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Avoiding August blues and other summer pitfalls

Bob Milligan for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 May 2018
Avoid summer pitfalls

Summer is an exciting time on a ranch or farm. The crops are growing. Children are out of school. Livestock are often outside. As summer progresses, the excitement can turn to what is often referred to as the August blues. Why?

  • Weather, especially when it is very hot or unfavorable
  • The usual summer uncertainty about crop yields, prices
  • Summer means more work to be done.

Too often, the August blues lead to emotions of frustration, anger, even depression. These emotions often trigger negative behaviors. These emotions and negative behaviors are more easily triggered when we are exhausted or tired. Hot weather is a large contributor to the August blues.

What can we do throughout the summer to avoid or at least reduce the August blues? The best analogy I can suggest is to recognize summer – the crop season for that matter – is a marathon, not a sprint.

I don’t know a lot about running a marathon, but I do know the leader at the end of 1 mile, 5 miles, even 10 miles is rarely the winner of a marathon. The winner often has energy (and will) to almost sprint near the finish line while others wilt.

The analogy for a ranch or farm can be taken a little further. As August and summer end, we head into harvest. If the summer has not been treated as a marathon, there will be insufficient energy left for harvest – the sprint to the finish line.

Let’s look at how we can treat summer as a marathon. We start by looking at what can be done each day. We conclude by looking at the whole summer as a marathon.

Treat every day as a marathon

Here are some of my everyday ideas to avoid the August blues:

  • Be generous in conveying your gratitude for everyone’s hard work. Positive feedback is always good. The tougher things get, the more it is needed but the less we are inclined to remember to provide it. Providing high-quality positive feedback must be a priority.

    To be high-quality, it must complement specific actions, behaviors or attitudes. “You are doing great” is not sufficient. High-quality feedback is actually hard work (with great rewards). You need to commit to that hard work.

  • Insist everyone take appropriate breaks every day. Breaks increase productivity, despite the downtime. Remember: Just as your tractors and combines require fuel and maintenance, you and your employees require breaks.

  • When it is hot, everyone must remain hydrated. Be absolutely certain everyone has access to liquids – water, lemonade, iced tea, etc. – and they are encouraged to consume.

  • Be ever-vigilant for frustration and other signs of the August blues. You constantly monitor your cattle and crops for problems; similarly, monitor yourself and your employees for signs of fatigue, frustration, impatience or anxiety.

  • Provide constant encouragement. Encouragement restores confidence we can succeed, excel, even persevere.

  • Continually communicate why what we are doing is correct, needed, important. Incorporate the ranch or farm vision and established goals when explaining why.

Treat summer as a marathon

There are three reasons I believe my marathon analogy is especially relevant in the summer.

1. The weather is hot. The correlation between tiredness and fatigue and negative emotions, and even poor behaviors, is real.

2. On most farms and ranches, this is the busiest season and the one with the most uncertainty – yields, prices, etc.

3. This is the time when many families take their vacation. Although the summer family vacation is certainly less the norm it was many decades ago; it is still common. Many of my clients struggle to provide time for themselves and their employees to enjoy summer activities and take a vacation.

Let’s think about the importance of summer time off for you and your employees. Maybe you’ve heard a story like this: “My dad always bragged he didn’t take a day off in 50 years. But after Mom died, he regretted they never took that trip she dreamed of. He told me to be sure to get away with my family. I took his advice – and I’m glad I did.”

You probably can think of a hundred reasons why you shouldn’t take a vacation. Here are some reasons you should:

  • Spend time with your family.

  • Gain a clearer perspective on the business.

  • Create memories that last a lifetime.

  • Develop confidence this can be done again. (You may be surprised at who steps up while you are gone.)

  • Reduce stress by focusing your energies elsewhere.

  • Discover how other people live. (You might even gain valuable insights about your ranch business.)

Part of the stress release of vacations is in the excitement and process of planning what to do. Remember, vacations don’t always have to cost a lot. A contingency plan to handle something going wrong on the ranch is a must for the business and for your ability to relax.

A 50-year-old farm family talks about how they viewed the barriers to taking a vacation: “Every time we’ve taken a vacation, my husband feels better physically and mentally when we return. He’s rested and upbeat. But that also makes it hard to come back sometimes because we know what the workload is going to be like.

What stops us from planning vacations isn’t money or people to fill in – because we have those, at least for the moment. It’s this notion we are indispensable, and no one else can do things quite as well when we’re gone. Once we get beyond that, it’s no problem.”

The take-home message

Research indicates individuals who have less stress at work (the daily marathon) and take time away from work (the summer marathon) are better family members and better business people. Reflect and plan now to create alternatives to allow that to happen. But, most of all, make it become a reality today and all summer long.  end mark

ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Corey Lewis.

Bob Milligan is also professor emeritus, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University. 

Bob Milligan
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