Monday, July 13, 2015

The Law of Expanding Lists (Revisited)

Back in the infancy of this blog, we wrote a post that brought up the idea of the "Law of Expanding Lists."  That old post is here.  Really, it's not a bad post at all.  Especially if you consider the fact that I didn't really spend much time editing that one.

Tammy and I decided to spend a little time this past weekend trying to do "non-active" things on the farm.  So, Sunday, for example, we limited ourselves to feeding the hens, henlets, ducklings, turklets, ducks and cats.  Making sure all of the above had water.  Watering plants that are still in trays or pots.  Opening the high tunnel.  Setting up and running drip tape on the newer broccoli and cauliflower planting.  Planting another 14 hot peppers in a raised bed and replacing about 20 tomato plants in the field with new tomatoes.  A couple of laundry loads, some washed eggs and composting of all remaining tomatoes in pots.  Always nice to have an easy morning start.

In the early afternoon, while Tammy was at an event, Rob sat down and worked on doing a little "mind mapping."  Essentially, what this means to me is that I need to get a handle on all of the things that are roaming in my head that I think I need to be done.  I usually hope that getting as much as I can down on paper will help me.

But, I don't think I feel much better because I ran into the Law of Expanding Lists!

Definition: A to do list is compiled with a certain period of time in mind.

We really need to work this plot west of the old high tunnel.
Anyone who makes lists will relate to this.  There is the list of things that you SHOULD do sometime.  Then there is the list of things you WANT to do sometime.  Both of these fall into my 'mind mapping' exercise in hopes that some good ideas will come out of it.  It is also done to help me prioritize into the 'working lists.'

The working lists include the list of things to accomplish during this particular growing season. Typically, we do not expect these items to be accomplished any time in the near future, but we need to know that they loom in the horizon.
Then, there is the "critical" list of things that have a high priority and need to be done.  Some of the things on the critical list actually make it to the weekly list, followed by the daily list.  And, all of these actually ignore the "recurring list" of things that get done on a regular basis.  Sometimes these appear on the daily list because they are not quite a daily chore.  But, the daily recurring list only makes it onto the daily list as a single line item:  chores.

And, before you get too worried that I am spending all of my time making lists, let me assure you that there is not typically a hard copy of daily lists unless there is need for clarity in communicating with workers.  Even the weekly list is not necessarily wholly committed to a physical form unless we get to the point where we feel like we are overwhelmed or missing things.

Now for the rules.  Note that these rules apply the similar time period lists.  For example, transitioning form one daily list to the next daily list - or from an old critical list to a new one.

Rule 1: Completion of n items on the list results in the addition of a minimum n items replacing it in the list.

We weeded and tilled the North bed in the high tunnel - now we needed to plant beans, rosemary and run the drip line.
The example shown in the picture above is the most obvious list item addition that can occur - a task (or tasks) that follow the same 'critical time line.'  I suppose you could make the argument that we likely had planting beans, rosemary and running the drip line on our list already. But, if you consider that each day has its own list, it becomes clearer.  Completing weeding/tilling on day one resulted in the addition of planting and running drip line on day 2.

The sneaky part is the recurring portion of the daily list.  Remember chores?  Well, we just added irrigate the bean and rosemary rows has just gotten added.  Then, there is the sneaky addition of WEEDING these rows that will appear in later daily lists.  We won't even consider harvesting at this point.  

Rule 2: Every item on a list has at least 2 hidden items implied by its inclusion on the list.

List item: pick up lumber by the new high tunnel
You will notice that this picture does NOT show the new high tunnel.  It shows the south side of the Poultry Pavilion.  The running gear we are going to use to move the lumber is in the center of the picture.  The flex tine weeder (green) is in the way and must be moved first.  The tall weeds will likely have to be cut down as well to help us free the running gear.  Both of these are simply implied by the single item, but will take actual time to do on Monday (and did take actual time to do).

Rule 1 still applies since we now add cleaning up the tall weeds South of the Poultry Pavilion to one of the upcoming daily lists (for example).

Rule 3: Time Critical items increase future entries by simply appearing on the current list.

Oh, winter squash, how we love thee and how we wish the grasses would not grow there too.
Taking the photo as an example - getting the winter squash weeded is a time critical item.  If we fail to do this in the next week, the grasses will be a very big (literally and figuratively) problem.  Anden very accurately pointed out last week that the rest of the farm does not simply go into stasis while we are performing a given task.  The time we spend weeding one field means the other fields are not getting attention.  And, a time critical item will push other critical items back - often making THEM time critical items.  Uh oh.

Rule 4: Failure to complete Time Critical items multiplies future entries by a minimum of 2 times.

Hey!  That field was FINE last time I looked!
Ok, so the winter squash didn't get done.  So, it still needs to get done.  But, when a list deals with living and changing things (such as plants), the task can actually morph and change so that a whole host of hidden tasks (see rule 2) begin to appear.  Suddenly, the job that might have taken a little wheel hoe time might also include a rototiller, or weed removal or some additional task like removal of the drip line so larger cultivating equipment can run.  And...

Rule 5: Unless you are at a terminal point in the season, carried over items from one list to the next will typically be 50% of an ambitious farmers next list.

This really is beginning to sound like a losing battle.  Therefore, I propose that we adopt a new list system for our farm.

Today's List:
1. Do everything.

Tomorrow's List:
1. Do what you did yesterday.

Simplicity at its finest.

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