“Hey, watch out, there’s a rock the size of a loaf of bread about to go through the header !!” I yell to my new hubby in the cab of our combine as we harvest in l981.
“Don’t worry, I saw it, and there will be more.” he confides to me. As a Red River valley farm girl transported to marriage in the Waskada Clay Loam of Southwestern Manitoba I have developed the habit of picking stones or rocks on my field walks as I deliver meals, fuel, or help out with the harvest. I wasn’t used to picking rocks in my childhood near Dugald, because there weren’t any.

January is a great time for rock picking on your farms, but these rocks are not in your fields, they are in your heads. They are the priorities, what the late Stephen R. Covey, author of Seven Habits for Highly Effective People calls the “big rocks”. The things you need to put into your jar of life first, in order to get them accomplished, then the pebbles, sand and other demands on your time will fill up your life’s time container. If you don’t put the big rocks in first, the daily interruptions, break-downs, and distractions (pebbles and sand ) will pull you off the path you thought your farm and family were trekking down. Your time jar will be full, but you won’t be happy, because the big rocks did not get accomplished.

Recently in a farm family meeting with mom, dad, 4 adult children workers (the successors ) and one spouse we had an “Ah Ha” moment. The oldest worker and successor had ten years of working alongside Dad and Mom, and he was very confident in what he could accomplish in a day. His three siblings were struggling to catch up to the oldest sibling’s sense of confidence. One brave soul confronted Dad at the meeting with a plea to not be too eager to let go of leadership and management of the farm too quickly, but to have a mentorship and learning plan so that she could can capture the skills and capacity to do awesome efficient work in her roles on the farm. Each adult worker and successor was asking for better communication and clearer direction of the tasks and skills required for each day. Dad was coached to concentrate on having a mentor/leadership role to train the next generation fully before letting go of his “ultimate decision maker” role.

How were they going to accomplish this on a practical basis?

BLOCK the CALENDAR. I walked over to the large year calendar on the farm office wall. It was blank. The dates and months were there of course, but nothing was written on it. That is changing for 2014. Each month is going to be blocked with the tasks, jobs, and priorities, the BIG ROCKS that the team needs to address. The main manager , Dad, is going to document daily in his field notes on his phone what he is doing and what needs to be prepared for. It will become a living document of the jobs, priorities and timelines that need to be honoured for their specialized farm. The field notes are accessible on the main office computer for all workers to monitor.

I have seen the same plea from another family where the office manager did not have a clear sense of the patterns of management for the seasons of the year. She just wanted Dad to write down the monthly priorities and goals, so that she could get a sense of what needed to be done, and what was a lesser demand on her time.

Michael Pantalon’s book, Instant Influence has 6 helpful questions in getting people to understand what is important to accomplish. He uses a range of one to ten, with ten being most important to help folks get a clear quantitative feedback. For instance, on a scale of 1 to 10 how important is it that we get this job done this

week ? If the manager says 9, then you know what the big rock is for the week. If he says 2, then other jobs take higher priority. You could also use this ranking system for the agenda items proposed for your operational meetings.

You can also use the ranking on paper. Don Mc Cannell, CAFA member and financial planner from Saskatoon uses this method with his office staff. If he marks a paper with a 4, it can go to the bottom of the pile, but if it is marked 10, then the action needs to be take immediately for its completion.

Some women have the tendency to use “rapport” as the way they prefer to communicate which drives some men crazy according to Deborah Tannen who wrote “You just don’t understand”. Men prefer to have a concise “report”, just the facts please. So, there needs to be some compromise in understanding different communication styles as folks talk about the priorities of the farm. Figure out if giving the tasks ands goals a number will help you decide the size of the rock that needs to be picked.

Another issue in priority setting is getting a clearer picture of where time is spent. My farm clients who love their smart phones are using a program called to track the work hours, and what duties are being accomplished. Again, this tool helps with reporting the facts, the jobs done, and how much time they took. If the work ethic of two siblings is different, the time tracking program on their phones will account for the actual hours spent working. To be paid, they have to submit the Exaktime records. The time sheets for the entire work crew are available on the office computer and records of the jobs accomplished are shared at the weekly meetings. Someone once said, you can “only change what you can measure”. Farm conflict about who is working harder and longer hours is not uncommon. Perhaps it is time to invest in a tool to track what is actually getting done, by whom. You can start to monitor who is a good rock picker and who is fooling around in the sand or throwing pebbles, but not making the “main thing the main thing” to quote Stephen Covey.

When I go for walks along the field roads, I also like to find flat rocks to make inspiration plaques for young girls I mentor. I can write words to encourage them, and the rocks are a reminder to them that I value their growth as young women. I won’t find too many of these treasures in January, so it takes planning to harvest the rocks I need in the right season. Remember, planning ahead is a good thing. Block out the big rock activities on your yearly calendar. Think about using colour coding for each worker. Do whatever works for your style and system, but do it !



Elaine Froese facilitates farm family meetings to help farm teams get unstuck. She also learns heaps from her smart farm clients who have been teaching her for over 30 years ! Sign up for her free e-newsletter at . Buy her books “Do the Tough Things Right” or “Farming’s In Law Factor “as a Valentine’s gift for the farm sweetheart you want to encourage. Book her common sense for your next conference at 1-866-848-8311. Elaine is a member of the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors and the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers.

Fixing Your Time Stress Mess

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Workaholics will discover helpful strategies for managing their time stress. Gain understanding for the tensions of your age and stage on the farm. Learn why some problems are not solvable, but just need to be managed as polarities. Self-renewing people are joyful and productive producers.


Rave reviews

“A joy to work with, heard loud and clear. When the farmers laughed or asked a great question, I knew they were listening and really wanted to learn from her. Her tips were easy to understand. It was just about understanding that conflict happens, and to have the confidence in yourself to ask for what you want. In the glowing review from farmers after her presentation, I knew they had heard that loud and clear.”
Maddy Berner, Event Planner & Communications Coordinator, National Milk Producers Federation National Milk Producers Federation
“I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for your virtual kitchen table chat with Arlan Academy. My wife and I signed up as it was exceptionally relevant to our current journey with potentially transitioning to her parents’ farm. The session was able to cover so many aspects of these crucial conversations and hearing you speak to both sides of the conversation was eye opening for my own perspective on this topic. It seemed to be very well attended and sounded like there were many other people who would echo my thoughts and feelings on it.”
N. Oakley, Farmer, Ontario
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Don Forbes, Forbes Wealth Management
“I recently joined in and listened to your Healthy Farmer Agriwebinar for FMC. I truly enjoyed hearing your perspective and even went and grabbed my Mom, away from her work, to come and listen in on some of your main points as well! One area that really stood out for me, both personally with our own succession plans and with our clients, was your discussion involving "Instant Influence" and how ready are you to change? I loved this concept!”
Annessa Good, FCC Transition Specialist, Alberta
“Elaine Froese truly is the Farm Whisperer. With her big heart and stern resolve, she guides families through uncharted waters and helps them arrive safely at their desired destination. She has been there, done that, and has helped hundreds of families come out on the other side. With your family and your farm legacy on the line, you owe it to yourself to start this conversation. You do not need to do it alone. Let Elaine Froese guide you through. Your legacy is being written day by day. How will you be remembered?”
Tracy Brunet, Host of The Impact Farming Show & CEO of Farm Marketer
“You speak like you’ve been sitting at our kitchen table! You know our family issues well. I am feeling more comfortable understanding what we now need to do. Elaine Froese is real.”
Audience Member,
“I attended the meeting you spoke at in Stratford Ontario recently. We held an emergency family/farm meeting today because of issues that I had enough of. We used a 'talking stick' like you recommended and wrote a chart of rules. The rest of the family thought the idea that we needed a meeting was worth rolling their eyes over, until we got started. The younger ones were quick to clue in that they now have an opportunity to be bluntly honest. The older ones took a bit longer to believe they could truly say what they think. In the end, the meeting needed two sessions because there was so much to talk about… and so many things people didn't realize were a big deal to the others. Your lessons and encouragement have given us the tools we need to get to a better place in our relationships and our business. Truly thankful.”
Kim Martin, Dairy Farmer, Ontario
“Helped me develop my framework to start having constructive and meaningful conversations around the farm.”
Tennille Wakefield, Farm Partner
“Some great lessons, Elaine! You continue to do some remarkable and potentially life-changing work.”
James Mitchell, Principal, Conversations Consulting
“Our family had a good farm meeting yesterday afternoon. Your Fairness video was a great topic of discussion. One of the action items after the meeting was to have my two non-farming siblings watch the video before the next big meeting they are involved with on the farm. It will be a great conversation starter as we catch them up on our current plan. As they are younger, we also hope it will help them to ask new questions that may not have been on their mind.”
G.G., Farm Family Legacy Coach, Alberta
“Elaine gives me excellent tools that help me work with my clients!”
Laurianne Osmack, Financial Planner / Partner, Doell Osmak Wealth Management
“She has a sense of “knowing” quickly what is happening in the family dynamic. Her messages to her audiences drive home what needs to be done next to solve the complex issues of farm transition and conflict resolution.”
Audience Member,
“Eye-opening. Excited to open the door of communication with my spouse and farm family.”
Ashley Hoppe, Farm Partner
“The Strong Farms, Strong Families session gave farm families an opportunity to meet face to face with Elaine Froese... hear her own story, experiences and skill set. From this information packed session and related materials, families could identify areas of success in their journey and other places they need assistance. The greatest take away was that participants could see that Elaine Froese is someone they can trust with the things that they hold most precious.... their family and their farm.”
Nancy Atkinson, Nobleford Ag Society, Alberta
“Elaine’s real-life scenarios help her audiences know they are not alone, knowing there are creative solutions to help them get the life on the farm they have always wanted.”
Audience Member,
“A long time female client who had refined the art of procrastination was so moved by the end of your presentation that she accepted your permission to “drop the bananas.” She contacted me soon after for an appointment to do some planning which included the selling of the family “Century Farm.” A very, very emotional decision on her part that was not likely to have occurred without your presentation.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealthy Management
“I just have to say… that your work is amazing and I have never forgotten your teachings from our session in Williams Lake at TRU. It is super important work. I know so many people going through the trauma of succession. I hate to use that word, but I was an “out-law” and know it can get terrible. I continue to forward your emails on to others. Keep doing what you do! You are amazing. You kind of walk into the fire regularly… and with a smile. Proud to have met you.”
Megan, BC Rancher
“As my husband and I eagerly started the course we were optimistic and excited to be taking this next step in our Farm Transition. We were starting to question ourselves and whether or not we were just being selfish and greedy, and if this Farm Transition was still an option for us. We barely got through the first Module and were already having such a huge relief. As we moved through the modulus there were so many times that we just sat back with our hands in the air and thought YES. My husband and I would smile with relief because all of the concerns that we have been struggling with were relevant and came up in the modules. We really enjoyed the course and are excited to move on to the next stages to find our farm resolution.”
Shannon Gilchrist, “Get Farm Transition Unstuck” online course participant
“My hubby farms with 2 brothers and parents, and it’s become a really toxic place. No communication, no respect, etc. Twelve months ago, my husband’s brothers told him they don’t want to work with him anymore and offered him a pay out. His parents did nothing to stop it! He had no choice but to leave. Three months later, we moved off the farm and into town. He has been offered heaps of jobs and is now truck driving and carting hay and grain. We have tried communicating with his parents about what happened but they are not interested. So basically my hubby has lost his family. Very sad but we as husband and wife are overall in a good place and moving on to create our own life. Please continue on with all your wonderful work in helping families on the farm. I continue to tell any farmers I know about you, that they must ‘google’ you, and read your books.”
Donna, Farmer, Australia

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