Struggling with all the work that is involved in having a successful homestead or garden? Learn effective homestead time management techniques that will get you ahead of your to do list.
One of the most common excuses I hear when I talk to people about gardening, is the problem of not having enough time. Gardening is sometimes the lowest priority for your average homeowner, because it feels so overwhelming to them.
So is it possible to find more time for gardening?
Is it simply a matter of putting it on your todo list and hoping for the best?
Or are there ways to improve your time management in the garden and start creating that urban homestead you are so passionate about?
What Doesn’t Work
Let’s first look at time management techniques that don’t work.
There are many ways to try and get organized to accomplish all those lofty goals you have. Here are some I’ve tried and given up on since they don’t work for me.
1. Make new year’s resolutions
We know people break them, sometimes only days or weeks into the new year. You really need to be disciplined to follow through on resolutions and make them stick all year through.
I find it hard to start any new year’s resolution in January in the Northern Hemisphere, but especially garden-related ones when the weather is not ideal (cold, rainy, snowy, cloudy). Or the ground is frozen.
If you are in the Southern Hemisphere this might be easier, although January is in the middle of your summer.
If you are looking at making any gardening resolutions you might want to aim for the spring (March or April in the N. Hemisphere).
That is the time of year for renewal and new gardening goals.
2. Make a long to do list on paper or in a notebook
I used to have a few lists written down in a small notebook. However, it became daunting mainly because I couldn’t re-sort them and couldn’t easily find tasks based on criteria.
For instance, I usually like to be able to pick something that doesn’t require purchases if I have maxed out my gardening budget for the month. If I don’t have much time, I need to find something I can do in 15 minutes or less. If it is raining, I look for something I can do without getting wet.
So I ditched the written lists as well.
3. Use a mobile app or other software
I’m announcing today the sale of the World’s Greatest Organizational App! It will meet your needs exactly, take absolutely no time to setup, take no time to keep updated, and cost nothing.
Sound too good to be true? It is. The mobile or desktop app that matches those criteria, in my opinion, does not yet exist and may never exist.
Most of the apps I have tried have not completely met my needs or are too complicated and take a lot of effort to setup.
I’ve abandoned them all.
The main issue with these apps is that you end up spending lots of time initially figuring out the app, setting up categories and the like, and then typing everything in. Hopefully you have the data backed up otherwise you could lose everything if you lose your device or need to reset it.
And you need to bring your device with you into the garden, exposing it to dirt and wet if you are not careful.
You could simply go out into the garden and do what you see needs to be done. However, this can be very overwhelming if there are lots of things that need attention. And you may end up not prioritizing the important things over the things that you feel like doing (more on that below).
This has never worked for me and I find I waste more time than actually getting work done, trying to decide what needs to be done (more on that as well below).
Solutions for Effective Homestead Time Management
Here are some ideas that have worked for me. Try them yourself and see if they work for you.
1. Get outside as early as possible in the morning
Once you are outside doing some work, you should be able to work all morning and just stop for lunch. Well, you might have to take other short breaks depending on how much coffee/tea you drank that morning.
If you get outside too late, you end up having to stop for lunch after only an hour or so of work and not make much progress. And then you need to get re-motivated to go back outside to continue.
If you need some advice on how to rise earlier so that you have more time to garden, check out the Zen Habits post The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early I’ve applied some of Leo’s techniques myself and they work well.
Sometimes if I realize I’m running late in the morning to get out into the garden, I cut my losses, do something else and then head outside after lunch when I have those uninterrupted few hours.
2. Carve out some 15-minutes-here, 20-minutes-there periods
It’s amazing what you can get done in just 15 minutes before going to work, before dinner (if someone else is cooking), after dinner, while waiting on visitors or family members who may be late, etc.
Fifteen minutes every day of the year works out to over eleven 8-hour days of working in the garden! That’s a substantial amount of time. Add on another 5 or 10 minutes each day and you can see how much more progress you can make.
Keep in mind though that you should factor in preparation time, especially in inclement weather where you need to dress to be warm, dry and not worry about getting your good clothes dirty. And remember to leave time to take care of your tools!
3. Have tools and supplies prepared ahead of time
Often you’ll find you can’t do a task because you don’t have something on hand – eg. potting soil, seeds, a special tool, etc.
Or something needs sharpening or fixing.
You need to know what tasks depend on other things and what don’t. Keep a running shopping list, stock up on needed supplies and aim to tackle a few maintenance tasks every week or two such as sharpening pruners.
4. Keep a simple to-do list of specific tasks
Don’t write down “weed garden” because depending on the state of your garden it may take two full days. Instead write down “weed garlic bed”, assuming your garlic bed is not half of your yard!
These types of micro-tasks that you can get done in a shorter period of time will make you feel like you accomplished something.
For larger projects use the same idea: write down the various steps that you need to accomplish first and keep those steps manageable.
In my day job, I am a project manager and a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is crucial to the success of any project. It breaks down work into specific achievable tasks with start and end dates and resource allocations.
While I’m not advocating doing formal project management for your DIY garden projects, it still pays to have a similar list of tasks that work towards a larger result.
5. Try to avoid making any decisions about what to do more than once
This goes back to the list mentioned above: make your list in the order that you plan to do the tasks in and then try not to waver from that list.
Sometimes you really can’t blindly work from task to task. You can’t for instance do certain tasks if the weather is inclement, but there are ways to accommodate for that in your list.
I use WP beside the task in my list for “Weather Permitting” and try to have then some alternative tasks that I do if I can’t work in the rain. Using power tools, for instance, is usually not a good idea when it is raining!
Routines also help to avoid wasting time deciding what to do in the garden and more importantly forget an important task. If you can make a habit of always watering your containers on Saturday morning at 9am as an example, it will become something you just do without thinking.
6. Don’t get caught spending tons of time researching how to do something
While the internet is a great resource (Google, YouTube, forums, blogs, etc) it can suck time away from actually doing tasks.
Do a bit of research and then try some things out – if it doesn’t work then maybe some more research but if it works the first time you saved yourself some research time.
Also, you may want to use “Just in Time” research. Rather than spending time reading about something you won’t need to do until another time of the year, research it when you need to do it.
For this blog, for instance, you can use the Search box to search for keywords.
7. Try to focus on doing those tasks that save you time in the future
You want to pick the ones that have the most impact now. Some examples: weeding while the weeds are small and the soil is wet from spring rains or after irrigating, protecting crops from pests with row covers, adding mulch to suppress weeds and reduce the need to water, seeding early so that seedlings have more time to grow strong before being transplanted out into the garden.
Procrastinate on these tasks and you usually will end up working harder, spending more money and having less success. And taking more time, which we all don’t have enough of.
So with these simple techniques you can improve your homestead time management. You can do this!
If you enjoyed this article, have something to add or have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Wishing you all the best!
Tranquil Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC