Time management. I'm reminded on a regular basis that the skills I possess in this field are horrendous. Such an observation usually makes its way to the surface when I have overbooked myself and I'm spouting off my temper about how someone needs to figure out a 30 hour day and an eight day week. And if the dang sun would just stay up longer, too...
Humans have a basic need to see and experience progress. Making things happen and watching the result of our work amplifies our energy levels: the more we do, the more we see happen, which results in a desire to do even more. Progress generates progress, and, on the contrary, a sedentary lifestyle leads to laziness: the less we do, the less progress we see occurring in our lives, which leads to a feeling of hopelessness that triggers even less active behavior.
It is important to note the huge difference between being productive and being busy. Society has begun to glorify a busy lifestyle. Television shows, social media, networking events, and the like have a knack for filtering out the slow times of a peer’s day to portray constant movement. We, on the other hand, experience every moment of our own lives, and when we compare our own reality to the edited version of someone else’s we get the impression that we’re not doing enough. Thus, folks will continue to book extra meetings and extra work hours and extra time at the gym desperately trying to achieve the TV lifestyle, and a significant number of people spend time at their wits’ end trying to keep up with every single detail that gets crammed into a day. Futile effort often creates its opposite when people burn out, give up, and stop doing anything.
I often think of a customer of ours who fits such a busy reality perfectly. Every conversation with her is a crisis from her perspective as she tries to fit a pick up date and time into her schedule that, as far as I can tell, must operate on a 24-hour cycle. The last time I saw her she called me four times the day of pick-up because she had so many details running through her mind she forgot where our market stand was located (she had been to the spot twice prior). Upon arrival she crammed her car into park, threw a check at me – which she had written while driving to save time – proudly rattled off everything else she needed to do that day, and sped off. Elapsed time, twenty seconds. I can’t help but wonder if she accomplishes any task effectively with such a full plate.
Balance, of course, is necessary. Doing something poorly just to say we do it is just as bad as not trying in the first place. We lose productivity by trying to be too productive, a reality I have experienced myself on more than one occasion. The problem, you see, is there is so much STUFF we can do in this world. How do we experience a fulfilling life to the maximum without cluttering our timesheet to the extent that there isn’t a moment for our family, friends, and ourselves?
In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown outlines a framework for our lives that helps to answer just such a question. According to Greg, an overwhelming majority of the information we encounter in a day isn’t actually necessary – it’s just noise. By deliberately recognizing and eliminating these extraneous details busy people can cut through the fog and see with perfect clarity what activities are actually productive. What truly excites me is that, once objectives become clear, we can tackle them quickly and very effectively, which actually leaves more time for our personal lives, which in turn have become more fulfilling as a result of our increased effectiveness at work.
As is the case with most management strategies, the solution is counterintuitive: In order to get more done, we must do less. I’ve read that some extremely successful people spend the full first half of their day thinking about what they are going to do in the second half of the day. To many, the first thought that pops into our minds at the mention of such a lifestyle is that of a wealthy old man who has nothing better to do than sit all morning doing nothing. Must be nice having someone else do everything for you, right? Wrong. The wealth is frequently a result of the thought time, not the other way around.
One of the hardest concepts for a farmer is to stop doing something. We instinctively fill our days from sunup until sundown running about doing anything we can think of, and, if there is rain in the forecast, the schedule becomes even more urgent. I’m afraid at times we resemble the frazzled customer who cannot even remember where she is driving due to the load on her mind – is that truly an effective lifestyle? I encourage everyone in the field of agriculture to join me in creating moments of mini planning sessions somewhere in our day. The key is to think while you’re not doing anything else. The time, however short, must be sacred and free from distractions to truly create a navigable path for the future.