9 Tips for Strategic Time Management on Your Homestead
I’d like to help you feel more contented in your homestead lifestyle and to manage the hours that you have in your day. Here are 9 tips for time management on your homestead.
Give me more hours in my day
When I was a young homesteader, with a couple of toddlers underfoot, and a husband that worked more than 60 hours a week, time management wasn’t my forte. Don’t get me wrong. I tried. I tried really hard. I made lists religiously. I made to-do lists. I made shopping lists. I made menu plans. I made long-term goals. But inevitably I lost the list.
Then I determined to become more organized. I took books out of the public library for homemakers. The Messies Manual comes to mind. Books are written by homemakers that were also organizational specialists piled on more to-do lists. I stayed up after everyone else went to bed, and I got up two hours before everyone else, to wash floors, sort laundry, bake cookies and bread, and bring cheer and perfection to my household. I bought a subscription to a few women’s magazines, you know the ones. They have perfectly groomed women, with perfectly decorated houses, and perfectly pressed and cleaned children and spouses.
The problem with all these efforts to improve in my time management – to try to get more done in the same 24 hours that everyone else has – is that it wasn’t my own vision. Every time I read a book on home organization or found a new homemaker cleaning system, I made dutiful lists and tried to implement the plan. Every time I failed. My toddlers didn’t read the same book. A neighbour would call in a crisis and need my help, and the cobs would relentlessly make their webs in the corner of the dining room ceiling. And then I felt guilty. Again I didn’t measure up.
The thing that really broke me was my subscription to Canadian Living. Before marriage, I was an editor and a writer for TV Guide Magazine in Vancouver. Canadian Living was owned by the same company as TV Guide and every month boxes of Canadian Living would arrive at the Vancouver TV Guide office, in their glossy beauty. I read them like they were the Bible, desiring to glean every ounce of wisdom they had to offer. I read them uncritically. I read them for pleasure. I read them for education. I read them for inspiration. I read them to learn my new role as a wife and a mother. I suspended my disbelief and my critical thinking skills.
So when I became a stay-at-home-mom, I renewed my subscription annually. I even saved the magazine year after year. I had stacks of Canadian Living on the bookshelves in my farmhouse – at least 10 years’ worth. Every time the magazine came in the mail, I’d eagerly flip through the glossy pictures and check out the articles, looking for inspiration, and became filled with discontentment.
And of course, it must be my own fault. Isn’t that the tape from childhood that we all hear? I’d berate myself for my failures as a homemaker and a mom. And I’d redouble my efforts to make perfect triple chocolate brownies for dessert and perfect roast beef in a pastry shell – Beef Wellington – for my hardworking husband, and keep it all within a perfect budget. It never dawned on me, at 27 years old, that I couldn’t have a $100,000 menu on a $20,000 income. Or that my 1 acre with an 80-year-old, hand-built house wasn’t supposed to look like the box home in the brand new subdivision, just outside of Toronto.
Then it dawned on me, that my discontent had nothing to do with my own expectations, or my husband’s expectations, or my 2-year-old’s and 5 year old’s expectations. It was the magazine’s worldview that I was captivated by when I looked at the ads and read those articles. I cancelled the subscription. I stopped taking books about housework out of the public library. I set out to discover “who I wanted to be when I grew up.”
The issue of Worldview
I was homeschooling for a few years and learning right along with my sons and my daughter when I first considered the issue of worldview. Honestly, even though I graduated Magna cum laude, with a degree in English Lit, and I was a professional writer and editor for 6 years, I had never been confronted with the concept of worldview – the idea that every statement, every piece of writing, every performance or documentary, in fact, every single communication, comes to you and me with unwritten presuppositions attached. These suppositions pack a powerful punch because they are subliminal, unacknowledged, and therefore unchallenged.
If I held the same worldview as the magazines I was reading and the books I was borrowing from the public library, there would have been NO discontentment. My house would have looked just like the pictures in the magazine. My cupboards would have been filled with the same brand names advertised in the magazine. And I wouldn’t be living in an 80-year-old farmhouse on 1 acre in the city.
Homesteaders are nonconformists. And I was a nonconformist. I didn’t value cookie cutter houses in quiet subdivisions, where both parents worked full time just to pay the mortgage. I wasn’t Canadian Living’s ideal audience. I didn’t share the same worldview.
Know your own values
As a homesteader or someone who values the homestead lifestyle, it’s quite likely you are also not Canadian Living’s ideal audience. You have a different worldview, too. Your worldview may not be the same as my worldview, either. I’m good with that. One of my values is diversity – if we were both the same, one of us wouldn’t be needed on this planet, after all.
Time management for you will be different than time management for me. Our to-do lists will look different. I no longer have a list of all the little jobs that need to be done to keep a house spotless, for when company drops in at a moment’s notice. In fact, these days, I really prefer people to call ahead and make an appointment. Instead, I am investing a large portion of my time in writing – and learning to write well. So my homemaker to-do list is quite minimal – vacuum once a week, clean the bathrooms on Friday, do the dishes twice a day, cook from scratch, bake bread on Fridays. That’s pretty much it unless Mr. Joybilee has the energy to tackle a big job, like cleaning the windows – then we work together on the same goal.
There are seasonal jobs on the farm that must be done when they must be done. Cleaning lamb butts, feeding bottle lambs, planting seed potatoes or onions or garlic. There is a specific time for each of these –sometimes dictated by the season and sometimes by urgency. With Mr. Joybilee working full time off the farm this year, we’ve hired a young man to help with some of these heavy jobs.
So how do we manage our time better?
Here are 9 tips for strategic time management on your homestead.
Know and understand what your personal priorities are
Don’t allow women’s magazines, blog articles, Facebook, or even your pastor or mother-in-law (or daughter-in-law) to decide for you, what your priorities, goals, and values are. Decide these for yourself in discussion with your at-home family members. Some moms even write a personal purpose statement to help in decision-making. I didn’t do this, knowing that if I did, I’d lose the piece of paper. But if this helps you, go ahead and write it down. (You can even share yours in the comments if you want to.) Knowing your personal worldview and values can help you when there is a disconnect between your family values and the expectations of those outside your family. And it can help you say, “No” to outside expectations, without guilt.
Hire help to do the jobs that are urgent, if you can’t do them in a timely way
Some jobs can’t wait until I get-around-to-it. Our barn has to be cleaned out every Spring before lambing starts and before the shearer arrives for the annual shearing date. It takes two weeks and about 60 hours of work so when we start it there is still snow on the ground, and it is still dark when Mr. Joybilee gets home from work. We hire our young helper, who is a really thoughtful and hard worker. We get the job done. Our shearing is done in a clean barn. And the lambs are born in a clean environment.
Find a few college-age young people to help you in urgent situations. Having trouble with your homestead blog? Get a VA to help you with tasks that don’t require your personal touch. Having trouble getting time to write or draw or sew? Get help with the cleaning or childcare so that you can have that extra 4 hours a week to do the one important task that brings you closer to your dream.
Find extra time in your week
If you can’t afford the money to hire a student for 4 hours a week, establish a trade arrangement with a friend – She could cook dinner or mind your kids on Mondays and you could do this for her on Fridays, or some similar arrangement.
If this doesn’t fit your schedule, try getting up an hour earlier every day or staying up an hour later to have that quality time to pursue your dream and get that important task accomplished. With just one extra hour a day dedicated to her important task, Sarah wrote a 50,000-word novel manuscript. One hour a day is 7 hours a week of extra time to devote to your goals.
Use the right quality tools to make your efforts and time more efficient
I have equipment in my kitchen to make scratch cooking and bread baking more efficient and timely. You could say, I hired “help” in the form of these appliances to streamline the workload leaving me more time to write and to pursue my goals and priorities.
We bought a Honda rototiller to manage the spring garden preparations because double digging every bed took too much time and muscle power, and with our short season, our planting window would have closed before the beds were ready to plant. The Honda tiller was more appropriate to our needs than a tractor and performs a timely job on our homestead.
Understand the difference between urgent and important and do the important thing
Sometimes the urgent get in the way of the important. This morning, Mr. Joybilee did the morning chores before work and found two still-wet lambs in the barn, but no mom. This is urgent. Lambs have only a few hours to eat before they get hypoglycemic and lose the will to live. We figured out who the mom was and Mr. Joybilee spent an extra 15 minutes, coaxing her back into the barn. He had to milk out one of our dairy goats to get some colostrum for the lambs – thankfully, the dairy goat, “Honeysuckle,” gave birth a few hours earlier and had lots to share. Once the lambs and their mom were stalled together in the barn, the ewe had hay and water, and the lambs had full tummies, Mr. Joybilee went to work – a bit late. But he worked till 6 pm last night and he probably will need to again today. Going to work a few minutes late and saving the lives of two lambs, allows him to do the important stuff – this week it’s meeting filing deadlines for the provincial government. (Note: his bosses told him when he was hired that he was free to take time to attend urgent farm matters. He always makes up the time by working later.)
When planning your day – plan at least one important task every day that fulfills your personal goals.
Try to do that important thing when you are at your most alert and productive time during the day. For me, this is writing, and I try to do it between 5 am and 12 noon. On the other hand, Mr. Joybilee’s best time is between 1 pm and 4 pm and between 7 pm and 10 pm – he’s a night owl, and often brings his research home from the office. Understanding your own daily rhythms will help you make the most productive use of your alert time. Plan that one important task for your personal alert time and you will find the other things in your day, fall into place.
Focused attention is more valuable than multi-tasking
You’ve probably heard the myth that men do best when they focus on one task at a time and women are skilled at multi-tasking. I disagree. People sometimes find it necessary to multi-task, like cooking dinner, while you listen to a taped book, or talk on the phone, but concentrated effort only happens when you focus. When you do that one important task each day, try to do it with focused attention and you will get more done, and feel more satisfied doing it.
Walk away or sleep on it
Sometimes the solution to a problem will come when you stop consciously thinking about it. When you are cooking dinner, or digging in the garden, or even taking a nap, the solution will whisper in your ear. When you are struggling with urgent or important tasks and seem to hit a roadblock, walk away and do something else. Stop fretting over it. And wait for the answer. It will come.
Looking for more time in your day?
Turn off the media – close down the computer, terminate the TV, ditch the digital games and use the time you have to pursue your dreams. Facebook is a time suck. Farmville isn’t as exciting as real homesteading. Digital games or reality TV shows are letting real-life pass you by. Live your own life. Pursue your real dreams. Don’t waste a minute of your best life, vegging in someone else’s vision. Do you need down-time in the evening? What could you accomplish with another 3 hours in your day? Do that instead.
I hope this helps you feel more contented in your homestead lifestyle and to manage the hours that you do have in your day, to find your best life. If you have a personal mission statement, share it in the comments section. I’d be inspired to hear yours.