Many summers ago, during my university years, I was privileged to have long summer breaks. University would finish mid-November, and start in late February. 3 months to enjoy the warmer weather.
Except, I didn’t have a holiday. Like many students, I worked over these breaks. Probably more than most. 6 day weeks, sometimes even seven, and generally at least 10 hours days, but several well north of 15 hours.
You see, the summer holidays coincide with crop harvests and planting for many farmers in NZ. And since I grew up on a farm, I learned how to drive tractors. Since it was difficult to find part-time work in my field of study, I fell back onto the skill I had learned growing up.
This turned out to be fortunate. Relative to other student jobs, driving tractors paid really well. They offered me $20 an hour with free accommodation and a work ute. The work ute wasn’t the best, to say the least. But I would rather drive that around on all the gravel roads and through rivers rather than letting my Camry take the beating.
The ute had been beaten, bashed, and thrashed by previous workers. It had to go through a lot of torment every time it would get towed by the tractors.
This was back in 2010 when the minimum NZ wage was $12.75, which was a great rate. The one downside is that it was about 2 hours away from where I lived in the middle of nowhere in a town with only 300 people.
The upside to this was that I enjoyed the work, and to this day, I often contemplate going back just for the fun of driving machinery. The other benefit of working in the middle of nowhere was that there was no real way of spending money out there. There wasn’t much else to do other than work.
I was 18 at the time and was a bit shocked at how trusting they were of me. After being trained with the boss for an hour or so, they let me have the reins. My first job was to mowing some fields on the farm that I was staying at. I have mowed grass in my younger years on my parents’ farm, but I have never mowed on this scale before. The machinery was large, and the fields were large.
I showed my in-experience straight away. About 4 hours into the mowing job, I hit an irrigation outlet. The outlet was under pressure and created quite a large geyser in the middle of the field. It through the mower off the ground. It was a sight to see.
We didn’t have irrigation where I was from, so I didn’t expect any to be in the fields. The farmer assured me that it was not entirely my fault. He had forgotten to erect the marker for the outlet. It had fallen over and disappeared in the long grass.
Even after this accident, about a week later the syndicate of farmers who owned the tractors bought a brand new one, and with only 10s of hours on the machine they gave it to me to drive. What other job do you give a week old employee, who has just turned 18, the keys to a $200k vehicle?
Are They Nuts?
Being a small operation serving about 15 or so farms, the work was varied. Moving, bailing, tilling, ploughing, and seeding. There were always lessons on how to use new gear. And the difficulty of trying to get 13-foot tractors through 12-foot gates.
The scenery in this part of New Zealand was a great thought, and I enjoyed the time to think on the long slow jobs- tractors work isn’t fast. Anyway, the is one lesson that I learned over my 3 summers driving tractors that I wanted to share with you. And it is one that you can apply to many other areas of your life, even your finances.
Let Me Set The Scene.
Only 3 of us worked for the syndicate, the boss, another drive, let’s call him Tim, who was previously a welder, and me. Most of our work was not dependent on each other, but some were. When it comes to harvesting crops, generally you need several tractors running at the same time.
Take silage, for example. You have several jobs that are linked in a chain. Mowing, raking, carting and stacking. So if one part of the chain breaks down, the entire chain is held up.
Tim and I Approached Jobs with Different Attitudes.
Tim’s approach was to get the hard stuff out-of-the-way first, and then he could relax a little while he finished the easy stuff. My approach was to finish the easy stuff and then worry about the hard stuff later.
One day on a large dairy operation, we had about 100 or so hectares of grass to mow for silage. We set off early in the morning, at about 5 am, so we would arrive at the farm before the dew burned off. The farm was 40 minutes drive. Tractors are not fast on the road
Tim decided to start in a field known to have many stones and rocks in it. He wanted to get the difficult field out-of-the-way early. By the way, rocks and stones are not good for a mower.
After about an hour or so, Tim had stopped many times to change blades. Then just before lunch a stone had flicked out of the mower and hit his back window, smashing it entirely.
Then another few hours later, the front mower’s tower drum bearing started to seize. It would have been hard to see while driving that there was a problem. But the leftover grease caught fire, with smoke billowing from the front, it became self-evident.
More than half the day had gone by, and he had only just completed the first difficult field. I was scheduled to take over from him in the afternoon.
First off, I had to run back and get many new spare blades. He had run through all the parts that were carried on board. I continued and smashed through the remaining field- in roughly the same amount of time- and only running the back mower since the front mower had broken.
He had done roughly 30% of the job with two mowers in 6 hours, and I finished the other 60% in 6 hours, only running one mower.
To The Point…
What this taught me is that you should always tackle the easy task first.
Taking the easy tasks first means that you will achieve the most in the shorter amount of time.
Tackling the hard tasks first can result in achieving little with the same amount of time, and having the possibility of breaking down.
This lesson can be implemented in all parts of your life. Tackling the easy tasks first. Be it the easy wins you can have with your personal finance, or easy tasks around the home.
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3 thoughts on “What Driving Tractors Taught Me”
Great post Rohan. I spent way too long trudging through mud tackling the tough tasks first only to give up too early.
It’s great to build momentum by starting with the simple stuff. I do this when writing, often just jotting down all the easy stuff then filling in the complex gaps later. Obviously I apply this in other areas too. 😉
Keep up the good work, Rohan.
I’m the same Bull, have many half written post that just need the complex stuff completed. Sometime it bite me in that I never get them completed thought. So it does have it’s downsides!
Great post. Definitely this strategy is useful in many other parts of life.
In my own programming career sometimes I get bogged down trying to solve a particularly difficult problem and I don’t notice until it’s already end of day. Quick wins give a sense of achievements.
For personal finance this sounds similar to the debt snowball method. https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/get-out-of-debt-with-the-debt-snowball-plan