11 Ways to Get More Time Off the Farm

By Elaine Froese

It’s late August, harvest is in high gear, cattle need to be moved, and you think you cannot stop working.  Your voice is louder, and your sleep is lousy, and you wonder if you are going to stay married with all the demands on your time. In your busy life as a farmer, you might think that you’ll never be able to get time off the farm, but remember, you have choices! If you think getting time off the farm is impossible right now, these words are for you.

Get More Time Off the Farm with These Mindset Shifts

This blog post will encourage you to consider a new approach and shift your mindset so you can get more time off the farm to devote to other vital areas of your life, including your physical and mental health and your relationships.

1.Track Your Time 

You can use notes on your phone or time tracking app. You cannot change what you cannot measure. You’re not a hero if you are a workaholic. When you compare your time input with your brother, father, sister, mother, etc. then you have data for a discussion.

2. Take Mini-Breaks 

Getting time off the farm doesn’t mean huge chunks of time. What about mini-breaks? We do this in the field by getting off the combine and on to the tailgate to have a meal together, even if it is only for 20 minutes. Yes, farmers eat fast, and this habit is hard to break even in December! Young children in the box of the truck sharing time with parents is a good thing. You might also go into the house to eat, read stories, and tuck the kids in bed before you return to farm tasks. This calls for intentional choices.

3. Challenge Why You Do Things the Way You Do on Your Farm 

One cattle rancher who works off the farm said, “Elaine, it’s crazy that we are using three tractors; we are not as efficient as we could be!” Does your vet, your agronomist, or your sales rep know your style well enough for you to be open to a different way of doing things? For example, we saved heaps of time by investing in a computer to automate our seed plant. 

4. Talk More, Guess Less  

It is a very good communication skill to ask ‘why?’ Be curious about the tasks laid out and the opportunity for taking some flex time off. “You do not have because you do not ask.” If you feel your farm manager is going to say “NO” to your request for time off the farm, have you asked to have a conversation to explain your need for renewal? Don’t make assumptions. Be curious and approach the time-off conversation with mercy, kindness, and no judgment. 

5. Block Off Important Family Time Events 

Visiting the in-laws, grandparents, and celebrations are all important family events you should not miss. Let the other farm team workers know well ahead of time what you plan to go to. My daughter-in-law and I use a paper planner to map out the expectations of our time for child care, my work,  and farm demands like harvest field meals. We are flexible to change the master plan, but at least we have clarity of expectations.

6. Use Whiteboards 

Whiteboards will help you create task lists and make plans for time away. Some folks are forgetful, so it helps their memory by writing things down. The giant calendars from your local credit union or seed company can record days off. Others might want to do this in Google documents. One family told me they use What’s App to communicate as a group, so there are no surprises.

7. Take Baby Steps and Test It Out 

Copy the success habits of friends and Twitter peeps who manage the ongoing polarity of working and finding time to play and renew. Where is it written that you have to leave the farm to have a rest or a date night? Blocking out one hour a week to sit down with your spouse to talk about the state of your union is a key marriage builder. If you do this on the buddy seat of the combine, then you are multi-tasking, but still working on stronger communication and cherishing each other.

8. Hire Child Care 

I recall the farm manager who wanted a nanny but needed a bigger house to achieve that goal. Her husband was a tradesperson. Her dad demanded the same amount of time from her as before the birth of her child. Where is it written that farm families should not have hired childcare?  Grandma may not want a full-time job raising her grandchildren. If you cannot hire care, you may barter it with a neighbour, so you have blocks of time to do important work safely without the kids in tow.  I did this for many years with a town friend as I had Tuesdays, and she had Thursdays; our sons loved the routine and the chance to play together.

9. Examine the Culture of Your Farm 

What do you believe to be true? How do you behave with each other? How do you make decisions? Believe, behave, decide. Everyone gets to choose what is important to them. On our farm, we choose not to work on Sundays, so all employees and families get a day of rest. We still get the work done. Do you expect your successors to sacrifice their bodies the same way you do as a founder? You get the behaviour that you accept. If decisions are made according to roles and responsibilities, and in a collaborative manner, you will be leading a great team that can work independently, is self-directed, and confident.

10. Be Thankful 

Dirty dishes are a sign that there was food to eat. Harvesting together should be a joyful experience and reward for many long hours of crop care. There are going to be bumps and challenges along the way; you know that, so count your blessings and take delight in the things that give you energy. One employee loved the fact that he was allowed to stop to photograph the harvest sunsets. Beauty creates energy. Pay attention to what gives you energy as you work.

I am missing my gladiolas in my garden this year. During the Great Pause this spring, I decided to give them a head start by planting them in peat moss in the warm house. The transplanting of 10 inch high plants did not sit well when the spring winds attacked the garden, so only one gladiola bloomed. Rats. My cut garden flowers on my desk give me energy to appreciate my writing and coaching work. Sometimes we experiment with new ways, and it doesn’t work. So we let go and move on.

11. See a Doctor (Medical or Psychologist)  

Be sure about the cause of your ongoing fatigue—it could be medical or psychological.

No matter how busy you are, you CAN get more time off the farm if you are willing to change your mindset and consider a new approach. A tractor doesn’t run on empty, and neither do you. Allowing yourself time off the farm means you can recharge physically and mentally, and also tend to the areas of your life you might have been neglecting. Choose at least one item from this list and get started today!