Everything I need to know about business I learned on the farm – lesson #1

I took a week off from (paying) work last week and spent the time at home catching up on various projects that had accumulated on my to do list. I built a wood shed. I cleaned up the tool shed by the barn and built a bin to hold shavings for the horse stalls. I cleared out some fallen trees that were blocking the creek. It was really good to get out of the office for a while and see the results of my work first hand. When I was done with the wood shed, I could see it, push on it and know what it was for. That is so rarely the case with my paying work. However, I did begin to realize that while there are marked differences between work on the farm and work in the office, there are also striking similarities.
Let’s take the wood shed for example. I have been thinking about building once since my single wood stack grew to two and had the potential to grow to three. This is not for the lack of burning the wood (trust me, my wife would have a fire going year round if I let her), but rather the kind donation (delivery included!) of several felled trees from my father-in-law’s and mother’s properties. I needed to get organized. I needed a place that would actually shelter the wood so it could dry properly and be easier to split and burn. I needed a woodshed! Immediately my mind flashed to the thought of the satisfaction of using the auger on my tractor to dig holes, the setting of the posts in cement and the warm crackle of a large fire all winter long.
But before I could get there, I had to plan for the shed. What materials would I need? How big did it need to be? What did I need to buy and what did I already have laying around. I quickly decided to re-use some corrugated metal sheeting from a barn door as the roof. I had 3 full sheets and a few scraps of it lying around, so that fixed the size of my roof. From there I figured out what lumber I would need as a frame for the roof and then for the posts. 4 hours later I was back from Home Depot and the local lumber store (needed a few pieces of rough sawn – to be honest was too cheap to pay for what HD was asking for dimensional lumber) with some wood and cement and was ready to start.
But where to build my shack of timber? Should I put it by the workshop? No…too big a chance that termites would migrate over. Down the hill? No again – who wants to carry firewood up the hill in the middle of winter? I finally decided on a spot about 50 yards from my back door that was hidden from view by a few trees but close enough to be a reason to not have a fire when it’s cold outside. The only problem: that particular spot was filled with a nasty tangle of backberry bushes (read: twisted pile of painful thorns).  OK, no problem.  2 hours later after getting the bush hog on the tractor, clearing out the spot, taking the bush hog off and trying (in vain) to get the auger on by myself (before finally giving in and asking my lovely wife to help).  I was ready again to start building.
Well, actually not, quite.  I had to figure out exactly where I needed to dig the holes for the posts.  OK, tape measure, a^2 + b^2 = c^2, stakes, string spray paint…and another hour…now I really was ready to build!
Drove the tractor over, dug the holes, set the posts, leveled and faced them, dropped a half bag of concrete mix in each hole, nailed up the framing boards with the nail gun, used a screw gun to put on the roof….and it was done!  In 45 minutes!  Another 90 minutes of cleanup (no I still haven’t actually moved the wood there – I am pacing myself). and the ‘project’ was complete.
What does all this have to do with the projects I actually get paid to do?  A lot actually, but let me focus on one thing for now: as is often the case in projects of all types, my mind immediately jumped to the ‘glamor’ parts of the project – the digging, concrete, etc.  Real manly stuff.  I didn’t give a second thought to driving to two different stores to get all the proper materials.  Or to the fact that I wasn’t really sure where I was going to put the shed before I already had purchased the materials (what if I needed something else to accommodate my location?).  Now this could be that I am a poor planner, or it could be a part of project management human nature that comes out in all of us.  Perhaps it’s a project survival instinct that takes over, only letting you think about the good parts and blocking the bad parts from your mind (I’m, convinced this same mental trick is at work for any woman who would agree to have a second child after going through all the trouble of having a first ;-)).
Regardless of why it occurs, I’ve seen it happen over and over again: the fun / glamorous parts of the project are well planned, but the drudgery gets left behind leading to a lot more time being spent than was planned, or less than desirable results.  The kicker is, that the fun part was the shortest part of the whole thing –  the ‘project’ took way less time than the prep or clean-up.  Next time I’m going to try to include that prep time in my vision of the overall project – that should help both the pay for and the paid for projects!






3 responses to “Everything I need to know about business I learned on the farm – lesson #1”

  1. Rick Stavanja Avatar

    Thanks for making me feel worthless

  2. Dora Smith Avatar
    Dora Smith

    Ok, you stole the book title I wanted to write someday. Although I was thinking “All I really needed to know about life I learned on the farm.”
    We’re in the midst of building a log cabin, one taken down from another farm and I can ditto your project planning experiences.
    And as a woman, I ditto your second child comment!

  3. Chris Avatar

    Sorry for the theft. It’s actually something that has occurred to me many times while out working on some project or another – “you know, this is just like my real job – except I can see what I have done when I’m done!” I hope to do a whole series of posts on similar topics.
    The log cabin project sounds fun! We looked at a cabin when we ended up buying this place. It was great, but just too small for us and two kids. I was in a great lake front cabin on Sunday night. Wonderful feeling being surrounded by all that natural wood.

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