I hesitate to write about technology and this topic in particular because of the nature of it and the fact that I’m publishing it online. And, I admit I’m a bit of a technology junkie. But I want to be honest with where I’m at and know others may internally struggle with the same challenges.
Depending on how you’re connected with me online personally or even my farm you may have noticed a change in my online presence (and if not, that’s ok too). In late May I decided to start a month-long digital hiatus, primarily from social media, and attempt to cut back the invisible tether to my phone.
This spring I found myself feeling smothered with life, feeling like a standstill while at the same time never having enough time for my business and farm, and even more importantly my time with my family – my kids and husband. Everything felt like it was spinning so fast, yet at times it felt like I was at a crawl. I didn’t always feel like I was in this place. I’m not sure how I got there, but I was there.
I recognized it was time to take a step back and recalibrate. I was starting to think about it, but this time I was going to start, not wait for the right time, or the next big thing to wrap up.
I’ve always been one who’s drawn to personal and professional development. So, I turned back to what gets me going. I started listening to podcasts and reading books about productivity and focus. In particular, I started listening to a few podcasts by Michael Hyatt (Lead to Win), in particular #067: Destroy Distractions with These 9 Focus-Boosting Strategies, #065: 3 Actions to Beat your Biggest Distractions, #061: My Must-Have Apps for Productivity in 2019. In a number of these episodes Michael referenced the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport several times.
So next step, I ordered Cal’s book along with Michael’s newest book Free to Focus. In the meantime, I downloaded a podcast episode where Cal was interviewed, on The Doctor’s Farmacy with Mark Hyman, M.D.: 39. How Social Media May be Ruining Your Life with Cal Newport. It was a good cliff notes version of Cal’s research and book, if you’re looking to get the overall jest of his message.
I immediately recognized that I needed to start managing how my time was spent, rather than let it get away from me. It was about living life on purpose. In particular, social media (and other apps) along with its ease to pull up on my phone became an obvious distraction I needed to figure out how to manage. Additionally, I was looking at other ways to be more productive with my farm business and also at home. This also meant evaluating my other commitments and evaluating future opportunities to make sure time was well spent for my work goals and also priorities with my family.
I decided to make little steps to get started. I ordered a real alarm clock for my nightstand and plugged in my phone on a bookshelf nearby, but not within arm’s reach. No more scrolling of emails, social media feeds or news as soon as I woke up or before I went to bed.
On my phone I turned off all notifications for all apps with the exception of text messages. At least I had to take the time to check, vs. having the phone constantly alerting me.
Next, I squeezed out the time (yes, I made time) to go to a yoga class at a local studio. I realized I needed to start taking time for me so I could function at my highest for work, my family and others in my life. I had been wanting to start practicing yoga again, but it was too easy to push it down on the priority list. It’s made a big difference in how I feel physically, even though my work on the farm has always been active, as well as mentally. There’ve been weeks where I haven’t been able to make class because of our planting schedule or family travel, but that’s ok. I just pick back up the next class that fits. I put it on my schedule and don’t take it off for other commitments unless it’s a pressing matter.
When the book arrived, I started reading it. Right away Cal talks about taking a month-long break from technology that’s tied to our phones and then afterwards start to build it back into our lives. I liked the idea and wanted to do it, but I couldn’t get myself to start. Because my business is dependent on the online space, I was trying to figure out how to make this work. Then I realized, I needed to just jump in and get started. Little steps, just like what I had started. So that day on my walk back from the barn to the house I deleted all my social media apps. I didn’t go full force as Cal indicated in his book, but I focused on the ones that I know were the major time suckers.
I wasn’t sure how to manage my farm accounts, so I started working on them from my desktop computer, which unfortunately or conveniently, died during this time period. I scheduled out some time to check in online during this time.
The first day “away” was hard I admit. I didn’t realize how much I’d open up my phone to pass the time, or while making my way somewhere. Then after the next day surprisingly I realized I didn’t miss Facebook at all. And, IT WAS SO FREEING. I admit, I did miss Instagram. I also intentionally kept my phone at a distance so I could be more in the moment and present in life with my family and even the simplest moments, like my walk from the house to the barn. It’s so easy to miss what’s happening around us because our phones inadvertently fill in the voids.
Let me get back to Facebook. I do recognize the value in it from the perspective of staying in touch with friends and family that aren’t nearby or from other times in my life, along with networking and learning from farm-related groups, and, yes, running my business. But I realized that the constant pull to always check in, get social media approval or see what others was doing was creating unneeded, unintentional stress. I needed to figure out how to make it a part of my life, but not how it had been working. Honestly, I didn’t think it was causing that much of a drain on me. I didn’t think I was using it that much.
During this digital hiatus, I also started reading at night before I went to bed as a way to help wind down from the day and turn off my brain. Eventually I switched my bedtime reading to novels or biographies and kept my self-help and business books for other times of the day. I also focused on getting some other things done so I felt like I was making progress in life. I built the porch table I had been wanting to make for several years now and made a baseball scoreboard for my son. I also made a sizable dent in organizing the farm shop, which hadn’t really been organized since we moved to the farm. I’m not trying to say look at what I’ve done, but I am in the sense of what happens when one prioritizes their time and puts some selfcare in place.
Now that I’m past the digital hiatus time. I’ve reinstalled Instagram on my phone, along with the Facebook pages app. I’m still using my personal Facebook account through my computer. I’m still working on my personal boundaries and parameters for using social media, and even for work. I’m scheduling time to use it for work just like any other task and taking pictures for the farm for future posts, not necessarily always sharing them in the moment.
Honestly, I’m still figuring out how to keep technology and the positives of social media in my life. But, I’m way more conscious of what I’m doing. The other night I started scrolling Instagram while we were watching a movie. I stopped as soon as I realized what I was mindlessly doing and put my phone down on the coffee table. It’s a work in progress, but I feel so much better on where I’m at and where I’m headed.
This morning I’m working away at the kitchen counter while I have a sick kiddo home from pre-school. This is day two that he’s home, during my usually three-day work week. I’ll note that as a farmer, I’m truly never off duty, I still have to chores, check livestock and carve out time here and there for other projects outside of my Monday-Wednesday “8 to 5” work week. Don’t get me wrong. I am very glad I have the flexibility to take time off to be here for my kids when they aren’t feeling well. And, I do want to be here for him. But, that means I also had to cancel an onsite meeting I had with a meat processor and will likely sort of get to the rest of my tasks today (working on business marketing, a community outreach project, and of course the day-to-day work of the farm). That’s ok. It’s part of being a parent. But, if I’m really being honest as a one-woman shop, I admit it’s a little disheartening to feel like I’m losing traction on getting things done and moving the needle on my farm business.
Aside from my parent duties today (and, of course every day), part of the reason we’ve chosen to have daycare for our kids, is so I have designated time to focus on my business. It’s for a variety of motives: being present with my work and with my family, being safe around the farm, effective use of time in the office and on the farm, balance (or attempt!) between work and family time, and (also, an attempt) to prevent burn out in work and, even in our marriage. I know others who make it work and kudos to them! This is what fits for our family and farm. [Side note: Did you know that Bert on Sesame Street was just reading “50 Shades of Oatmeal” before he got interrupted by Ernie to make a movie? Ha ha. Got to love PBS Kids ]
I’ve written and talked about this balance of being a parent and farming before. And as others may also know, one of my favorite “hobbies” is to listen to podcasts for both fun and professional development. This morning seemed to be a nice fit for sharing several “good listens” in the world of podcasts as it relates to women in agriculture and leadership. Note these link to Apple podcasts since that's where I listen, but you should be able to find them on other podcast platforms.
Do you know of other relevant podcasts? I’d love to hear your recommendations! I know have a few more Female Farmer Project and Sharpen podcasts on related to this topic on my "listen list."
This column was recently featured in the October/November Rural Route magazine from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
Since the beginning of time, farmers have been innovators, meaning technology and farming have always gone hand in hand.
High-speed internet, or broadband, has become a vital utility in our lives. One that could arguably be grouped with electricity, water and sewer; however, if you live in a rural area, this near necessity isn’t available.
Broadband is a topic I am very passionate about. I raise goats for meat for cultural and local foods markets. Most of my sales, direct and wholesale, are made through the internet. In today’s world, almost all products and software are internet-based. Poor internet makes it hard to do business even at a basic level.
It’s a challenge to send emails, use my accounting program or manage my farm website. It takes an excessive amount of time and sometimes doesn’t happen due to service issues. My husband, who works from home, can’t always access his company server or use web conference calling because of low speed and inconsistent internet.
We are rural, but nothing extreme. We are 13 miles from the closest town and an hour from a major metro area. We’ve tried different options for providers, even multiple services at one time, including satellite internet and cell phones. Nothing worked well. Now, we use DSL through our telephone provider, because I refuse to pay for services that don’t work. Others who don’t live far from us pay half the price for speeds that are at least 50 times the speed of what we use, which is 2 megabytes of bits per second, but only after pleading that 1 mbps wasn’t sufficient.
In August, I discussed rural broadband challenges with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue while he was in Wisconsin. I explained our situation in western Wisconsin but also shared other frustrations that I’ve heard of such as paying a $100-plus a month and speeds of 0.2 mbps.
For example, a friend who has a robotic milk system can’t update her software. The system service tech downloads the update at his shop and creates the updates via hard drive on the farm. Pretty impressive technology, right? Talk about a disadvantage.
A fellow Farm Bureau member discussed another point during a round table with Secretary Perdue. Some school districts provide students with iPads so they can do homework, but some rural students can’t use them at home because of broadband availability.
In the 2017-19 state budget, $9,187,500 was allocated for schools to apply for specifically designated broadband for personal electronic computing devices. This will be useless without adequate broadband.
Rural areas are suffering to keep up. We’re talking about basic access to useable internet for our businesses and students to learn, not for entertainment.
The keyword in that last sentence was ’useable.’ Simply having internet doesn’t cut it. It’s about having access to useable, reliable service at a reasonable price.
Have you tested your internet speed? Use these steps:
For reference the Federal Communications Commission calls 10 mbps basic speed, but has set 25 mbps as its benchmark. I highly recommend you test what your internet speed.
While there’s still a long way to go, broadband expansion is at least growing. The Broadband Expansion Grant Program provides funds for equipment and construction expenses to expand or improve broadband service in underserved areas of Wisconsin.
Created by Governor Scott Walker in the 2013-15 budget, the Legislature initially invested $500,000 per year for the program, but it was increased to $1.5 million annually in the next budget.
Understanding the critical and timely need for a broadband infrastructure investment in the 2017-19 budget, Governor Walker proposed a significant expansion of the program: approximately $14 million. At the same time, the Legislature approved bills to dramatically increase funding, in response to the recommendations that came in 2016 from the Joint Legislative Council’s Study Committee on Rural Broadband.
Wisconsin will see $570 million invested in broadband infrastructure through 2020 via the Federal Communication Commission’s Connect American Fund Phase II project. Three major telecommunications providers in the state are participating in this program with many projects under construction.
This may seem like a significant amount of money to invest in a broadband infrastructure, and don’t get me wrong, it is, but the need in rural Wisconsin for faster and more reliable useable service so farmers, and students, can do what they need to do is significant.
It’s a wise investment in the people and businesses in rural Wisconsin and one that I believe is long overdue.
I own and manage Cylon Rolling Acres in northwestern Wisconsin. On my farm I raise Boer - Kiko meat goats on pasture.
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Cylon (pronounced Si-lon) is the name of our township in St. Croix County, Wisconsin. Sorry fans, our farm is not named after the robots of Battlestar Galactica.