Farm Work Ethic, Productivity, and the Power of the List

Growing up on a farm teaches the most powerful work ethics. There is no way you can be a successful farmer and not be a hard worker. Farming is so dependent on weather, and accomplishing many things in a certain order, by each season and on time. If the crops are not planted on time you have little to harvest. If you cultivate too early you could kill the budding plants. If you wait too long after planting, the crops are too big and will be full of weeds resulting in a poor harvest, and I could go on and on.qz1-5img_20140401_0003_new

The saying that you have to make hay while the sun is shining is a real farm motto, not just a nice cliché with bigger meaning. Literally if you don’t make hay while the sun is shining, you get moldy useless grass instead of nice hay to feed to the animals. To get everything done you had to have a good plan and sometimes it meant that you had to work late into the night after getting up before dawn. Eating and sleeping had to wait many times to get the job done. After a long day like that, there was no better feeling of satisfaction than the accomplishment of getting the job done, and no better sleep than after a hard day of work.

qz1-5img_20140401_0003_new1You cannot be a procrastinator and be a farmer.  If the weather is right and it is the right time of year, there is something that must be done that day. You learn this at a young age on the farm. The rocks have to be picked, the cows fed, the gardens planted and the fences mended. There is nobody more productive than a farmer. But you also get to pet the cats and have the dog accompany you out to the fields, and maybe even ride your horse to go mending fences instead of taking the tractor or the farm pickup.

You get to feed the chickens and play in the tall fields of hay. There were so many wonderful things about the farm, but the best thing that helped me through college and law school and in all of my jobs, was the work ethic that I had learned. It was not a problem for me to work late and to get projects done long before they were due. I did not procrastinate because I learned you had to get things done, and to get things done you had to have a plan.img_20140318_0076_new

Many times I heard my parents list off the things that had to be done the next day, and they also maintained a list for everything to be done each week. If they did not have a paper list, they had a mental list and they followed it. The work ethic learned from my parents and having a plan or list of things that needs to be accomplished leads to great productivity. It is something I have tried to pass on to our kids and I have used to be successful all of my life.

From an early age I taught my kids that hard work and a good plan always pays off, whether it is hard work at school or on a team or just at home.  I tried to make it clear that just because something is not due right away, there is a certain comfort in knowing it is done early. 54bProcrastination equals stress and sometimes equals failure.  With the kids, and especially with their technology, one could easily get a glitch that causes a last minute project to be deleted or lost in cyberspace. I have tried to teach them to get things done early so that there is plenty of time to fix problems, and also that with a good plan or list they will can accomplish anything.

I live by my to-do lists. Without a good list little gets accomplished. Before the weekends especially, soon the weekend is gone without much accomplished if I don’t have a good plan. Some of the things on the list are fun things like kayak around and explore a certain area of the lake, and there is other stuff, like clean my kitchen cupboards and wash windows before the fall weather sets in.

There is no greater feeling than to cross things off of a list and feel the accomplishment of getting things done. My husband sometimes cringes when he sees my lists, but has to admit that we get a lot done when we follow them. If we have a home weekend project, we make sure we 54chave all the supplies picked up by Friday, so we don’t have to spend our project day buying the supplies. There is no better way to get a lot done.

My lists used to be kept on paper. Now I have most lists in the notes section of my phone. I have work lists, and lists of fun places we want to visit. I have lists of projects that need to be done around the house, and wish lists of remodeling projects to be done in the next couple of years. I have garden lists, and boat and outdoor building projects. I have a list of the things that need to be done during the week and the weekend project lists. I have work lists and lists of goals to accomplish. I don’t need to follow them exactly, and I can be flexible with when things are accomplished. I have a real satisfaction in having the plans, and when I find myself with extra time, I can consult the lists to take on a project or sometimes the lists can wait and I do whatever I’m feeling called to, like going on a bike ride.

The reverse list is a special and powerful type of list. I am not sure exactly where I learned it, but it was sometime in college. The reverse list is where you write down a goal you want to accomplish, and then you work backwards to show the steps you would have to take to get there. In the 1980’s while working as a nurse I decided I would like to be a lawyer. I wrote down on the paper: I am a lawyer. I stared at it for quite a while before giving myself permission to z3dreverse list it. I thought for a while and wrote, take the Bar exam, and continued with graduate from law school, attend law school, gain admission to a law school and so on backwards until I had the very first step of what it would take, which was buy the books to study for the entrance exam to law school called the LSAT.

I put down the pen and stared at it. The one thing that was clear was this list would take hard work, but as I learned on the farm, hard work pays off and I was committed to go forward with the list. I have used the reverse list many times and it allows for full introspection, and breaks down a goal that seems unattainable into smaller steps, laying out a plan to achieve that goal.

It is good to have thoughts, goals and dreams, but once those goals are written they gain a power of their own. There is real power in the list. Even if the list is just a weekend project list, the act of writing it down creates the goal and the work ethic creates the accomplishment of that goal. Good planning, knowing the downside of procrastination, and the work ethics I learned on the farm have been instrumental in my accomplishments. I love my lists and I love the productivity and the sense of accomplishment that comes with striking things off lists.  I thank my farm roots for the productivity, work ethics and the ability of good planning with the power of the list.

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