How do you get everything done? That’s probably the most common question I’m asked about homesteading. Before I go any farther, I just want to be totally transparent here — I do not get everything done! I always have more projects that I want to do, so it’s always a matter of prioritization.
Time management on the homestead really is not any different than time management in professions that are characterized by a fair amount of unpredictability and lack of control. We could argue for hours about which one is more unpredictable and uncontrollable — the weather or the stock market or employees or animals or squash bugs.
Running a homestead, whether for self-reliance or profit, is very much like running a business. We started our homestead because we wanted to grow our own food organically.
For the first few years, it felt like we spent a lot of time putting out fires. We had not owned our first horse for more than two days when he escaped from the pasture and led us on a mile-long chase. Goats escaped and killed young fruit trees. The barn flooded. A sheep ran into the road and was hit by a car.
Although many of our initial problems were caused by ignorance, some were caused by poor time management. As Steven Covey says in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, if you don’t take care of what’s important, it will eventually become urgent.
Covey’s time management quadrant divides all activities into four groups:
- those that are important and urgent,
- important but not urgent,
- not important but urgent, and
- not important or urgent.
We should be spending as much time as possible in the “important but not urgent” quadrant. If we keep our fences mended, we won’t have animals escaping. If we educate ourselves about animal nutrition and provide proper food and minerals, we are less likely to have sick animals. If we socialize baby animals, it will be easier to handle them as adults.
How do you manage your time?
As I explain how I do this, note that I am NOT keeping everything in my head. I have multiple tools that I use to help me set goals, create tasks lists, and get things scheduled. Don’t sweat too much about what to use. Just pick one and start using it. If you’re not crazy about it, look for something different. But the important thing is to get started!
- Make a list of what needs to be done. The to-do list has been around forever. A couple of decades ago I started using a Franklin Planner. It was a huge improvement over an old-fashioned to-do list, which is often written on a random scrap of paper. The Planner kept everything organized in a notebook.
- Prioritize tasks. In addition to listing your tasks, the Franklin Planner had the user prioritize them starting with the most important tasks first.
- Do the most important tasks first. Be honest! Look at the time management quadrant above and ask yourself where each task belongs. Start with the tasks that are urgent and important and move on to the tasks that are important but not urgent.
- Don’t do anything in quadrant 4 (not important or urgent) unless you finish everything else first.
A few years ago I gave up the Franklin Planner because it seemed way too big and clunky. I thought I could use one of the calendars or list apps available on my smart phone. I was wrong! For a few years, I muddled along with to-do lists written on a yellow note pad. I tried various calendars on my phone or computer, as well as list or note apps.
When I first wrote this article in 2016, I had been using Nozbe for a couple of months. Shortly after that, I switched to using Asana, which is team management software. In addition to organizing my own time, I can assign projects and tasks to team members. There are also places to attach documents and have discussions about each task.
In addition to using Asana for organizing my time and running my business, I even use Asana for organizing projects on the homestead with my husband. Of course there is a premium version, but I find that the free version works fine for my small team and myself.
A few years after ditching the Franklin Planner, I realized that even though things were organized well digitally, I still needed a paper planner. I’ve tried a few, and at the moment, I’m loving the Phoenix Planner. It includes pages for long-term and short-term goal planning, a habit tracker, as well as journaling pages with prompts for planning and goal setting.
In addition to the usual schedule and task list, the daily pages also include space for “Today’s Victories” and “How I’ll Improve,” as well as notes. It is so much more than just a calendar or a place to put all of your to-do lists.
The biggest mistake most people make is thinking that they can just do this. They don’t realize that time management is a skill that we have to learn. And like all learned skills, the more we do it, the better we get at it.