In middle school and high school, I was lucky enough to have an excellent guidance counselor - someone who helped me wade through all the muck that somehow builds up between middle school girls, and later, helped me wade through all the important life decisions a high school student needs to make. When I look back at those years, having a trusted advisor like my guidance counselor made all the difference between sinking and soaring.
I'm also sure that in 10 or 20 years, when I look back at this time in my life, I will say the same thing. Having a trusted advisor to turn to with life's challenging situations has made all the difference between enduring life and enjoying life.
For almost a year now, I have been working with a life coach. We meet once a month to talk about strategies for better dairy farming, parenting, communication, relationships, stress management, and just about every other topic under the sun. My life coach isn't a dairy farmer herself, but she's a mom and a small business owner, so she understands most of my challenges.
I don't adopt every strategy we talk about, but there are several which have had a big impact on my life.
One of the topics we talk about most is time management, because that's my biggest weakness. My life coach has helped me understand that extroverts, like myself, tend to overschedule themselves. But if my values and my time expenditures don't align, it results in a constant state of stress. So, now, when I'm invited to participate in an activity or event, instead of just asking myself if I have time, I also ask myself, "Is this really important to me?"
A discussion about time management had a huge impact on the way I think. We were talking about being overextended; not the financial kind of overextended, but the time and energy kind of overextended. I explained that when life gets extra busy, I always think to myself that one of these jobs or activities has to go. But that's really hard for me because I love everything I do - being a mom, dairy farming, writing, volunteering - so how could I give one up? "That's easy, she said. If you were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow, what would go?" I'm sure you could substitute some other serious condition, but the word cancer hit me hard. Cancer killed both of my grandmothers, at relatively young ages. I thought long and hard about my values and how I was spending my time after that meeting.
Another strategy that has helped me immensely is one that I call finding the middle ground. I tend to think in terms of all or nothing. It's a symptom of perfectionism. For instance, I used to think that if I didn't have time to do a full workout, then I didn't have time to exercise at all. Now, I look for something in the middle of all or nothing, like exercising for 10 or 15 minutes. I constantly remind myself, something is better than nothing.
I'm also working on tackling one task at a time, instead of multi-tasking. A fair amount of research has shown that multi-tasking reduces productivity. I think we all have a story that goes something like: I went into the shed to get a pail of grain for the heifers, remembered that I forgot to collect the eggs earlier, went to the house to get an egg carton so I wouldn't forget again, saw there's a new message on the answering machine, went to find Glen to relay the message (so I wouldn't forget), along the way noticed the float malfunctioning on the stock tank, went up to the shed to get a screwdriver to fix the float, saw the empty pail and realized I hadn't fed the heifers their grain yet.
We run around for an hour working on parts of eight different jobs and feel like we get nothing done. When I'm working outside, I use the mantra, focus on where your feet are. And if I think of something else that needs to be done, I write it down on my arm. When I'm working inside on the everyday, less-enjoyable jobs, like e-mail, laundry, processing the mail, etc., I set a timer for 15 minutes and focus on just that job until the timer goes off. Then I switch to the next job. I can get a lot more done when I focus. Plus, since I'm a deadline-oriented person, the timer gives me a deadline for jobs that otherwise don't have set deadlines.
Some of the most important conversations I've had with my life coach have been on the topic of making time for family and making time for self.
When summer started, my coach asked, "What are you going to do for fun, each week, with your kids?" It was a much-needed question. When the 2014-15 school year started, I looked back at the summer and realized that we had taken the kids to the lake exactly two times. So this summer, we made it a priority to make time for family fun. We went swimming as often as we could, we took the kids fishing, we went to a collegiate league baseball game, we actually went out to eat for Father's Day, and we went camping. There's never a time when we feel like we have enough of our farm chores done to justify taking the afternoon off, but we had to get over feeling like that. A quote one of my friends shared recently sums it up. "In business, what doesn't get done today, can likely wait until tomorrow; but with family, what doesn't get done today is gone forever," - "Procrastinate on Purpose" by Rory Vaden.
Life is both challenging and joyful and I believe it's meant to be that way. But sometimes a little coaching can help us minimize the challenges and maximize the joys.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 75 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children - Dan, 8, Monika, 6, and Daphne, 2. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.