Material for this article has been adapted from a post published on the Procurious blog on Feb 13 2019.
Growing great fruit, running a business, and thinking about the future while trying to get through the next few years; managing an orchard can be tough. But when you’re under the pump, the harder you try to juggle multiple tasks, the less effective you are at performing all of them. Sometimes taking a step back and reflecting on your approach can make everything easier.
Much of this comes down to mindset. In high pressure situations, you begin to worry. You worry about the volume of tasks, time frames, the pressures put on you to deliver, and your overall responsibility for your business. And when you worry about too many things at once, it’s easy for the brain to become overwhelmed.
The term for this is “paralysis by analysis.” Paralysis by analysis occurs when people try to control every aspect of what they are doing in an attempt to ensure success. This increased control can backfire and disrupt performance instead. Pressure-filled situations can deplete a part of the brain’s processing power known as working memory, which is critical to many everyday activities.
Psychologist Sian Beilock has shown the importance of working memory in helping people perform their best, in academics and in business. Working memory is lodged in the prefrontal cortex and is a sort of ‘mental scratch pad’ that is temporary storage for information relevant to the task at hand.
Research has proven when the ability of working memory to direct attention to what’s relevant is compromised, the brain is effectively running lots of programs at once and everything slows down. In terms of how the brain processes information, we know that the brain dedicates capacity to verbal information and some capacity to spatial information. When people are worried it is common that they talk to themselves in their head – worries tend to be verbal and therefore compete for the limited pool of capacity.
Sian found that when students are presented with a mathematical problem presented horizontally “32 – 17 = x” it demands more of the brain’s verbal resources than when the same problem is presented vertically.
The brain processes vertical information visually and therefore accesses the spatial capacity which has less demand for its resources. This is often why even the act of making a list can make tasks much more manageable.
Understanding how the brain works is one thing, but there’s a big difference between understanding something in theory and putting it into practice. Here are five techniques you can use to keep your tasks under control:
President Eisenhower pioneered his technique of decision making and prioritisation; a four-box quadrant that helps you organise tasks in order of urgency and importance. On one axis you have ‘level or urgency’ and on the other axis you have ‘level of importance’.
Dividing tasks up into one of the resulting boxes this way lets you figure out how to best spend your time. For tasks you deem ‘important’, the matrix outlines what you should do first (urgent and important) and what you should schedule for a set time later (not urgent but important). For tasks that are not important, you can see what to delegate (urgent but not important) and what tasks you should ignore, or at the very least do last. If delegation is not an option for the urgent but unimportant tasks, finish them after the urgent and important ones but allow important and non-urgent tasks to take precedence when their scheduled time arrives.
It can be tempting to think all your daily tasks are urgent and important (and, in the orchard, there are days they will be), but the more honestly you divide your tasks on this matrix at the start of the day or week, the better you can manage your time to do what really needs to be done.
Find an organisational app like Trello
Once you have identified the individual tasks and organised them into an Eisenhower, it can be helpful to transfer them to an electronic platform where you can easily access and update them. Having your to do list in an electronic platform gives you the opportunity to share your to do list and collaborate with other people as well as update things when you’re on the go.
This can extend to many aspects of running an orchard or packhouse, from managing time sheets to apps for safety management.
This is a time management technique dating back to the 1980s created by Francesco Cirillo based on the principle of short, sharp, concentrated bursts of activity. The technique is named after the Pomodoro (tomato) timer that Cirillo used when he was at university.
Given it relies on concentrated bursts of activity in an environment where it’s easy to switch between working and a break, it’s more suited to the times you’re stuck at a desk. You may need to play with the time period that suits you, from fifteen minutes to an hour.
More on the Pomodoro Technique.
Technology lock down
It’s so simple to do, and sometimes very hard: turn off your internet, or at the very least close any apps or emails that might notify or distract you. We all like to think that we can resist the temptation, but research shows even minor breaks of concentration can have significant impacts on your productivity. Unless you absolutely need to stay in contact to do the task at hand, just say no.
Change your environment
When you are stuck at a desk doing clerical work, an easy way to lift productivity is to work away from your usual spot. A different desk, table, or anywhere outside your home or office. It can be anywhere just as long as you can concentrate. Breaking away from your usual work spot should reinforce the objective you are trying to achieve and can keep you from being interrupted.
“Remind yourself that you have the background to succeed and that you are in control of the situation. This can be the confidence boost you need when facing life’s challenges,” Sian advised.