There are never enough hours in a day on a lifestyle property, especially if you have to give a large chunk of those hours to an employer off-site.
This can make it tough when the farming calendar is demanding that something be done right now but the boss has other ideas.
Even if you take time off over summer, chances are you’ll be inundated with requests from holidaying friends and rellies who want to stay for a week so that little Lucas and Germaine can see real, live chooks.
How do you juggle all these demands on your time? And how do you ensure your block doesn’t come out the loser?
I’ll tell you straight off that I don’t have all the answers. Of the many challenges we face in learning how to farm, time management is the biggest and gnarliest. But here are seven tips I can share from experience. Hopefully, they’ll help you find your own balance.
1. Plan out your year
Buy an A1-sized year planner, mark it with every major task and activity on your farming calendar (lambing, hay making, renewing pasture, harvesting a crop, etc.) and block out how long you think each will take. Then stick it somewhere prominent.
This provides an overview so you can plan, it stops things creeping up on you and it shows everyone else how busy you actually are.
2. Keep projects and maintenance separate
Because of our skill-sets and the way we’ve divided our work, Ewan generally tends to focus on projects (e.g. fencing and building things) and I take care of maintenance (e.g. looking after the tunnel house and gardens).
His projects are often one-offs and mine are ongoing, so we manage our time differently. He concentrates on a project until it’s finished; I allocate a fixed time period for regular tasks and work to the clock.
3. Work from home
If this is an option for you, great. It can help a lot, particularly if you’re not locked in to set start and finish times. However, it has its disadvantages. No matter how much you love your property, spending every waking moment on it isn’t a good idea. You start losing perspective.
And there’s nothing more unproductive than staring out the window at a glorious day, unable to concentrate and fuming because there are five or six other things you know you should be doing on the farm.
4. Guests just wanna have fun
House guests are great but they can represent a lot of extra work and place big demands on your time. Don’t expect them to help much, even if they promise you in advance that they will. They’ll be in holiday mode, and people on holiday tend to only do the stuff they feel like doing, when they feel like doing it.
Remember that you’re perfectly within your rights to say no to prospective visitors — or limit house guests to weekends.
5. Always allow time for cleaning up and packing away
This is a really simple one but can make a huge difference at the end of a day when you’re exhausted. Whatever you’re working on, finish 20 minutes earlier than you normally would and pack up properly.
It saves tools getting lost or rained on and means you can start the next day knowing where everything is.
6. Get help
The most difficult thing about getting help is often just gearing yourself up to ask for it. If you want to ensure a fair exchange, opt for WWOOFers and HelpX folk. They’ll work a set number of hours for accommodation and food. No money changes hands, you can pick and choose who you take and call the shots on how long you want them around.
If you’d rather stick with people you know, invite your neighbours over to help and then lay on a BBQ and beer to say thanks. Put your own hand up next time they need help.
7. Be realistic
Even when you’ve finally freed yourself up and planned things to the nth degree, something always breaks or the weather turns rotten or a sheep drops dead. That’s just how it is. Try not to stress.
A farming venture is a work in progress and doesn’t do instant gratification. If you miss an opportunity this time around, try again next year. And in the meantime, tackle the next thing on that never-ending list.