“Studies have shown that the average hunter gatherer works 19 hours a week. That’s it.”
Firstly, I had better note that this article is written from the perspective of the guilty. Secondly, the number 19 is one of the most important numbers I have ever learned and it is a number I carry around in my head to remind myself of my priorities. I don’t have 19 priorities, or 19 of anything, so what is so fascinating about this number? Well, studies have shown that the average hunter gatherer works 19 hours a week. That’s it. Not 19 hours a day like some people, or even nine. They work on average less than three hours a day. Certainly there are seasonal fluctuations, but on average during their 19 hours a week they provide for all of their families basic necessities of life such as food and shelter.
So what does this have to do with the modern farm family, who most definitely does not live a hunter/gatherer lifestyle? Basically it provides a measure of perspective. For those of us in the fast paced life of farming often with additional full time job responsibilities, family commitments and otherwise, it may be difficult to comprehend only working one-half to one-third weeks. Certainly as long as we can each individually answer the questions about what we are hoping to accomplish in the time we are working and honestly assess our progress then working long hours is okay.
To wrap our heads around a full week, there are 168 hours total in every seven days. If we sleep eight hours a night, take 56 hours off the top. We now have 112 hours left to do everything else. If the hunter gatherer works 19 hours, that means they have over 90 hours left with which to plan, think, connect and explore areas of interest. If you work 100 hours, that means you have 12 hours left to eat, change your clothes and go to the washroom. Of course, most people will stretch that by shorting the sleep part of the equation. A good rule of thumb is that as a food producer you should have time to at least savour and enjoy your food.
The trade off that often occurs on farms when we forget the number 19 is the “get back to work” scenario. This is often referred to as spinning our wheels, or working for the sake of eliminating free time. Long term, this approach to business can create resentment among labour, encourage children to leave for the allure of the 40 (or even 35) hour work week with benefits and holidays. The get back to work program also create layers of stress and expense that hinder the farm business. By feeling that not doing something is equivalent to wasting time we often spend our days putting up feed, feeding feed or otherwise engaging in activities that create activity. It is possible that time is better spent planning and working on the business, or even taking a break from the business.
A few ways to deal with the 19-hour challenge in a farm family is to have everyone contribute to, understand and feel that they are part of accomplishing the larger picture. Someone who feels they are building something worthwhile will readily work more than 40 hours a week and be excited to do it, but they have to be engaged in the decision-making and the direction of the operation. Don’t forget in-laws, out-laws and employees in this process. It is also important for those involved in the farm to save some time for family, for planning, for thinking and for themselves. Try spending a week with everyone writing the hours they work on a calendar, and for good measure try to record what they were working on. It can be very surprising how time on a farm is really being spent.
Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying there is anything wrong with hard work or with pursuing a lifestyle that is not the hunter gatherer one. I am also not saying that it is wrong to enjoy the time you spend working. What I am saying is that some perspective in our farm business and our life is often a good thing. While we are looking for ways to “get things done” are we spending enough time on reflection of “how we do things” or “what things are we doing?” We have to continually remember that the people are the most important asset to any farm business. Any improvements to the business or the environment are made by the people making the decisions. Improving the life or lifestyle of the people in the business ultimately improves the business.
Even though its’ a nice thought, I doubt that I will be spending only 19 hours a week at work this year, but I will be trying to remember that magic number and use it to gain perspective on what matters and the why of doing what I do.