Time Management on the Modern Homestead
I was recently asked about time management on the modern homestead. It's a great question, and it is an important one to ask. I think a lot of us farmers prefer to be busy, but it's also good to recognize that a break can be healthy, and we all get overwhelmed once and awhile.
Even with no other responsibilities, homesteading can be a time consuming task. Fortunately my husband is able to work on our home full time, and my job has provided some flexibility in terms of hours. Nearly every farming couple I know has one member who works only part time or farms full time. You can do it if you both have a full time job (or if there is only one of you), but you will find every waking moment is kept busy by the farm.
When you first start planning your farm and gardens, start with a realistic idea of how long everything takes. Milking a single goat can take ten or fifteen minutes twice a day (some longer - especially if they are unruly - and some less time), and that is before you start processing your milk and making things with your fresh dairy. Goat houses, chicken coops, and any other animal housing needs to be kept clean. We will spend nearly an hour trimming goat hooves every month, and that's without considering special needs animals such as our little Lucky who required nursing from a bottle every four hours when he was a kid.
Gardens may seem easier but it is just that the workload has more ebb and flow. During planting and harvesting the garden is a non-stop chore, and it always needs weeding and watering. Yes, there will be a week or two here and there in summer when you can just let it grow, and there is the downtime in the winter. But that's made up for by the mad rush to keep up with produce before it goes bad during the height of summertime.
And of course, this is assuming you have a smoothly running farm house, equipment, and barn, and you don't need to turn new fields or clear new land or build a house.
All of that is to say: the first step in managing your time is to be honest with yourself about how much time farming will take. Then, take a step back and think about how much time you really want to invest. If, before you begin, you cannot imagine a winter without a week or two's vacation, or you don't want to give up spontaneous day trips, then you should be careful about how many animals you bring to your farm or how big you go with your garden.
For us, there are a few key strategies to not going crazy from all that needs to be done on the homestead.
We divide tasks and we try to base those divisions on skill. Rather than us both trying to do one thing poorly, we'll split up the workload and give each other jobs that we're good at and know how to do. Sometimes we can't do that (there's always something no one has done before), but even then, dividing our work helps us get twice as much done.
We plan. I do not necessarily follow lists, but I love making them, and a quick morning check in helps us stay on task every day. We strategize trips to town so that we don't have to go more than once or twice a week, and we organize lists in order of priority so we know what can be dropped if we run out of time.
We give things up when we need to. If it gets overwhelming we'll drop something. Sometimes it is a small thing, like that week that you don't get the laundry put away, sometimes it is larger like deciding not to breed the goats or giving up a crop in the garden. But we try to remain flexible and understand our priorities and what is most important to our homestead's survival and to us personally, so that when we give something up it can be the lowest priority thing.
We stay flexible with time. Sometimes I have a hard time getting out of a routine. If we've been having dinner every night at 7pm, it can stress me out to wait until 8pm to start cooking. Or, I just always clean the tent in the morning and it feels odd to do it after dark. But staying flexible is hugely important. If the five minutes you have free occur at 9 at night after dinner has been served and the animals put away, then take those five minutes to catch up on the tasks you've fallen behind on even if it feels like the wrong time of day to do it.
We take breaks. Sometimes you leave the things undone and take ten minutes for yourself. You have to stay healthy, you have to get enough sleep, and you have to stay mentally fresh. For us this usually means taking an hour or two in the late afternoon for fishing and swimming (we're lucky that we're within ten minutes of several nice lakes and streams). Then we get back to work, or if we're actually ahead of schedule, we have dinner and relax. Sometimes you feel guilty taking even half an hour of 'me' time, but I believe it makes the difference in how much you get done the rest of the time.
We do get stressed out. We aren't perfect! Sometimes it all seems like too much, or we just get grumpy and realize it's because we're stressed out. Sometimes that means it's time to take one of the steps above - drop something, take a break, look at the list again. But we are not without days of feeling overwhelmed. If you're farming - especially if you're in the middle of a big project or it is harvest season - some days are arduous.
We like to be busy, and we love what we're doing, so thankfully the days of being stressed out are few and far between. And how do I keep up with writing and social media? I take pictures on the go, all the time, and just spend time editing them later. Editing and writing are just another thing to fit into the to-do list and try to keep up with.