“The task of organizational systems is to provide maximum information with the least cognitive effort.” – Daniel Levitin, The Organized Mind
Spring cleaning has taken on a new meaning here on the farm. We’ve been organizing and getting ready for the season in ways that we’ve always wanted to but have never dedicated the time to do so. We’re working on paring down old or broken equipment, cleaning sheds and sifting resource piles to streamline our storage and lives.
I have a hard time with throwing things away, but there comes a point where resource piles are no longer helping. If I know where things are and can make use of them, then they are available resources, but if not then it’s just clutter. It’s hard to balance the competing interests of time as it applies to the things we have to buy and bring home.
On the one hand, a new trip to town for a part is costly in time and resource use, so I want to be well supplied with fittings, fasteners, pipes, lumber and other items for running the farm. We make a list and purchase for new projects all at once, but repairs and minor upgrades are cobbled together from what’s in stock at the moment.
There is tension between having enough of the right things and having too many things and not being able to find what we need. We solve this dilemma by getting better at our practices and refining our methods. As we become more clear in the “how”, we are able to pare down the “what” so that we achieve the old adage of “a place for everything and everything in its place”.
We organized the irrigation and tool shed so that each size of fittings is grouped in its own container, with field kits ready for use and backup parts in secondary storage. There are toolboxes that go at each garden site for irrigation repair, and separate repair kits for the different sizes of Poly and PVC.
Each repair kit has the necessary items, from channel locks and cutting blade to fittings, glue, washers, couplers and other common repair parts. We had to front-load costs to purchase the extra tools to outfit each box, but the savings in time and frustration at not having to look for the pieces to fix a problem far outweighs the initial cost.
The opportunity cost in wandering around looking for the missing piece is a massive drain on a farm. It affects productivity in the form of lost time, but the mental health factor is a much heavier burden, and one that we struggle to notice. It’s like the drag of friction, slowing things down and making the work that much harder. It pulls us out of the flow. In one of the best books I’ve ever read, The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman has a thorough discourse on streamlining and creating efficiency.
When we’re well-planned and organized the work moves fast and creates a wake of good energy, cutting through the waters of discontent. Everyone feels the positive feedback loop and this brings the joy of successful group effort. Taking steps to improvement is a process of learning, planning and implementing. It takes effort but carries the potential for gains in productivity and happiness.
Farm work can be frustration and drudgery or joy and abundance. The more that we can systematize our processes and be clear in our communications, the more effective our work will be. Once we define “how we do things”, then we can articulate it in teaching and training. If we are all in agreement and understanding of a given task, then we can anticipate each other and take the most effective course of action.
It all begins at the level of equipment and storage. One of our goals for this spring is to put our new label-maker to use, tagging tool storage locations and supplies so that it’s clear what’s what and where it goes. If someone is looking for a tool or fitting but isn’t sure what it looks like, the label will give a clear answer and prevent multiple trips to the shed. As everyone learns the systems the work will flow faster and with more joy as we each become more actuated by externalized systems of memory and thinking.
Cleaning and organizing ends up at the bottom of list too often, but there are some of the greatest gains to be had in productivity, mental health and overall happiness from reducing clutter and streamlining storage. This becomes a self-replicating process as the benefits are felt, creating a force unto itself.
One of our goals for the season to come is to create mini-tool storage spaces at each garden site so that we don’t spend so much time walking back and forth to central tool storage. Just like front-loading the costs of the irrigation kits, it takes time to gather enough tools to have them in each location, but the savings in effort makes up for the extra expense.
We look for ways we can create repetitive savings that extend into the future. Time is the most valuable thing we have in a finite life, so we seek to minimize its waste and maximize the pleasure of its passage. Doing the work up front is difficult but rewarding, and it is a practice that we are becoming better at implementing. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!
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