Flower farming. You wake up in the morning and it’s not like a normal job. You won’t arrive to a set task list, you won’t be directed by a superior. Instead, there’s a rush of tasks you need to sort through—what’s first, what’s most important, what’s most difficult, what gets in the way of the others, and how do you decide?
First off, you need to know the difference between objective and subjective (believe it or not). If you wonder why a mirror reverses sides but not top and bottom, as I did in my much younger days, you don’t know the difference, but here it is: the mirror doesn’t reverse east and west or top and bottom, which are objective concepts we can all agree on, it just reverses your impression of left and right, your subjective sense peculiar to you. When you start sorting through tasks you have to understand this difference because their importance should be objective—what’s best for the business or farm—and not subjective (what I prefer to do, what I hate to do). Thus, while harvesting is a task almost everyone likes so goes to the top of the list, and while weeding is one almost no one likes so goes to the bottom, if you’re honest you’ll put both where they belong, which may differ from day to day. But if you think those task you don’t like will ever just go away, I assure you you’re wrong, they will be back.
One way to order tasks is to place them in categories of 1)what needs to be done immediately, 2) what needs to be done soon, and 3) what will wait a day or two or even longer. In Deadhead: The Bindweed Way to Grow Flowers I wrote briefly of “windows”, and this is where the concept comes into play. If I need to spray pests or weeds and I don’t want to kill bees, my window to spray is limited to dusk and dawn, and the presence of wind may shrink that window further. So if that task is on the list, it goes to the top if it’s not windy and it’s the right time, and if you don’t do it you may not get to do that work at all—and the farm will suffer.
Likewise, if you have an order going out to be picked up by a courier, your window closes when the driver stops by and you haven’t packed your boxes, so that task becomes preeminent. If your own delivery is this morning, you need to prepare and load now, and if bouquets for a CSA go out today you’d better get them put together soon.
Flowers that don’t take heat need to be cut early, so that task rises toward the top of the list. If irrigation is necessary, we put it right at the top—I may finish my pre-dawn cup of coffee on my walk to the pump, because by starting the irrigation process early I can check for leaks, damage, or my own mistakes (forgetting to open a valve, for instance) as I move around the farm doing other tasks throughout the morning. If I wait until the end of my shift and just turn the pump on, then leave the field to go see a movie or even just to nap, I miss hundreds of chances to detect problems that surely arise.
Sturdy flowers like sunflowers can be cut almost any time of the day, so they stay on the “do today” list, but only slowly rise up the list as monarda, asclepias, orlaya, yarrow, poppies and other crops get cut. Here again there’s a window, and if you let the task go too long, the flowers may be too open to market and your farm suffers.
If you’re out of supplies, you may have to move a task that should have been done days before up to near the top of the list. You have no more packing boxes or ice, you are out of gloves, you lost your scissors and have no backups—that task at the bottom of the list that you kept pushing back down suddenly leaps to the top like a buoy, reminding you of your procrastination.
Accounting related chores should never have to rise to “do now”, above tasks with narrower windows, and if they do it’s likely because you don’t like to do them and kept pushing them away. But there they are, checks need to be cashed, invoices need to be sent and tallied, bills need to be paid—and what could have been stress-free and done at a leisurely pace becomes stress filled and of immediate concern.
And then there are tasks like weeding, that always need to be done but always can wait—until they can’t. The window is so large it seems forgiving, but it’s closing each day as a small seedling easy to remove with a hoe becomes a bigger one demanding a soil knife becomes a plant in bloom and goes to seed. If you’re pushing these task to the bottom of the list, you’re likely just trying to fool yourself, intentionally confusing objective with subjective, saying it doesn’t need to be done today when the truth is you don’t want to do it.
There is no perfect set-up to order your day—real life, particularly when dealing with nature, means that time works like a conveyor belt, bringing you new ordeals each minute and old ones on a rotating and hopefully predictable basis. But if you admit that the tasks you hate have the importance they’re factually due instead of writing them off as inconvenient or momentarily unnecessary, and if you sort tasks by necessity and immediacy rather than by how much you like them, you’ll be more successful and less stressed out.