Farmers are used to battling on regardless if they feel physically or mentally tired. But downtime is essential to wellbeing and also good business sense. So how can you carve out time to better yourself for the greater good?
Farming has unavoidable busy periods, such as lambing and harvest, but working at this level continuously is not healthy or sustainable for you, your team, relationships or, ultimately, your business productivity, says Heather Wildman, agricultural and personal business coach at Saviour Associates.
She says: “We have a culture in farming that if you are not working hard all the time, you are lazy, but it is about working smart, not hard. And we should respect people who have that balance.”
She believes being organised is a key component for people to allow themselves time out.
Here, she gives her top tips on how to go about taking time out:
Have an honest conversation about where things are. Look at your satisfaction and time spent on work, personal relationships and yourself. Ask yourself what you are doing it all for and if it is worth it. Are you working towards something or just keeping your head above water? Do you want to/can you stay in farming? This is a good way to start thinking about what needs to change.
Time is wasted by a lack of planning and communication. Farmers are incredible multi-taskers, but often keep everything in their heads, leaving their team to react to things at the last minute.
Get organised by creating a wall planner of your different enterprises on an annual timeline, for example, arable crops, grass, sheep, beef, milking; the list can be endless. Put in annual events, such as calving, vaccinations, inspections, tax meetings, fertilising and harvest.
Use this in regular team meetings to look at the upcoming quarter so everyone knows what they are doing.
Book holidays. Staff should have at least one week off every quarter to keep them rested, motivated and productive. Create a farm manual so you can more easily hand responsibility over.
It might sound counter-intuitive, but you might get more done if you work less. Consider how tiredness and stress might be affecting you and your team’s performance.
Assess your enterprises. Are there some that do not make financial sense but are soaking up time?
Can you cut these out so you have more free time for yourself and money-making enterprises? Are you using everyone in your team to their best ability? Have you got a family member who can help, for example, with bookkeeping?
Set a daily finish time and use the last 30 minutes to decompress and reflect. Write everything that has gone well and jobs that are nagging you. Prioritise these and write an achievable to-do list for the next day. Most people plan 120 per cent of their time, so they are always chasing their tails and feeling like they are failing. Try to be realistic about what you can do in one day or week.
When you get downtime, such as family meals, use it. Leave your phone in the office and try to be present with your loved ones.
Plan date nights with your partnerwhere you don’t talk about work.
So you don’t fill free time with work, have a jar of ideas of fun orrelaxing activities you can do at the last minute.
Put days off in the diary and stick to them. If you are anxious about leaving the farm, consider a farm swap with another family, or ask whoever is left in charge to send you certain information while you are away so you can relax.
Moneymight be tight, but would it be more financially beneficial to employ someone to do jobs you don’t have time for or find stressful? This could free you to concentrate on more important jobs and recharge you so you are ultimately more productive.
If finding time is proving difficult, find a quiet place you can go to in times of stress to unwind for 10-15 minutes.
Get invoices sent out so you can stop worrying so much about money and chasing your tail.
YOUNG farmer and father of two, Michael (not his real name), says he is slowly learning how to have a better work-life balance, but it doesn’t come easy.
Since he took over the family farm in south west Scotland, it has been a steep learning curve involving long hours, as he has converted the business from beef to dairy, free-range eggs and renewables.
Last year, the pressure and stress built up and he became angry, which manifested in irritated outbursts and silence.
He says: “It got to a point where I wasn’t happy with what people might think of me. Five o’clock was crunch time; I had maybe started at 5am and would come in hungry and tired, which is a killer combination.”
He became demotivated and his employees’ morale dropped too.
He says: “My wife told me in the nicest way possible that I couldn’t keep wishing my time away thinking that if I could just get this next job done, it would be okay.”
He called in Heather Wildman, Heather Wildman, agricultural and personal business coach at Saviour Associates, for advice.
She encouraged him to finish work 30 minutes early and spend that time writing down the day’s achievements, and anything else which was cluttering his head.
He says: “Downloading before going into the house meant I had a better approach. In the first month I saw big improvements.”
Things got busy again and he says he is still trying to work out how to get the balance. However, he now books holidays and days off, works at night less frequently, and him and his wife have evenings without phones or TV, where they talk and catch-up.
Instead of using alcohol to unwind, he takes his motorbike out with friends.
He says: “Hanging onto a motorbike for dear life means you cannot help but live in the moment.”
Cuddles from his children also help him relax.
“Farmers measure themselves by how hard they work. There is this stupid macho mentality about it, so to think about ‘me time’, you have to think slightly differently to a traditional farmer.”
Shape Your Farming Future is a series of informative and practical guides looking in-depth at issues pertinent to farmers when planning for the future.