“Work/life balance” comes up as an important topic for many young farmers. In my opinion, it’s time to change our language to “the choices we make to manage our time.” When we realize we have a choice in the matter, then we can take action and more easily avoid burnout on the farm. Just knowing we have a choice is a powerful thing.
Right now is a very busy time for farmers in North America. Not only is it Spring and planting season, but we are also in the middle of a pandemic that is changing how we work and live. Take a deep breath. The tips in this article will help you evaluate how you are spending your time and energy so you can make better choices.
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6 Tips to Avoid Burnout on the Farm
Does the current situation have you feeling anxious? Take some time to consider these ideas and make the necessary adjustments in how you spend your time and energy.
1. Time is the currency we long for.
How do you organize your time? I write things down on paper; you might use the notes in your phone or digital calendar. I also use a kitchen or phone timer for 25-minute stretches if I need to get a project started but have a limited block of time. Our farming son plans on a huge whiteboard. Use whatever system works best for you. The important thing is to block out time for what is important.
Dr. Richard Swenson, the author of Margin, suggests we need more white space on our calendars to create margin in our life for interruptions and the unexpected.
Farmers, I can hear you grumbling. Elaine, the work on this farm is never done. We don’t have enough time! Perhaps you don’t have enough workers!. We take Sundays off as margin time for family and faith activities. The cows need feeding on Sunday, but have you neglected to take some renewal time for you and your family?
Are you taking time for satisfying leisure activities away from work? Play is important not just for children, but also for parents and grandparents.
2. Do you have a morning routine?
David Irvine encourages farmers to develop a habit of 20 minutes a day for reflection/quiet time. I have oatmeal and milk for breakfast and then head to my quiet chair. This is a great time for me to grow spiritually, but also a time to ponder what the priorities are for the day. On the farm business side, what would it look like to take 20 minutes in the morning to reflect on your business goals and map your week?
Irvine suggests a weekly 30-minute “planning session.” I just did this with my daughter-in-law as we coordinate meals for workers, child care, and my plans for coaching with BDO work. When you block out a map aligning with your core values, you will feel more “on track.”
During a power outage, I had a wonderful phone chat with a dear friend. Connecting to friends is one of my top 5 core values. A very busy entrepreneur voiced his best tip on a recent podcast. He blocks 1 hour every Thursday evening to connect with friends—at the very least, a phone call. Are you making time for routine things like birthday cards and phone calls to the important people in your life?
3. How are you managing your energy?
Coaches have a core question: Does this decision give you energy or drain your energy? Does the decision feel heavy or light?
One of the best ways to manage your energy is to go back to the basics. Rest, nutrition, and movement. Are you getting good sleep? Do you fuel your body with regular, nutritious meals? Are you moving your body lots throughout the day?
Sounds elementary. I once sent a frustrated farmer to see his doctor, and he thanked me profusely. He discovered two key health issues needing attention, and he felt a whole lot better in 2 weeks. Last summer I changed my diet significantly due to a wheat allergy, and I have less “brain fog” and more energy. I also engaged www.brightlineeating.com techniques.
4. Do you feel you have the power to choose control over work situations?
Young farmers who are also parents are likely feeling trapped between the demands of the farm and the expectations of parenting young children. Is your voice heard at the farm planning table when you ask for more time off? Do you negotiate the reasonable and unreasonable work expectations of your farm managers? It’s really important to be satisfied with the way you handle the demands and stress in your life. My spouse is a great mirror for me when he senses I am getting overwhelmed. He checks in and offers support or asks what is going on.
Be gracious and humble about asking for help when you need it. Comparison is a joy stealer, so I suggest stop comparing yourself to how other parents are managing their overfull schedules. Be courageous to do what is right for your particular situation and what lines up with your core beliefs and values.
5. How do you plan to take action on what’s not working?
Change is inevitable; growth is optional. We can choose to be assertive, take action, and generate a new way of being. The first conversation is with yourself.
David Irvine encourages us to ask ourselves: “What can I take out of my day today to make room for what is most important?”
I wonder if you are distracted and sucked into the social media vortex on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, when a social media “fast” just might free up some time for courageous conversation and cuddling with your spouse.
6. Learn from others.
There are many great podcasts to learn from and books (like Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu). I’ve started listening to podcasts rather than the radio shows that blast out bad news and are not great tools for making good mindset choices. You might want to seek out a farm man or woman in agriculture whom you respect and who is assertive to learn from them about how their assertiveness was achieved.
I gave nine women permission not to grow a garden by saying, “Where is it written that to be a good farm wife, you HAVE to have a garden!” They all have other demands on their time, hate weeding, and did not have the courage to stand up to their father in law’s expectations. Now they do.
Using the phrase “Where is it written” may be useful in many other scenarios for better energy management on your farm.
There are two main things you must do to avoid burnout on the farm. The first is what I introduced in this blog post—simply become more mindful about the ways you are spending your time and energy. If you are unhappy with the results of your thought experiment, move on to step #2: determine where you can make changes that will allow you to still get things done but also carve out a little space of your own. How you spend your time and energy is your choice, and if you can reclaim that, even in small ways, you will be able to avoid burnout on the farm.