Keep a good pace and walk on
The three pathways to success in farming and life
Prioritising activities on the farm means making choices about what to do and when to do them. In any one day or week, you have only so much time and energy. So, it is important to make the most of your time.
It might help to begin by separating jobs into different categories – ‘daily’ (for example milking or feeding cattle), ‘seasonal’ (for example calving or spraying) and ‘other projects’ (for example farm maintenance work). There is little choice with the ‘daily activities’ – they simply have to be done!
However, it is worth making some decisions about prioritising the other two categories to ensure that you attend to the most important jobs first and that you spread your workload out over time to avoid too many jobs piling up at once.
It is also important to get a good balance between those jobs that simply have to be done and those that you enjoy doing. We all need a good balance of both in order to make the most of our lives.
So, it is worth thinking about the various jobs on the farm. Ask yourself questions such as “what needs to be done today, this week or this month?” and “what jobs take priority?” Setting priorities each week will help you to keep control of your workload.
Having made some decisions about what you are going to prioritise, you now come to the second P – Planning.
Allocate sufficient time to your ‘daily’ activities. Plan ahead for busy ‘seasonal’ periods and be careful not to take on too many ‘other projects’ during these periods. Try to ensure that these ‘other projects’ are not all planned for the same time but, instead, are well spread out.
When you are planning jobs, check that you are giving yourself a reasonable chance to finish jobs and to take breaks between activities. Allow yourself enough time to achieve those activities and tasks that you have planned. In this way, you will find that you can enjoy the satisfying feeling of having accomplished something that you have set out to do. Always consider if you need help with the work.
Farming can be a bit like a marathon race and so pacing is very important! Having prioritised and planned your work routine, ‘pacing’ means spending just enough time on an activity to get the most you can out of it, without pushing yourself beyond your limits.
Pacing means organising your time and work routine on the farm so that you can do roughly the same amount of work from day to day. It’s based on planning what you’re going to do, rather than simply responding to what needs to be done at any given time. Pacing yourself is easier said than done. So what are the most common difficulties farmers have in pacing themselves? How can these difficulties be tackled?
“It’s the odd occasion when you do stop that you realise how tired you really are”
It is possible to become so involved in a particular task that you lose track of time and forget to take a break. This can lead to mistakes and injuries. Better pacing means knowing when to stop and take a break, and finding signals and reminders to do this. So, what can you do? You might place a clock in view or even set a reminder on your phone to go off after a certain amount of time.
Or, you might be able to break the job into smaller tasks or even break up tasks by carrying out a different activity in between.
“I don’t really know how to switch off”
This can be another common difficulty. To make good use of a break, it’s important to switch off completely and to do something different; even if it’s for a few minutes. So walk around, do some stretching exercises, put on the radio or go for a cup of tea – you will come back recharged and reenergised. It can be useful to plan what you are going to do for your break.
“I just go on how I’m feeling at the time”
It is important to listen to our bodies but unfortunately many of us are quick to ignore what our bodies are telling us. Many of us fall into the habit of pushing ourselves too hard and only drawing breath when our bodies are at breaking point or in pain. Remember, pain is usually your body’s way of telling you that you’ve overdone things. So, it is better to pace yourself more effectively by using time limits that you have set yourself in advance or by breaking down activities into smaller tasks.
Avoid pushing yourself to exhaustion – any short-term gain may be at the expense of your body breaking down in the long run.
This article appeared in Staying Fit for Farming, a new men’s health booklet, which is being launched at the National Ploughing Championships next week.
The booklet contains information on coping with stress, eating well, being active, back care, depression, heart care and preventing cancer. It is available here.