Dairy Good Life

Paper along with digital

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Schedules and lists. That’s what parents and dairy farmers are made of. The top questions in our house are: What do we have going on today? What’s on your list for today? Who’s on the schedule?

Most weeks, managing the schedules and lists to make sure everyone is where they need to be and everything gets done in a timely manner feels like a job that should have its own title. I think Chief Scheduling Officer sounds nice.

For us, the tools of the CSO trade are both old-school and new-age. We use both paper and digital versions for our calendar and list applications.

In the house, we have a special written calendar, — more on that in minute — and I use the Google Calendar app. When I first got a smart phone and started using Google Calendar, I quickly learned that both the paper calendar in the kitchen and the digital calendar on my phone need to be synched frequently. It never turned out well when I wrote an appointment or event on the paper calendar but forgot to put in my calendar app, or vice versa. We’re years into this system now, and Glen frequently asks, “Is the kitchen calendar up to date?”

Our kitchen calendar is a God’s creation calendar made by Youth Group Promotions in Willmar, Minnesota. I received one of their calendars as a door prize at a baby shower when Dan was a toddler and have ordered one every year since. They’re perfect calendars for a highly scheduled family because they’re made of heavy-duty cardstock instead of flimsy paper. The picture parts of the calendar are glossy photos of beautiful landscapes, but each monthly calendar grid is printed on the papery side of the cardstock. This makes writing on the calendar with a mechanical pencil both practical and tactically satisfying. I never mark the calendar with ink — I think for symbolic reasons — because nothing in a life that includes both kids and cows is that permanent.

We keep a New Holland calendar in the barn. I pick one up from our implement dealer every December. We use it more as a journal than a schedule. Freshenings, dry offs, and other events are marked on the calendar. Every event is documented digitally in DairyComp, as well, but we like keeping a paper record; perhaps, because we always kept a similar herd calendar when I was kid and digital-only records feel too vulnerable. It’s surprising how often we dig out an old calendar to look something up, usually when we’re trying to remember who a cow’s great-granddam is, because DairyComp doesn’t keep records of cows who have left the herd. 

We added another calendar category to our system: employee calendars. It took a bit of trial and error to find an efficient method for scheduling our employees’ shifts. Most of our employees are students or have another job, so their shifts move around a bit from week to week to accommodate their schedules. I draft the schedule on a paper calendar that I print from a template. We keep this copy in the house for at-a-glance referencing. It also doubles a place to document actual shifts worked.

I share the schedule with our team through an app called Sling. For all of us, Sling has been a game-changer. Employees can easily access their shift schedules, and I’m not printing or texting schedules (two of the methods we tried before Sling). If employees need to switch shifts, it’s easy to make the change in the app.

We use the time tracking feature in Sling, as well, which makes the app even more helpful. Employees clock in and clock out on their phones. Each pay period, Sling tabulates their hours, so all I need to do is export them to our payroll program. It’s faster than the paper timesheets and spreadsheet I used prior.

Sling also has messaging and announcement features that I use to let employees know when schedules are published or there’s an open shift available due to illness, etc.

I also have both paper and digital versions of my to-do lists. Glen’s list is a nitrile version. He writes his to-do’s on his milking glove. Paper works better for me for most lists. The act of writing something down makes it much easier for me to remember when my list isn’t in front of me. I usually use sticky notes, because I love crossing items off the list and then tossing the notes when everything is done. I use digital apps for lists like the grocery store and for Leedstone and Fleet Supply.

Speaking of lists, I’m going to go cross “Dairy Star column” off and move onto my next task. Until next time, I hope both your schedules and to-do lists are manageable.

Sadie Frericks and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children: Dan, Monika, and Daphne. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.

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