How to get more time off on the farm

This will mean considering some new approaches and making some intentional choices

Harvest is in high gear, cattle are moving and you think you cannot stop working. Your voice is louder and your sleep is lousy and you wonder if you are going to stay married with all the demands on your time.

You have choices.

Consider a new approach. Time for a mindset shift.

1. Track your time. This can be done in the notes on your phone or use a time-tracking app. You cannot change what you cannot measure. You’re not a hero if you are a workaholic. When you compare your time input with your brother, father, sister, mother etc. then you have data for a discussion.

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2. Take mini-breaks. We do this in the field by getting off the combine and onto the tailgate to have a meal together, even if it is only for 20 minutes. Yes, farmers eat fast, and this habit is hard to break even in December! Young children in the box of the truck sharing time with parents is a good thing. You might also go into the house to eat, read stories and tuck the kids in bed before you return to farm tasks. This calls for intentional choices.

3. Challenge why you do things the way you do on your farm. One cattle rancher who works off farm said, “Elaine, it’s crazy that we are using three tractors. We are not as efficient as we could be!” Does your vet, your agronomist or your sales rep know your style well enough for you to be open to a different way of doing things? We saved heaps of time by investing in a computer to automate our seed plant.

4. Talk more, guess less. It is a very good communication skill to ask, “Why?” Be curious about the tasks laid out and the opportunity for taking some flex time off. “You do not have because you do not ask.” If you feel your farm manager is going to say “NO” to requests for a break from work, have you asked for a conversation to explain your need for renewal? Don’t make assumptions. Be curious and approach the time-off conversation with mercy, kindness and no judgment.

5. Block off important family time events. These include things like visiting the in-laws, grandparents, and celebrations. Let the other farm team workers know well ahead of time what you plan to go to. My DIL and I use a paper planner to map out the expectations of our time for childcare, my work, and farm demands like harvest field meals. We are flexible to change the master plan, but at least we have clarity of expectations.

6. Use whiteboards. These are good for task lists and time-away plans. Some folks are forgetful so help their memory by writing things down. The giant calendars from your local credit union or seed company can record days off. Others might want to do this in Google documents. One family told me they use What’s App to communicate as a group, so there are no surprises.

7. Take baby steps and test it out. Copy success of friends and Twitter peeps that manage the ongoing polarity of working and finding time to play and renew. Where is it written that you have to leave the farm to have rest or a date night? Blocking out one hour a week to sit down with your spouse to talk about the state of your union is a key marriage builder. If you do this on the buddy seat of the combine, then you are multi-tasking, but still working on stronger communication and cherishing each other.

8. Hire childcare. I recall the farm manager who wanted a nanny but needed a bigger house to achieve that goal. Her husband was a tradesperson. Her dad demanded the same amount of time from her as before the birth of her child. Where is it written that farm families should not have hired childcare? Grandma may not want a full-time job raising her grandchildren. If you cannot hire care, you may barter it with a neighbour so you have blocks of time to do important work, safely without the kids in tow. I did this for many years with a town friend as I had Tuesdays and she had Thursdays. Our sons loved the routine to play.

9. Examine the culture of your farm. What do you believe to be true? How do you behave with each other? How do you make decisions? Believe, behave, decide. Everyone gets to choose what is important to them. On our farm we choose not to work on Sundays so all employees and families get a day of rest. We still get the work done. Do you expect your successors to sacrifice their bodies the same way you do as a founder? You get the behaviour that you accept. If decisions are made according to roles and responsibilities and in a collaborative manner, you will be leading a great team that can work independently, be self-directed, and confident.

10. Be thankful. Dirty dishes are a sign that there was food to eat. Harvesting together should be a joyful experience and reward for many long hours of crop care. There are going to be bumps and challenges along the way, you know that, so count your blessings and take delight in the things that give you energy. One employee loved the fact that he was allowed to stop to photograph the harvest sunsets. Beauty creates energy. Pay attention to what gives you energy as you work.

I am missing my gladioli in my garden this year. During the Great Pause this spring I decided to give them a head start by planting them in peat moss in the warm house. The transplanting of 10-inch-high plants did not sit well when the spring winds attacked the garden, so only one gladiolus bloomed. Rats. My cut garden flowers on my desk give me energy to appreciate my writing and coaching work. Sometimes we experiment with new ways and it doesn’t work. So we let go and move on.

11. See a doctor: medical or psychologist. Be sure about the cause of your ongoing fatigue.

About the author

Contributor

Elaine Froese is a certified farm family coach and farm partner. Seek her out at www. elainefroese.com or call 1-866-848-8311. Buy her books for your mom. Share your stories of how these phrases have impacted you. Elaine wants to hear from you on Facebook at “farm family coach” or Twitter @elainefroese.

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