By Bob Milligan, Dairy Strategies
Have you come to the end of a long day and still felt guilty about not working harder and longer?
Have you felt guilty about not spending more time with your family and friends but still kept working? Have you worked long hours but wondered whether you were making any progress?
If any or all of these are common in your life, ask yourself if you feel that your life is in balance. Many farmers believe their work is a seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year job. The health of the livestock and crops is critical to business productivity, but so is your health and that of your family.
Research shows that those whose lives are in balance are healthier, and healthy individuals are more productive in their businesses. Time for regeneration (refueling your energy level) is important to your health. Vacations, of course, are a vital way to refuel, reduce stress, and energize family unity. So, however, is how we live each and every day.
This month we address this issue by answering three questions:
· Why is life balance important?
· How can we increase balance each day?
· What about a vacation?
Why is life balance important?
Each of us finds balance in different ways. What one does to regenerate energy levels and reduce work stress differs for each person. It may mean developing a hobby, getting more exercise, involving yourself in school activities of your children, finding time alone as a couple, socializing with family or friends, or taking a vacation.
In challenging times, as farmers experience every day, an unconscious voice often kicks in to say that there just isn't time for these activities. There is an unstated belief that if only one works harder, then problems will go away and things will get better.
But it doesn't work that way. Not only do they not get better, the stress resulting from the long hours and unsolved problems starts to pile up. That pile-up often comes not just from the business but from the family as well, because there is little to no time remaining for the family.
How can we increase balance each day?
Information and communication along with problem-solving through shared decision-making (among business members, with employees, and with agribusiness personnel) are critical factors for viable farm operations today.
To do this well, you need energy - -physical, mental, and emotional. Life balance creates a larger pool of energy from which to build a successful business.
Mini-breaks are often the key to day-to-day life balance. We all need to develop habits that relieve the stress of work and create quality time away from work and with your family and friends. Research shows that how you spend time with your family is at least as important as how much time you spend.
Try some of the following:
· Schedule time during the day when all family members are together. Talk about the day. Ask each person to share one or two positives from their day -- a new friend, an accomplishment, something learned, an exciting experience with an old friend.
· Go for a walk. Don't look for weeds in the corn or problems with the beans. Listen to a bird sing, watch a butterfly flit by, marvel at a beautiful flower or the quiet of the countryside.
· Read something you enjoy. You need not spend a long time. A chapter or a few pages a day really add up. A short period of reading or reflection is very important to many very successful people.
What about a vacation?
Maybe you've heard a story like this: "My dad always bragged that he didn't take a day off in 50 years. But after Mom died, he regretted that they never took that trip she dreamed of. He told me to be sure to get away with my family. I took his advice -- and I'm glad I did."
You probably can think of a hundred reasons why you shouldn't take a vacation. Here are some reasons you should:
· Spend time with your family.
· Gain a clearer perspective on the business.
· Create memories with your family that last a lifetime.
· Develop confidence that this can be done again (you may be surprised at who steps up while you are gone).
· Reduce stress by focusing your energies elsewhere.
· Discover how other people live (you might even gain valuable insights about your farm business).
Part of the stress release of vacations is in the excitement and process of planning what to do. Remember, vacations don't always have to cost a lot. A contingency plan to handle something going wrong on the farm is a must for the farm and for your ability to relax.
A 50-year-old farmer talks about how they viewed the barriers to taking a vacation this way:
"Every time we've taken a vacation, my husband feels better physically and mentally when we return. He's rested and upbeat. But that also makes it hard to come back, sometimes, because we know what the workload is going to be like. What stops us from planning vacations isn't money, or people to fill in, because we have those, at least for the moment. It's this notion that we are indispensable, and no one else can do things quite as well when we're gone. Once we get beyond that, it's no problem!"
The take home message
Research indicates that individuals who take time away from work are better family members and better business people. Reflect and plan now to create alternatives that allow that to happen. But, most of all, make it become a reality in the near future.
Remember, no one on his or her deathbed says, “I wish I had spent more time working.”
Note: This month’s column is taken from an article I wrote a couple years ago with my wife, Dr. Sharon M. Danes (Professor, Department of Family Social Science, University of Minnesota).
Dr. Bob Milligan is Senior Consultant with Dairy Strategies, LLC and Professor Emeritus, Cornell University. His insights come from 35 years of working with farm businesses. He also was an award-winning teacher in the fifth-ranked undergraduate business program in the country. Bob lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Contact him at 651 647-0495 or [email protected]. Visit his Web site at www.dairystrategies.com or www.aLearningEdge.com.