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Productivity Lessons From Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Farmer Boy”

Productivity Lessons From Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Farmer Boy”

    Laura Ingalls Wilder is known for her series of childrens books depicting life as a pioneer in the American West in the late 19th century. While she wrote 9 books based on her own life, she also wrote one based on her husband’s life called “Farmer Boy”.

    The book itself, while educating us about how things used to be done before modern conveniences like refrigeration, electricity and supermarkets, also has some valuable lessons about personal productivity that can be applied to modern life:

    Ask For Help

    In the beginning of the book, the schoolteacher is faced with being beaten by some thugs that break up the school as a matter of pride. Knowing that one former teacher was beaten almost to death, the teacher asks for help from Almanzo’s father. The help is provided and the teacher maintains his job and life.

    Lesson: When something is beyond our abilities and resources, ask for help to get the job done.

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    Application: Tasks sometimes require expertise beyond what we have. If you don’t have the knowledge to get something done, ask for help. If you don’t have the right piece of equipment, see if you can rent or borrow it. You will get the task done quicker and more thoroughly than if you try to figure it out on your own.

    Batch Tasks

    Almanzo’s mother has one day a week when she does the churning. All the cream collected during the week is dumped into the churn and Almanzo is set to turning it into butter. She also does baking once a week, producing all of the bread, pies, cakes and cookies in one session in the kitchen.

    Lesson: By doing things in large batches, you save yourself the preparation and execution time of doing things in smaller batches.

    Application: Answering email all at once will take less time than checking, reading and answering 10 times a day. Having one errand time will save the commuting time to get to the store, and could also cut down on multiple trips when it becomes known that you run errands on one day a week.

    Focus on One Thing

    Each task on the farm is done singly. Almanzo and his brother clean the cow stalls, then pitch down clean hay, then milk the cows. Shucking the corn is done on winter afternoons on the threshing floor; the wheat is done at a different time.

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    Lesson: Single tasking prevents accidents and spoilage from happening. By mixing cleaning out the stalls and pitching down new hay, you would risk contaminated food and bedding for the cows. By mixing milking and pitching down hay you risk a fire from the hay hitting the lantern of the milker. By threshing corn and wheat at the same time, you end up with cross-contamination of grains.

    Lesson: Focus on one task, finish it and move on to the next task. If a task is too large to be done in one session, keep working at it before starting something else.

    Keep Regular Hours

    Cows must be milked regularly to give the maximum amount of milk. Almanzo, his father and brother are in the barns before dawn and after dark in the winter.

    Lesson: Having a set schedule makes work easier to accomplish.

    Application: How many times have you not done a project because you can’t fit it in? This is particularly a problem with big dreams like writing a book, taking a class, or switching careers. Having a set time to work on these items means regular progress toward a bigger goal.

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    Do What You Can Yourself

    Almanzo and his family were almost entirely self-sufficient. They harvested ice from the local river for refrigeration. They grew vegetables and animals for food. They raised sheep, which were shorn and turned into cloth by Almanzo’s mother. They provided as much of what they needed as they could. However, for certain things like shoes and tinware, items were purchased from traveling craftsman who visited once a year.

    Lesson: Being able to do most things for yourself decreases your reliance on others and minimizes time spent waiting for others to complete tasks.

    Application: By not having to rely on other people things you need frequently, you can get things done quicker. You no longer have to wait on someone to fit you your requests in in order to get your work done. At the same time, for specialized skills that are only needed once a year, you can rely on others to help you out.

    Truly Rest Regularly

    The Sabbath was taken very seriously in Almanzo’s home; all work was prohibited, except the minimum to keep the farm animals and people fed and clean. It was a day to reflect, read, and put the mind far from the day-to-day cares of life.

    Lesson: Regular rest and recreation is necessary to keep us from becoming one-sided and out-of-
    balance.

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    Application: Take some time, every week, to shut down, rest, reflect, and get away from your projects. Make sure it is truly rest and recreation, not just filling the time with fluff, and you will reap the benefits in the rest of your week.

     

    Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Farmer Boy” is a tale that can still teach us lessons in productivity, even from the distant past.

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    Last Updated on June 3, 2020

    How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

    How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

    We all crave constructive feedback. We want to know not just what we’re doing well but also what we could be doing better.

    However, giving and getting constructive feedback isn’t just some feel-good exercise. In the workplace, it’s part and parcel of how companies grow.

    Let’s take a closer look.

    Why Constructive Feedback Is Critical

    A culture of feedback benefits individuals on a team and the team itself. Constructive feedback has the following effects:

    Builds Workers’ Skills

    Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you come away from it feeling attacked—a key marker of destructive feedback—or did you feel like you learned something new?

    Every time a team member learns something, they become more valuable to the business. The range of tasks they can tackle increases. Over time, they make fewer mistakes, require less supervision, and become more willing to ask for help.

    Boosts Employee Loyalty

    Constructive feedback is a two-way street. Employees want to receive it, but they also want the feedback they give to be taken seriously.

    If employees see their constructive feedback ignored, they may take it to mean they aren’t a valued part of the team. Nine in ten employees say they’d be more likely to stick with a company that takes and acts on their feedback.[1]

    Strengthens Team Bonds

    Without trust, teams cannot function. Constructive feedback builds trust because it shows that the giver of the feedback cares about the success of the recipient.

    However, for constructive feedback to work its magic, both sides have to assume good intentions. Those giving the feedback must genuinely want to help, and those getting it has to assume that the goal is to build them up rather than to tear them down.

    Promotes Mentorship

    There’s nothing wrong with a single round of constructive feedback. But when it really makes a difference is when it’s repeated—continuous, constructive feedback is the bread and butter of mentorship.

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    Be the change you want to see on your team. Give constructive feedback often and authentically, and others will naturally start to see you as a mentor.

    Clearly, constructive feedback is something most teams could use more of. But how do you actually give it?

    How to Give Constructive Feedback

    Giving constructive feedback is tricky. Get it wrong, and your message might fall on deaf ears. Get it really wrong, and you could sow distrust or create tension across the entire team.

    Here are ways to give constructive feedback properly:

    1. Listen First

    Often, what you perceive as a mistake is a decision someone made for a good reason. Listening is the key to effective communication.

    Seek to understand: how did the other person arrive at her choice or action?

    You could say:

    • “Help me understand your thought process.”
    • “What led you to take that step?”
    • “What’s your perspective?”

    2. Lead With a Compliment

    In school, you might have heard it called the “sandwich method”: Before (and ideally, after) giving difficult feedback, share a compliment. That signals to the recipient that you value their work.

    You could say:

    • “Great design. Can we see it with a different font?”
    • “Good thinking. What if we tried this?”

    3. Address the Wider Team

    Sometimes, constructive feedback is best given indirectly. If your comment could benefit others on the team, or if the person whom you’re really speaking to might take it the wrong way, try communicating your feedback in a group setting.

    You could say:

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    • “Let’s think through this together.”
    • “I want everyone to see . . .”

    4. Ask How You Can Help

    When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together. When a mistake happens, you have to realize that everyone—not just the person who made it—has a role in fixing it. Give constructive feedback in a way that recognizes this dynamic.

    You could say:

    • “What can I do to support you?”
    • “How can I make your life easier?
    • “Is there something I could do better?”

    5. Give Examples

    To be useful, constructive feedback needs to be concrete. Illustrate your advice by pointing to an ideal.

    What should the end result look like? Who has the process down pat?

    You could say:

    • “I wanted to show you . . .”
    • “This is what I’d like yours to look like.”
    • “This is a perfect example.”
    • “My ideal is . . .”

    6. Be Empathetic

    Even when there’s trust in a team, mistakes can be embarrassing. Lessons can be hard to swallow. Constructive feedback is more likely to be taken to heart when it’s accompanied by empathy.

    You could say:

    • “I know it’s hard to hear.”
    • “I understand.”
    • “I’m sorry.”

    7. Smile

    Management consultancies like Credera teach that communication is a combination of the content, delivery, and presentation.[2] When giving constructive feedback, make sure your body language is as positive as your message. Your smile is one of your best tools for getting constructive feedback to connect.

    8. Be Grateful

    When you’re frustrated about a mistake, it can be tough to see the silver lining. But you don’t have to look that hard. Every constructive feedback session is a chance for the team to get better and grow closer.

    You could say:

    • “I’m glad you brought this up.”
    • “We all learned an important lesson.”
    • “I love improving as a team.”

    9. Avoid Accusations

    Giving tough feedback without losing your cool is one of the toughest parts of working with others. Great leaders and project managers get upset at the mistake, not the person who made it.[3]

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    You could say:

    • “We all make mistakes.”
    • “I know you did your best.”
    • “I don’t hold it against you.”

    10. Take Responsibility

    More often than not, mistakes are made because of miscommunications Recognize your own role in them.

    Could you have been clearer in your directions? Did you set the other person up for success?

    You could say:

    • “I should have . . .”
    • “Next time, I’ll . . .”

    11. Time it Right

    Constructive feedback shouldn’t catch people off guard. Don’t give it while everyone is packing up to leave work. Don’t interrupt a good lunch conversation.

    If in doubt, ask the person to whom you’re giving feedback to schedule the session themselves. Encourage them to choose a time when they’ll be able to focus on the conversation rather than their next task.

    12. Use Their Name

    When you hear your name, your ears naturally perk up. Use that when giving constructive feedback. Just remember that constructive feedback should be personalized, not personal.

    You could say:

    • “Bob, I wanted to chat through . . .”
    • “Does that make sense, Jesse?”

    13. Suggest, Don’t Order

    When you give constructive feedback, it’s important not to be adversarial. The very act of giving feedback recognizes that the person who made the mistake had a choice—and when the situation comes up again, they’ll be able to choose differently.

    You could say:

    • “Next time, I suggest . . .”
    • “Try it this way.”
    • “Are you on board with that?”

    14. Be Brief

    Even when given empathetically, constructive feedback can be uncomfortable to receive. Get your message across, make sure there are no hard feelings, and move on.

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    One exception? If the feedback isn’t understood, make clear that you have plenty of time for questions. Rushing through what’s clearly an open conversation is disrespectful and discouraging.

    15. Follow Up

    Not all lessons are learned immediately. After giving a member of your team constructive feedback, follow it up with an email. Make sure you’re just as respectful and helpful in your written feedback as you are on your verbal communication.

    You could say:

    • “I wanted to recap . . .”
    • “Thanks for chatting with me about . . .”
    • “Did that make sense?”

    16. Expect Improvement

    Although you should always deliver constructive feedback in a supportive manner, you should also expect to see it implemented. If it’s a long-term issue, set milestones.

    By what date would you like to see what sort of improvement? How will you measure that improvement?

    You could say:

    • “I’d like to see you . . .”
    • “Let’s check back in after . . .”
    • “I’m expecting you to . . .”
    • “Let’s make a dent in that by . . .”

    17. Give Second Chances

    Giving feedback, no matter how constructive, is a waste of time if you don’t provide an opportunity to implement it. Don’t set up a “gotcha” moment, but do tap the recipient of your feedback next time a similar task comes up.

    You could say:

    • “I know you’ll rock it next time.”
    • “I’d love to see you try again.”
    • “Let’s give it another go.”

    Final Thoughts

    Constructive feedback is not an easy nut to crack. If you don’t give it well, then maybe it’s time to get some. Never be afraid to ask.

    More on Constructive Feedback

    Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

    Reference

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