It’s 2 p.m. Work is winding down. We’re just tinkering at this point, which, don’t get me wrong, is a valuable part of farming. I feel the pressure of a long list of off-farm tasks requiring my attention.
I do a dry run in my head: “I should really head inside. I’ve got some writing to do.”
No. That doesn’t sound right. I’m not going to say that. Not out loud.
Sitting down in front of a computer to hammer out a few words should never trump manual labour. Those who work with their hands and work hard are the ones credited as “doers.” They get stuff done. And if you’re a doer who gets stuff done, that’s pretty top-notch, I reckon.
Instead, I sometimes say, “I can’t do this right now; I’ve got some off-farm work to finish.” Even that sounds suspicious to me. So, I often don’t say anything, leaving that list of tasks to grow, the pressure to build and my anxiety to flourish.
This is wrong. I know it. I wrestle with it. There is no reason I should even hesitate to take my own schedule seriously, especially if the farm work is getting done.
Scheduling has been the most difficult and crucial element to my success at maintaining multiple jobs while farming. And the deeper I dig for solutions, the more I realize that this is not just a Toban problem. It’s much larger that that.
Making the time
Thirteen years ago, when returning to the farm was still far from a serious thought and when I began entertaining the notion of writing for money, I took out a series of books on the subject of freelancing.
Many of these were oversimplified how-tos. I was studying philosophy at the time. My cynicism was ramped up to 11. But, some of these books were able to break through and strike a raw nerve. Some lessons were memorable.
Not unlike any discipline, the best way to learn is to do it. Do it often. Then start doing it every day. These were the teachings of one such memorable guide.
I developed this routine. I wrote and I wrote often. And things started to happen. One of the books encouraged readers to list goals on an index card. I jotted down the names of a few publications that, five years from that day, I planned to have written for. It worked — it motivated me to make it happen. On the fifth year, I wrote a front-page piece for the Globe and Mail, the last publication on that list.
That career took me to Portage la Prairie, Manitoba then Lac La Biche, Alberta, then Toronto. Then, in a twist of fate that surprised everyone, including me, that career path took me back to the farm on which I grew up.
I then got this column, and without my experience as a writer, I wouldn’t be working at Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers. I also wouldn’t have been able to tour farms in Brazil.
If in fact I have skill as a writer, I owe it to the many years I spent hammering away at the keyboard for one hour per day.
I valued that time. I wouldn’t end the day without having completed my writing. I would confidently say no to invitations because I had to write. It took courage, even then.
Now, at 38 years old, maintaining such a regimented routine has become difficult again. Writing remains something I do often, both for fun and for work. I write multiple columns and articles every week. But I miss the enthusiasm of that guy in his late 20s, early 30s. Where would that kind of commitment and drive take me today? I’m okay now, but I could be better.
Without writing — that thing I chose to pursue at a formative time in my life — life would look different today.
If you’re still with me, I’d like to wager a few bucks on the guess that you have a similar storyline. It may not be writing. It may be welding. It may be working with wood. Heck. It could be anything. But I bet there’s something.
In many cases, it’s these after-hours pursuits that give dimension to our lives. In other cases, these things have financial benefit.
Whatever the case, they have value.
So, let’s make a pact. I will no longer hesitate to be honest and transparent about my off-farm pressures. I will value my time and my jobs and I will develop schedules that reflect that. And you won’t hesitate to pursue those things you may have once set aside.