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

Productivity Lessons From Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Farmer Boy”
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    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 July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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