By the Numbers … Monday

[Have you ever noticed how many articles in magazines have a number in the title? We’re going to do an entire week of them. These are the exceptions that prove the rule, as in The Jungle, we rarely work by the numbers. That’s not The Jungle Way. SB SM]

6 Tips on How to Work: The Most Important Self-Reliance Skill Ever

by Steve Maxwell

In October of 1986, I cut through a tumbledown wire fence and drove my old pickup truck onto the rural property I’d just bought with my life savings. I was a 23-year-old dreamer back then, with a desire to live in the country by the labor of my own hands. I’m now living that dream and thriving on that same property along with my wife, Mary, and our five kids. We built our own house, and we enjoy food, fuel and beauty from our land. We’re now blessed to see a second generation setting up a homestead of their own, and putting their self-reliance skills to use, on our family acreage.

Few other dreamers I’ve known have managed to fulfill their ambitions. In my experience, most dreams don’t die because of a lack of practical homesteading skills or passion, but rather become casualties of the failure of knowing to work efficiently to get enough of the right kind of work done. Bills pile up, gardens don’t get planted, roofs continue to leak, enthusiasm wanes. The cause of these problems often goes unrecognized until passion is cold, relationships frazzled and finances exhausted. Knowing how to work efficiently on a homestead where you are your own boss requires a specific skill set that contrasts sharply with the skills needed to work a traditional office job. I’ve worked for wages and now I work from home on my own land, and the two experiences are entirely different. If your goal is to be in charge of your own successful modern homestead, you must learn how to work, which is just as important as learning practical skills. Put into practice the following six homesteading habits to help you get the right work done in the right way, and you’ll bring the satisfaction of self-reliant living one big step closer.

1. Learning How to Work: Set Guiding Principles

A homesteader without goals is like a ship without a rudder. You may be sailing, but you won’t end up where you want to go. You need to decide at the outset what kind of lifestyle you want. For us, it came down to three main guiding principles: Earn all family income without leaving the property, raise our kids with us at home, and provide for as many of our basic needs as possible from our own land and labor.

2. Learning How to Work: Follow a Disciplined Schedule with Rest

No boss, no outside schedules, no imposed deadlines — these are some of the attractions of working from home, but they’re also likely to contribute to failure. Not having a boss means your success will depend almost entirely on how well you determine what must get done. When setting your own schedule without imposed deadlines, you’ll thrive only if you fill your day with productive activities. Self-reliant living is really about responsibility.

3. Learning How to Work: Do the Right Work

Today, we have easy, unprecedented access via the Internet to the information needed to create a thriving homestead lifestyle. You can pick up almost any self-reliance skill imaginable, learn how to work from home, and establish international connections with like-minded folks online, which makes the Internet an invaluable tool for the modern homesteader. You’ll need many more tools, of course, but the Internet is crucial — I’m sure our homestead life would never have succeeded without it.

4. Learning How to Work: Work the Right Way

Having the proper tools to work efficiently will make a huge difference. Doing work in the right way means equipping yourself the way a professional would, not as a hobbyist would. You probably won’t be able to buy professional-grade tools and gear right away, but work toward it.

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5. Learning How to Work: Carry a Notepad

Pound for pound, my notepad and pen are the most valuable physical tools I own. They’re always with me to catch the little thoughts that waft through my head throughout the day: “Buy 5 pounds of 4-inch deck screws,” “Call Rob about shingle order,” “Take photo of spiders in pasture for blog,” “Harvest garlic.” This habit prevents me from letting tasks that need doing escape my memory, neglecting details, and wasting trips to town by forgetting to buy all the items I need.

6. Learning How to Work: Work Efficiently and Avoid Distractions

The most spectacular homesteading failures I’ve seen all involve people who talk a lot and move slowly. While the Internet is an essential homesteading tool, it’s also full of distractions that turn people into spectators and consumers rather than participants and producers. No responsible boss would allow you to watch television, play games or socialize online while you’re on the clock. What you might not realize is that, when working from home, your homestead can actually fire you. When your garden doesn’t get tilled in time and your woodpile is too small come November, the homestead will hand you a pink slip — and it will be at least as shocking as the regular kind. You’re free to indulge in these distractions during the workday, but they could cost you your dreams of a self-reliant, hands-on life. They probably will.

My day starts at about 7 a.m., when I either work on digital projects or hands-on jobs, such as fixing machinery, tending cattle and fences, or working in the garden. My wife, Mary, is a full-time homemaker. She has lunch ready for the family at noon, and then I go back to work until 6 p.m. Lately, I’ve spent my afternoons cutting and splitting firewood, and helping my son build his own house for him and his wife. The kids handle cleaning up after supper, so Mary and I are free to walk with our dog along a forest trail for a couple of miles. It’s quite a treat to hear whippoorwills sing while a full moon rises through the trees. As I write this article, my to-do list includes putting the garden to bed; completing a promotional video and website for a local marina; helping one of my sons finish a simple, portable chicken coop he’s building; picking some apples for Mary to use for a pie bee that she’s participating in with friends of hers; extending the watering system on our cattle pasture; and working on my websites with my digital assistants, Mike and Kristena, who live 400 miles away.

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This is a general pattern of our day-to-day work for six days a week. We don’t work beyond the essential chores on Sundays. The variety of a homestead workweek makes it so much nicer than hourly paid work, at least for me. I look forward to Mondays just as much as I do Fridays, and I’m excited to get out of bed each day. Our carbon footprint is smaller than it would be otherwise, because we don’t travel for work, we heat with wood, and we make, reuse and repair a lot of what we need. This isn’t the life for everyone, but it certainly is for us.

Excerpted from MOTHER EARTH NEWS, the Original Guide to Living Wisely. To read more visit Copyright 2015 by Ogden Publications Inc.

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