In the book On Life as a Pioneer Woman, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote, “What becomes of the time we saved?” Although this question was posed in 1920, I believe that it applies to many modern families as well. Despite timesaving conveniences like dishwashers, microwave ovens, cars, and running water, many people are still wondering why they seem to never have time for everything that needs to be done.
The topic of time management is extremely applicable to modern-day homesteaders. With many homesteading families working at least one off-the-farm job, being able to get more stuff done in less time is a crucial part of farming.
My family is just as busy as anyone else’s. We have six people in our family. We all pitch in to care for our garden, orchard, cattle, chickens, housekeeping tasks, and home maintenance. Additionally, we are a homeschooling family, so while my husband is at his day job, I have the (not always) joyful task of teaching, grading papers, and giving assignments to our four children.
Time management is crucial on our little farm. In the past ten years here, I’ve learned that, although I have much to do every day, there is usually plenty of time to fit in all of the most important tasks. Here are twelve tips that help keep our homestead running smoothly:
Before you can ever make a good budget, an effective to-do list, or shop for the family, you must have priorities in place. Without establishing priorities in your life, you will be aimlessly drifting from one project or goal to the next. When you have concrete priorities, everything else in your life will fall into place. Decision-making will suddenly become much simpler when you have considered what is most important in your life.
The adults in the house should sit down together and establish a list ranking the relative importance of the responsibilities in life. If you have a list like this in hand, when you feel everything pulling at you all at once, you can more easily determine what gets done first.
On the farm, priorities look a little different. Many days my house is messy because I have done important outdoor farm work. We don’t participate in certain activities or travel often because our farm takes up a significant portion of our time. We don’t complain or apologize for these decisions because we know that is just a part of our choice to live out our dream on the farm. For us, the trade-offs are worth it.
2. Make Lists
In the poem “If You Give a Mom a Muffin,” the author, Beth Brubaker, describes a distracted mother who flits from one task to the next, cleaning up mess after mess and never really finishing any one job. If I don’t make a list, this poem describes me. I dash from chore to chore, forgetting the most important things while I “put out fires.”
I have learned that I sleep better at night when I have taken a few minutes before bed to make a list of what must be done the next day. This helps me avoid forgetting important things that must be done. I then rewrite the list in order of importance. The next morning, I try to check off the most important chores first thing. When I have a pile of short, easy tasks to do, I often will complete those tasks over the course of an hour or so, just to clear them off of the list.
3. Plan for Efficiency
Nothing is more aggravating and time-wasting than having to spend 20 minutes searching for the proper tool when I finally find time to do a job. I have learned that for me to get around to particularly distasteful chores, I must set myself up for success. If I am dreading weeding the garden, and the hoe and tiller are nowhere around, it is easier for me to put it off. Then in the next few weeks, the weeds will get the upper hand. I’ve found that keeping tools and supplies close to where they will be used is much more efficient.
Additionally, having the proper tools for a job will make your work go much more quickly. Homesteaders are adept at improvisation, but if you are constantly losing time because you don’t have the right tool for the job, go ahead and buy what you need if at all possible. Whenever possible, buy the highest quality tools and equipment that you can afford.
Installing yard hydrants in the barn, in the orchard and garden areas, and near the cattle troughs has saved my family hours. This job was a hot, dirty task that took about three or four days, but it has paid for itself exponentially. I no longer have to move hundreds of feet of garden hose to water trees or fill up the cattle troughs. These types of jobs can be expensive but will be worth it in the long run.
Families often have way more stuff than is needed. Remember that every item that comes onto your farm must be stored, cleaned, organized, and maintained. Choosing to weed out your possessions may free up more time for you to do other things. Start decluttering by cleaning out your closets, garage, barn, and basement and ask yourself whether or not those items are really contributing to your enjoyment of life. Donate to charity, have a yard sale, or re-gift items to needy families. Paring down to the necessities can be an incredibly freeing experience.
5. Identify and Limit Your Time-drains
Americans have access to an abundance of technology. Since the advent of smartphones, you can check your e-mail, watch YouTube, and update your Facebook status using your phone while cutting hay on your tractor. However, all of this technological accessibility is hurting people in ways that they don’t fully realize. Even though we all hate to admit it, multi-tasking severely hampers productivity. When we do not fully focus on one task at a time, we take much longer to complete the tasks.
Additionally, goofy things like checking out Facebook a couple times a day, looking at your e-mail inbox repeatedly, or even catching a few minutes of a ball game or Oprah on television can add up to hours of lost time which you can never regain. Often these types of tasks end up taking more than just a minute, as it is so easy to get sucked into doing them for longer than you intended.
It is okay to have fun, recreational activities, but to make the most of our time, it is best to limit these time-drains to particular times of day. If we don’t, we will look up at the clock yet again and think, I can’t believe I just wasted a half-hour on that! Be intentional about your time usage and you won’t find the day half gone with little to show for it.
6. Get the Whole Family Involved
Everyone on the farm must do their part to make this venture a success. Even my four-year-old has small tasks that he does to help out. Train your children at young ages to pitch in, because “many hands make light work.” My children are 14, 10, 7, and 4. They have regular chores, as well as other assigned jobs that simply make everyone’s life easier. I often get busy in the evening hours working outside. I can tell my three oldest to go in the house and work together on supper preparations, and it is wonderful to be able to come in to a hot meal all ready to go on the table. Even my youngest son can help with putting away the dishes after meals and returning scattered items to their proper places in the house.
Motivating certain children to help out can be difficult. However, I have learned some tricks to help. I give my children chores to complete while I am preparing meals. Doing this helps keep foot-dragging to a minimum, because no one wants to be late for supper. Additionally, it keeps the kids out of my way so that I don’t have to try to cook with a cluster of complaining, hungry children in the kitchen.
7. Acknowledge the Seasons of Life
I’ve come to realize that certain periods in a person’s life are busier than others. In the years in which I was pregnant, nursing, and mothering infants and toddlers, I was unable to do as many fun farming projects as I wanted. However, now that my children are older, I have time to take on more responsibilities. Yet, I am still parenting intensively and home-schooling, so my time is still not all my own. As my children grow up and leave home, I have many plans to which I am looking forward to implementing here on our farm.
If you are in a busy season of life, take heart! It will not last forever. You can have the homestead of your dreams, but you may have to be patient and wait a few years for it. You can do it all. However, you must accept that you can’t do it all at the same time!
8. Plan Ahead
Most homesteaders live a little ‘ways out from the closest stores. Planning ahead saves time so that you can get all of your errands done in one or two trips to town each week. Keep a running list on the fridge of any items to pick up or errands that must be taken care of so that everyone can get things that they need. Pay attention to the dates, and you can do some shopping for holidays and birthdays by ordering from Amazon.com.
You will also want to remember that animals and equipment must be periodically replaced. Keep good records so that you can sell items and animals before they are on their last legs. You will get more money for them to help you with replacement cost, and you won’t have to go tractor shopping in the middle of haying season. Look to the future to determine when and where you should build the next barn or outbuilding. Don’t wait until the last minute to begin planning these important structures.
9. Accept Your Own Limitations
My mental image of the perfect farm is a lovely frame house with an immaculately manicured lawn, white painted fences, and gorgeous flowers accenting everything. However, the reality on my place is barbed wire, mud, and weeds growing up in my flowerbeds. Keeping up a homestead takes plenty of work and energy. I often have to choose between aesthetics and practicality, since I don’t have the energy to do everything that I would like to do with our place.
In the ten years that we’ve been here, I’ve learned that you have to accept that you can’t do everything perfectly all of the time. Sometimes, I have to let some tasks go to focus on the most important jobs at hand. I am usually able to get caught up, however, in the following few weeks.
We’ve also had to learn to accept our time and financial limitations. Since we have a farm, we don’t have the time, money, or energy for our kids to participate in every available activity, as wholesome as they may be. We’ve had to accept the fact that our kids will not grow up doing Little League and ballet recitals. Their childhood experiences will be different from the ones that we may have had, but at the same time, our kids will still have enjoyable memories of their early years. Many farming families do find a way to include these activities in their kids’ lives, but with all the things that we have to do, we haven’t been able to manage it. Our family has decided that we would rather do a few things well with some time left over to relax, than to do many things poorly and be stressed from our commitments.
Each family must make these highly personal decisions for itself. Some families thrive on busyness with a schedule that is packed with activities, while others need more margin in their lives. Even if your mother believes that no kid should grow up without Scouts, sports, and vacations, you must decide for your own family what commitments you can realistically manage. It is okay to say no, telling people that you have other things to take care of.
10. Learn to Enjoy Your Work
Why are you homesteading? My family does this because we like the lifestyle, the animals, and the joy of producing food for our own use. If you hate every minute of your homestead work, then you may want to look at ways to cut back until you do enjoy the work.
Of course, there are distasteful tasks in everyone’s day-to-day; that is just a fact of life. Learning to do these jobs quickly and cheerfully will make the time go faster. We don’t particularly love cleaning out the chicken house, weeding our bushes, or building fences, but these are necessary tasks on the farm. However, in each of these jobs, we are making our farm a better, nicer place to live.
I’ve found that learning to find things for which I can be thankful makes any yucky, hot, or otherwise miserable chore go more quickly. If I am washing dishes, I can be thankful that my family had food to eat that day. If I am cleaning the hen house, I can be thankful for my chickens and the eggs that they provide. When weeding, I can be thankful that I am physically able to do the work. When building fences, I can be thankful for a cool breeze, the loveliness of a butterfly passing by, or the blackberries that I found nearby (even though their thorns scratched up my leg). Take a moment and appreciate the beauty that you can see every day on your homestead.
Francesca Reigler said, “Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.” If a disagreeable task will not go away, you may as well determine that you will be cheerful as you do it… at least until your kids grow up enough that you can pass that job off to them!
11. An Ounce of Prevention…
On a farm, maintenance really pays off. It may only take thirty minutes to walk your fences every few weeks. However, chasing down a herd of escaped goats that are eating your orchard can take four times as long. Pulling a few weeds each day is better than spending hours weeding due to procrastination. Small things such as checking the air pressure in your trailer tires, replacing worn items, and greasing equipment don’t take much time. If the farmer neglects these important things, he will waste time and money on large, expensive repairs to equipment. According to Murphy’s Law, these problems will occur at the worst possible moment, like when the bank account is empty and you are in the middle of an important project.
When you have animals on the farm, it is crucial to get in the habit of checking on them daily. Daily checks will help keep your critters healthier by identifying issues before they become large problems. If you spot a sick animal in your daily checks, you can isolate it before it spreads disease through the entire herd. You can also treat it yourself before the animal gets to the point of needing veterinary care. These daily checks will keep you apprised of new calves or kids, general herd health, and whether the animals need anything, like new watering troughs, salt, or hay.
12. Rest and Recharge Regularly
At times, the demands of farming can seem overwhelming, and the homesteader feels that he all does is work, work, work. Certain seasons of the year are like this. Spring and fall are very demanding times for the farmer, when he may be working seven days a week for a few weeks. However, the farmer who does this for most of the year is in danger of burning out.
When you are trying to get your homestead established, it can be tempting to work on your improvements every possible spare minute. However, this can be dangerous, not only for the health of the homesteader, but for familial relationships. Everyone needs a chance to rest and relax, even farmers and homesteaders. After all, what is the point of having a farm if you ruin your health and destroy your marriage to get it?
At least one day a week, farmers should prioritize rest and family. Even if it is just for a few hours, farmers should set aside the to-do list and take the time to enjoy life. You will enjoy your work more when you can approach it with new energy and a fresh outlook that rest provides.
There are only twenty-four hours in each day, but with careful time management, you can have all of the time that you need to get things done. No one is perfect, however, and you should learn to cut yourself a break when you’ve worked hard each day, but seem to have nothing to show for it. Some days are just going to be like that, so you may as well face them with a good attitude. Do the best that you can to get the important stuff done, and tackle the rest on another day.