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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 April 19, 2021

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

    The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

    Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

    In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

    When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

    Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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    1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

    When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

    As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

    That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

    The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

    What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

    Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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    There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

    So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

    2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

    When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

    No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

    3. Move Your Body

    A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

    It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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    So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

    4. Connect With Another Person

    Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

    One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

    Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

    5. Use Your Imagination

    When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

    That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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    And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

    Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

    Final Thoughts

    Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

    Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

    More on the Importance of Taking a Break

    Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

    Reference

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