Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love Trello, to-do lists, and planning meetings.
It’s a popular notion that living on a homestead, growing one’s own food and managing animals is a return to an idyllic lifestyle. Days spent lounging in meadows, contemplating the shapes of clouds, while half-listening to a babbling brook nearby: that sort of thing. If this was a movie, this is where you’d hear a record screech and freeze-frame. Because I’m here to burst that bubble. That life doesn’t exist outside the movies. Running a homestead is all about managing your time, your energy and prioritizing the tasks that matter.
Don’t get me wrong: life on a homestead is satisfying and idyllic. But in a different way than you might be imagining it. In order to keep the engine chugging away, there needs to be a steady inflow of fuel. And the only fuel that’s available is your time and effort, applied judiciously to the right task at the right moment.
We learned this lesson when we were past the first few days of unpacking and setting up. Our days began just as early as they do now, so it’s not like we were utilizing fewer hours in the day. But we would constantly find ourselves overwhelmed with backlogged tasks. Everything had the same priority level (in our heads) and doing any one task (say, making a garden bed) meant abandoning others. Sometimes this was fine. Sometimes, this led to conflict (like when we found out neither of us had prioritized filling up the water tank.)
The Breaking Point:
Clearly, something had to change. We were running very hard to stay exactly where we were, and making progress on any of our tasks: whether it was setting up a garden, or even just keeping the house clean, was non-existent. I’d like to say that we muddled into the right time management solution eventually, but it didn’t work out like that. It took us a frustrating few days of tempers flaring, work left unfinished and (eventually) introspection for us to come to a working understanding of how to organize our time and our lives.
Our solution (which may not work for you, consider this fair warning) was to come up with a list of tasks that needed to be done daily, weekly or monthly. Those would form the core of a schedule that mapped our (yes, this part is obvious) days, weeks and months. We scheduled these tasks at appropriate times and then looked at how much free time we had left. Those bits of free time became our flexible work slots, into which we could put one-off tasks and items.
In a separate list, we catalogued all our projects: these were work items that were one-time activities, such as setting up the vegetable garden, setting up a chicken coop, building a boundary fence, or a plant nursery. Each of these we then broke down into sub-tasks, that we could place into the free slots of time we had identified between daily tasks.
Finally, we needed some way to organize all this information. Neha prefers pen and paper, making a daily to-do list, which she refers to. On the other hand, I preferred a slightly higher-tech, paperless approach: a Trello board. (I chose Trello because it’s free and easy to use, plus they have a convenient mobile app – but you could really use any similar solution.) The way I set it up, there’s a “Template” board which has all our daily tasks on it. Every evening, we have a planning meeting for the next day. (Or we’re supposed to. With time this has become more of a “when we feel like it” affair. Which is fine, so long as the system works.)
Basically, the workflow I follow is, every evening I make a copy of the template, slot in the next day’s tasks, look for any weekly or monthly tasks that I need to accomplish, slot those in as well and then go to bed, secure in the knowledge that when I wake up I will have a daily schedule sorted by hour. Like a calendar.
So why not use Google Calendar?
- Google Calendar is great with reminders, but terrible with flexibility. I could have set up a bunch of recurring events for each daily task – but then if I wanted to have a holiday, or a day when the daily tasks were not needed (for any reason) I would have a bunch of events to delete. Or, I’d have to contend with a bunch of reminders popping up when I don’t need them.
- Google Calendar’s Add New Event function requires a bunch of fields to be filled in – which I would need to do for every single new project based task I wanted to add. Speaking of which, there would also be no place to have these tasks waiting in the wings, so to speak. On Trello I can have as many tasks I want cued up and ready to insert into my daily schedule.
So while I lose the reminder functionality with Trello, I gain a whole bunch of flexibility with my time management solution, as opposed to Google Calendar. And with Trello, all I need to do is archive each task as I finish it, and I have the satisfaction of knocking things off a to-do list as well. I guess I could delete it from my Calendar as well, but this is more satisfying!
So where does that idyllic image of life on a homestead actually fit in? If I’m so busy running after these tasks and knocking them off my Trello list, how does it differentiate me from an office drone? One clue is in the type of work: I’m in the outdoors, most of the time, soaking up the sun and getting exercise. The other, less obvious way this lifestyle is different (not easier, just different) is that I’m doing the work that I choose to do, on a schedule that suits me, with enough flexibility to make me feel like I’m the master of my own life. And finally, it gives me views like this:
I can’t really argue with that sort of incentive!