This time of year gets crazy for flower growers. Not only are we harvesting, marketing, weeding, watering, fertilizing, delivering flowers, making bouquets, working farmers’ markets, but still planting new crops. One day last week, as I stood on my processing porch preparing a rush order for delivery, intermittently giving directions to my part-time student helpers, a florist arrived.  I had completely forgotten that she was coming to pick up an order. We took care of her, but I began to wonder how many other things I’m forgetting.
I live in perpetual fear of ruining someone’s party by forgetting to deliver their flowers.  Now, I admit some of this may be age-related, but I suspect that for all of us, whatever our age, keeping organized and managing our time is especially challenging during these peak-season months. And keeping track of things is even more difficult for us flower growers because requests and orders can come at any time. Farmers’ market customers stop by to say “I need flowers for a party next Wednesday,” or a florist calls while you are in the field.  How can we manage our busiest times without going crazy?
Many years ago, before I lived in flower world, my direct supervisor was an executive VP at a Freddie Mac (yes, that Freddie Mac, but before it started doing stupid things.)  Paul was the most organized person I ever met, but also an easygoing, laid-back sort of guy. He spent 30 minutes every morning reviewing his long-term goals and his plans for the day, week and month. Although he was quite a busy person, Paul’s desk was always clean, and his mind always seemed clear. My boss tried diligently to teach his staff better organization. He took us to a Stephen Covey seminar, got us discounts on his books, and conducted an informal course on time-management. For me, this stuff really helped. I started using a planner, set goals, managed my time better, and kept my desk clean. But that was a long time ago, and there’s been a lot of backsliding since then.
Looking at my cluttered desk and kitchen table, and realizing that things seem a bit out of control, I decided to get better organized. My first step was to buy The 25 Best Time Management Tools & Techniques: How to Get More Done Without Driving Yourself Crazy by Pamela Dodd and Doug Sundheim. This is a quick read, doesn’t contain any earth-shattering revelations, but has some useful tips and tidbits. Some of these won’t be new to you, but a little review can’t hurt:

•    Use a personal planning system—either paper or a PDA—and keep all your tasks here, not on stickies or stray pieces of paper.

•    Write down your goals. Make them SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound).

•    Plan backward. Pick a goal, list the milestones to achieve the goal by the deadline, set dates for each milestone, starting with the deadline and working backward. Then list the actions required to complete each milestone. Your plan transforms your “busyness” into focused productivity.

•    Make “to do” lists and prioritize them. Rank each item as A (high priority), B (medium priority) or C (low priority), and then group them by letter or color-code them. Each day, make sure you complete your As, and then go to Bs and Cs as you can.  If a task can be completed in 3 minutes or less, do it now.

•    Schedule unpleasant tasks early in the day.

•    Discover your peak time of day and do your most important work then, when you have the most energy and think most clearly. Of course, flower growers have little choice in the summer—we have to get lots done in the mornings.

•    Get a good filing system. Most of use only 20 percent of the papers we file and spend at least 75 hours a year looking for lost papers. A few years ago, I bought a good system (The Paper Tiger), but you can develop a similar system yourself.  The trick is to number your files and file them by number instead of alphabetically. Create a database that lists each file by number, name and keywords. You can create database categories too—business, family, finances, etc. Then when you need a file, go to your database and search on your keywords. It makes files so much easier to find!

•    Set up tickler files to keep track of items needing further action. Label twelve 1/3-cut file folders January through December. Label thirty-one 1/3 cut file folders 1 through 31 (for the days in any month). Put the monthly folders in a hanging file nearby. Behind them put the daily folders. At the beginning of each month, take out that month’s file and put all its items in the appropriate daily files. When new items needing attention come along (by mail, email or phone), put a large note (not a sticky note) in the appropriate folder (day or month). Each night, take out the next day’s folder. The next day, handle all the items in that folder. This actually works, but only if you use it. I admit to being a slacker.

•    Do one thing at a time.  Multitasking actually reduces productivity, because it means moving quickly back and forth between tasks, so that none get our full attention. Of course, our work often involves brief connections—at the farmers’ market, for example, or interrupting one task to direct workers on another. The experts advise concentrating fully on each one (spotlighting), even if it is just for a short time. Give each task your undivided attention.

•    Don’t obey your every thought. It’s so easy to get sidetracked in the field. You’re harvesting, notice weeds and so start weeding. The better approach is to just write yourself a reminder about the weeding, and keep on harvesting.

•    If you are really having trouble with organization or time management, you can get help from a professional organizer. Did you know there is actually a National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO)? Check them out at

    According to Dodd and Sundheim, “People who manage their time well get more done, feel less stress, have better relationships, feel better about themselves and their lives, and have ample time to do the things they like to do”—like attending the 2009 ASCFG National Conference in Hauppauge, New York