First, determine priorities. The first step in doing this is to identify those critical tasks and activities which cannot be left undone. Asking yourself what is the worst that can happen if it does not get done can help determine which must be placed on the first tier. For most people, the homesteading matters of highest rank are those involving animals. If lawns become overgrown or weeds grow in the garden or some of the lettuce bolts before it gets eaten, none of that is as potentially catastrophic as animals that do not get fed, watered, milked, vetted, and put in at night.
Every homestead and season has its crucial must-dos. Tasks such as getting the hay in before rain, sitting up all night with a sick calf, and covering the tomatoes before a frost usually leap to the front of the line. But if your homestead is suffering a drought or if a piece of the barn roof is loose and in danger of ripping off during the next windstorm, you might choose to juggle those in, too.
Sometimes it helps to compare the cost—in terms of time spent and other measures—of doing something versus the cost of not doing it. For example, will the time it takes building low tunnels over the berries now outweigh the time spent deterring hungry birds and suffering the loss of harvest later? Will getting the new woodshed built this season be worth it in terms of lower heating costs from burning better-dried firewood?
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After figuring out which tasks cannot be left undone, flip to the other end of the spectrum and ask yourself what tasks and projects could possibly be superfluous. Homesteading is such an exciting endeavor and has so many possibilities that it’s hard to know when to say when. Is it possible to let the flower beds along the driveway go or maintain fewer birdfeeders or downsize the burgeoning goat herd or maybe heat your home with less labor-intensive fuel for part of the year? Perhaps the barn addition or new greenhouses can be put on hold for later, as well.
Once the most urgent and least urgent priorities are determined, those remaining in the middle might feel more manageable and can be eased into the correct place in line.
Having the order of importance figured out, it helps to write it all down. There is no single best format for everyone, but do try to include some of both short-term and long-term objectives. It is important to first have a conversation with others to make sure no mistaken assumptions are being made, and then create a written plan for the homestead and everyone involved in it. Having goals on paper is not only useful in its own right, but it helps to further refine direction and to prevent straying off target.
With priorities and a written goal in place, the next step is to make it manageable. One way to do this is to chop projects up into bite-size chunks. It is good to keep the big picture in sight and be mindful of long-term dreams, but trying to achieve too much too soon can be overwhelming. It makes more sense to carve off some attainable pieces of the overall scope and focus on a few at a time.
A technique that works for me is to set finite limits. Homestead tasks often go the direction of the children’s book where a mouse is given a cookie, then wants milk to go with it, and then wants to clean up afterwards, and it never ends. Falling face-first into projects that never seem to reach completion can be discouraging, so it helps to set end caps in place before starting.
I like to set forth a goal that is lofty yet achievable, and promise myself a reward when it is done. Sometimes the reward is a fun or easier activity, and other times just the intrinsic satisfaction of making progress or knowing that the task is done is enough. I might commit to splitting firewood for the duration of one tankful of gas in the splitter and take the rest of the day off to go paddling, or plan to spend exactly two hours working in the garden before moving on to some other job.
The next step toward homestead time management is to share responsibilities with others in the household. A crucial task for leaders in any organization is to train others to do their jobs. It is folly to believe that you are the only person who can do what you do. Delegate to others, no matter how difficult it is for you to let go. By doing so, you will relieve your own stress, help others build proficiency and confidence, and create a more efficient homestead operation.
In the end, there are only 24 hours in a day. No matter how wisely we use our time, everyone must accept the fact that we cannot do it all. One way to help embrace this concept is to measure progress according to accomplishments instead of failures. Rather than look at unfinished work and feel dragged down by shortcomings, it makes more sense to pat ourselves on the back for all we have gotten done.
By prioritizing, planning, delegating and focusing on the positive, homesteaders can maximize their efforts and get more done than ever thought possible.
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