just clean it up tomorrow" turns into "man, how did the workshop get so messy?"
Plan into your projects time to get things picked up after the task is finished.
Transition Time Kills You
This is where having many different operations can strangle you. As smart as we humans think we are we all still have simple monkey brains. It takes time to adjust and mentally shift when our task list is too diversified.
The biggest time suck to getting things done is gathering materials and setting everything up. Have you ever experienced that if you have to do a repeating task that the first thing takes you twice or three times as long as the rest of the row?
Take pruning apple trees as an example. Every season I get back to the fruit trees and I have to remember how to prune because it's been a year since the last time I did it. That first tree takes me twice as long as I second guess my cuts and adjust my eyes to see the structure of the tree and how I want to shape it.
After my brain has adjusted to pruning apple trees the following trees are that much easier and that much quicker.
Budgeting dedicated project time is essential for getting things done. Bouncing around from area to area may seem productive, but you'll never get as much done as planning out a block of time to complete a big task and leaving all the other things on the back-burner for the day.
Make Time For Projects
Do you have your growing season truly defined? You know when it starts and when it ends? Even if you have chores all year long there is still a seasonal rush where everything is growing and your markets are in full swing.
When the season is moving ahead at full steam that's not necessarily a great time to take on big projects. It has been my experience that the shoulder seasons of early Spring and late Fall are the best time to get big projects done.
Just like gathering eggs, managing irrigation, or running a farmers' market stand, the big projects have to be planned for and time budgeted. To do this you would create a list of projects you're hoping to accomplish. Checklists are always a great start. Then create a budget for each one which includes not only the money it will cost you but the time.
You may be fortunate enough that you have all the money in the world to complete big projects, but you're still only going to have a certain amount of time. Budgeting time and planning for it may seem difficult when your'e sitting in the office, but going through the exercise will save you a lot of frustration down the road.