Family lunches and coffee key to solo work at home

One thing I’ve always counted on: if you call a farmer’s home at noon, you’ll catch them at lunch.

That appears to be true about 90 percent of the time, by my experience of 25 years.

Why is that? Farmers work for themselves. They can set their own clocks. But most follow a rigid schedule.

I think that’s what you have to do to keep things productive and professional if you work for yourself, relatively alone and at home.

I understand that because for the last 25 years that’s mostly how I’ve worked. First in Regina, then Camrose and now Winnipeg I’ve worked in one-man news bureaus. For some of the years between 1994 and 2000 I worked in The Western Producer’s main newsroom, but for 20 of the past 25 years I’ve been solo.

For the last three and a half years, I’ve worked from a home office, as well as having numerous days before that when sick kids or other complications forced me to stay in the house.

Rigid schedules are one common trick for staying sane and productive in a home office environment.

That’s something millions of Canadians are beginning to learn now, as COVID-19 control ravages workplaces across the nation. What farmers have done forever, city workers, business operators and service providers are scrambling to figure out.

What are the keys to being productive and focused in a home-based office or solo business situation?

I put up a Twitter poll about this, and farmers put having a schedule as the Number 1 most important thing needed to successfully work from home.

Number 2 was good coffee. I completely agree. I picked up a thing for premium teas once I started regularly working from home. It’s a little treat and break from the grind of work. That’s something urban and town workers need to realize.

Many are probably also realizing that work is different when the rest of the family is around. For farmers, there’s usually at least a spouse on the farm, and often kids, parents and sometimes grandparents.

That can be a challenge to manage unless everybody understands the difference between work time and family time. Most farm families have got that worked out pretty well. My kids understand it too.

With my wife, it’s a work in progress, now that she’s having to work out of the house temporarily since we’re on a two-week self-isolation lockdown after coming back from holidays in Mexico. Operating her business out of the dining room is a new experience.

But one of the best aspects of being a farmer is that work, business, family and life are intertwined. There are divisions of roles and spaces, there are understandings about time, but the family is not incidental to the farm. It’s central.

That’s another element of why farmers are committed to getting home for lunch most days.

“Lunch is served at our kitchen table unless it’s spring or fall,” responded J. Andrashewski to a question I tweeted.

“It’s a time to recharge and reconnect with one another. We miss this time during busy seasons.”

Vanessa Kurtzweg said, “lunch at home except for seeding and harvest, when it’s delivered. It’s the family connection, and that moment of pause can recalibrate your day.”

That’s some wisdom non-farmers can probably get a lot of benefit from if they’re suddenly working from home and feeling a little unmoored: work, have a family lunch, then get back to work. You can be together while working separately.

That’s something I’ve got to pick up. I’m not used to having my kids and my wife here all day, and while my work schedule has survived, the house seems to be floating in a timeless zone, with school and all the regular activities and outings cancelled.

Time to start having lunches all together, at noon sharp, every day. Like we’re living on a farm.

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