Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Signpost Tasks

I took a very quick trip into town to get some fuel for the tractor when I happened to hear a "state-wide" forecast mention sunny skies for the entire state.  As I gazed out the windshield, my eyes saw low clouds covering the sun and I recognized a bit of fog as well.

I shrugged with only a little bit of amusement.  Giving a forecast for an area as big as "Iowa" is a losing proposition at best, so there was no reason to be upset by it.  Anyway, I had some work to do in the office.  So, upon returning to the farm, I got right to it.

Then I looked outside at midday.

Suddenly, I was very glad I had some midday chores to do because they were OUTSIDE!  And this time, I took the camera along.  It's not every day the skies are this blue.

The side effect of blue skies and Rob walking around to do chores with a camera is that - hey presto! - he suddenly has more fodder for writing about the farm.  It's my understanding that some people see this as a good thing - and those that don't see it as a good thing won't read the blog anyway, so their opinion doesn't matter in this particular case.

Sign Post Tasks

Maybe Tammy and I are unique in this regard, but I suspect we are not.  We both have a tendency to let certain tasks build up in our minds to the point that they seem to house all of the tension and stress that comes with all of the things we are responsible for doing.  They become symbolic of all the things we aren't getting to, even if that's giving these particular tasks too much credit.

Often, these tasks that take on the mantle as a "sign post task" are often irregular in their occurrence or have some component of newness or uncertainty about them that makes us a little uncomfortable.  Essentially, we then glom onto the discomfort and grow it up until it is unreasonably large.  But, the reality is that it is only a reflection of the enormity of ALL of our tasks, concerns, and uncertainties rolled together.

One such task that has received this treatment is the maintenance of our three beehives on the farm.  The bees are Tammy's project.  That doesn't mean I won't do what I can to help, but it does mean that I do my best to not get in the way or step on her toes.  And, of course, she now knows more about bee care than I do anyway!  

In any event, beekeeping is still relatively new to us, which means there is some uncertainty.  It's not that we aren't fairly knowledgeable - it's that we are not confident and we lack sufficient experience to be as confident as we need to.  That's a perfect situation for the project of preparing the bees for winter to become a signpost task!

The good news?  Tammy was able to get assistance from Mark Rippe (Blueridge Orchard in Denver, IA).  The required tasks moved forward and Tammy's confidence was given a boost with a little extra guidance from someone who was more confident and experienced with bees.

Valuable Blocks of Time

Many projects on the farm are difficult to do in small chunks of time.  For example, harvesting pumpkins and winter squash just requires too much set up for us to spend fifteen minutes here and twenty minutes there until the harvest is complete.

Don't get me wrong, the harvest of squash is not an inherently difficult task and we certainly have plenty of experience and confidence that we can do what we need to do.  It's just that we need to be able to identify a block of time that is large enough to make the task happen.

When you have lots of things on your "to do" list, it can be difficult to find sections of your day that are long enough.

So, what happens yet again?  These simpler, but potentially time restrictive tasks become signpost tasks.  This year it was actually a bigger deal because we had sunflowers and corn laying on our squash crops due to the windstorm in August.  Add that difficulty and suddenly the task seems pretty big.

The good news?  We actually got this signpost task done a few weekends ago and... it was a BIG RELIEF.  Which is the case for all signpost tasks on the farm.

Stopper Out of the Bottle

Once a signpost task is completed, it is a bit like letting a stopper out of a bottle.  Get it out of the way and a bunch of other tasks start to pour out and get done.

Sometimes these tasks that we let get bigger than they've a right to be can incapacitate us, make us struggle to make forward progress.  But, once we get them out of the way, there is more energy to get things done.

Until the next signpost task lodges itself in our brains.

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