While technically we are still in the throes of winter here, the weather gods seem to be signalling the start of spring here, regardless!

And with springtime, comes a desire to get out more into the outdoors – soak up the sunshine and get my hands dirty planning the year’s food garden. The more years I spend growing food, the more I am struck by the similarities between effective and efficient practices for growing food, and effective practices for work-flow. Make no mistake, the word “productivity” has its roots firmly in agricultural practice! (pun intended).

In an effort to make the most of my limited time in the garden, I have been experimenting with a number of growing methods. Spending time in the garden does have its upsides – a mental break from time on the computer, closeness to nature, the satisfaction of knowing where your food comaes from — but, at the end of the day, nobody has a burning desire to spend hours hunched over a hoe!

Something old…with something new to teach us

One of the systems I have been slowly adopting in my garden is Permaculture. At its core, it is a more sustainable means of food production (think permanent + agriculture), with greater reliance on perennial food crops. In a much broader sense, though, permaculture is a systems design – building food production systems that more closely mimic the successful networks and systems that evolve in nature. Permaculture really arrived on the scene as a concept in the mid 1970′s, by two Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren as a solution to environmental challenges of the day.

While at first blush, this might make you think of back-to-the-landers and composting toilets, BUT back in the early 1970s, David Holmgren penned 12 permaculture design principles that ring as true today as they did 40 years ago, and actually have much wider applicability than merely growing tomatoes in your back yard!

12 Permaculture Principles Worth Noting

  1. Take time to observe, interact, and take stock: While its tempting to jump in with both feet, some time taken to observe and think through is time well spent. If you don’t fully understand the problem, you might be spending time creating the wrong solution!
  2. Catch and store energy: Design your systems to harvest resources at peak times for use later on.
  3. Obtain a yield: This sounds simple, but make sure you are getting something useful for your work!
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to know what works and what doesn’t, so we can build on what works well. This is a key tenet of business planning models, and performance management techniques.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services:  Make the best use of the resources at your disposal – financial, human, information.  Placing an explicit value on them makes it much less likely you will waste them!
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, we begin to minimize our waste . .. of resources and effort!
  7. Design from patterns to details: by looking at successful patterns found in nature, we can create systems with a strong foundation, and fill in the details as we go.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other. This is especially true in this age of connectedness we live in, where personal relationships often form the basis of future business relationships.
  9. Start small, and build on your successes: Complex systems are built  from simple systems that work well! … and simple systems are much easier to maintain, and make better use of local resources.  This is also a matter of keeping some perspective on the appropriate scale for the situation.
  10. Maximize diversity and resiliency: This does not necessarily mean diluting your business goals, but rather look within the structures you are creating to ensure there are many : many relationships. Single elements should serve multiple functions, and single functions should be served by multiple elements – the ultimate backup!
  11. Value what is happening on the “edges”: The interface between things is where the most interesting ideas and events happen. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system (think of the creativity and energy present in a startup!)
  12. Creatively use and respond to changeChange is a fact of life, and successful businesses create a culture that observes change as it unfolds, and determines when and how best to intervene.

Conclusion

These are valuable guideposts to keep in your sightlines for efficient, sustainable food production, BUT they also have great value as principles for increasing your productivity!

Businesses today are so much more connected to all aspects of community (social and economic), and the information technology at our disposal means a small enterprise can potentially have significant impacts around the world.  Looking at old systems and tools with new eyes might just lead us to some surprising new and productive practices!

(Photo credit: Janice Mansfield)

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