You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…” is the line in a song that may ring true for families that regret not paying attention to earlier cries for understanding. My co-writer Dr. Megan McKenzie has a few thoughts about the importance of tracking where time on the farm labour sheet is spent:
There seems to be several themes in farm families that are struggling. One theme is that farm families that are in conflict often don’t appreciate their in-laws or what their in-laws are contributing to their family and their farm until after the in-laws have had enough and jumped ship. It’s easy to take people for granted. Whether it’s a brother-in-law who spends hours keeping old machinery running or a mother-in-law (MIL) who fixes meals and runs errands, these acts can just blur into the scenery.
Story: The scenario has played out again and again across the country with only slight variations on the theme. The daughter-in-law (DIL) moved into her husband’s family’s century-old farmhouse. She worked off farm at a full-time job while raising kids, making meals, and fixing up the old house. She mowed the lawn and kept the flower beds. She helped with chores in the barn year round and drove equipment in the field in summer. Like many DILs, she learned to do the farm bookkeeping. She helped feed the family with her garden, eggs, chickens, and fall preserving. Yet, she was never appreciated. So she worked harder, hoping to be acknowledged for her efforts. Her kids grew up and she grew tired of the mistreatment and continual barrage of abusive words about her shortcomings. All attempts to work out a solution failed and she finally left the farm. In order to replace her labour, the farm had to hire five staff people (a combination of seasonal, full-time, and contract) to cover all the tasks she had been doing and there were still gaps that had to be filled by her husband or that were left uncompleted.
We need to make a conscious effort to think about all of the things that the people around us do that contribute to our lives, to our family, and to our farm. It will help us to be a bit more appreciative and a bit more empathetic when they forget something or make one of those mistakes that are oh so human. One of the ways to do that is to have all the members of the family document how they spend their time for one week.
This will help us to recognize the efforts that may go unnoticed and often unappreciated. In some families, it may highlight a discrepancy between workloads and compensation. In other families, a time log held beside a list of what the family members say they value may show whether they are on the road they want to be on. For some family members, the time log may show workaholic tendencies or attempts to avoid other aspects of their lives.
Make a basic chart including the day of the week, activity, length of time to the half-hour for seven days. Use a lined piece of paper.
Individual reflection questions for reviewing your own time log:
1. What are your first thoughts when you read over your own time log?
2. Does anything on your own time log surprise you?
3. If you could change anything about how you spend your time, what would that be?
4. How do you feel about your own work on the farm?
Make copies of your time logs to share at a family business meeting. Share the log with your spouse first, and discuss your discoveries. Then, share the time logs with the rest of the farm team.
Discussion questions for the farm team to share:
1. What are your first thoughts when you see others’ time logs?
2. How do you feel about how the workload is being distributed among team members?
3. How do you feel about how people are being compensated for labour on the farm?
4. How do roles and responsibilities need to change?
5. On a scale of one to 10 with 10 being great, how happy are the farm team players with their workload on the farm?
Story: It was very important to the brother-in-law that he would have time with his young family. However, between his full-time off-farm job in the city and spending almost every evening fixing machinery on the farm, he hardly ever saw his kids. He was expected to do this on-farm work, but was seldom acknowledged for it. He received little compensation in terms of money or assets, yet was considered lazy or a bad family member if he didn’t keep giving freely of his time. How he was spending his time didn’t reflect his values. His wife was tired of essentially being a single parent and it was straining their marriage, yet he was struggling to make the discussion to get out of this predicament because of family pressure.
Perhaps if the brother-in-law kept a time log for a week, he would have hard evidence of how he typically spends his time. The couple could attack the facts and talk about solutions with the extended family.
Unfortunately, many farm families that I have coached refuse to do this exercise. You likely will not change what you have not measured. Let me know how time tracking works for your farm team. †