Running Your Business Shouldn’t Mean Working All of the Time with Chris Thoreau (FSFS145)


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            How does your life look like right now? How does it feel? Are you enjoying it, or do you feel like you’re overloading yourself and you’re starting to feel like you’re getting bogged down?

            If you do, then you probably need to stop and finally take some time off and reset.

            Today, I have a friend, microgreen grower Chris Thoreau on the show to talk about balancing life and business and planning for life in business.


Today’s Guest: Chris Thoreau

            Christ Thoreau is a microgreen grower in Canada. He has been growing vegetables, particularly microgreens, for the past ten years. And those ten years weren’t all fun and rainbows—there were definitely times when Chris had to implement some self-care.


Relevant Links

            Chris Thoreau’s Microgreens Business Course – Website  


In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart

  • The biggest challenges Chris Thoreau has faced when it comes to balancing life and the business (02:40)
  • How Chris has managed and has been managing the burnout through the years (05:50)
  • Quickly getting away from the idea that you need to do everything (10:30)
  • The realistic number of hours put into farm work to make it a sustainable source of income (12:40)
  • Doubling down on a system to make your operation run more efficiently (14:50)
  • What are you willing to sacrifice? Clearing up some mental space to work without resentment (15:30)
  • Seriously enforcing self-care (18:35)
  • Drawing benefits from memory as motivation (22:40)
  • Overcoming the static friction slowly but surely (24:30)


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Diego: [00:00:00] Sometimes when you're in a rut, the best thing you can do is stop working and take some time off. That's the theme of today's episode with grower Chris Thoreau. Welcome to the world of farming, small and farming smart. I'm your host, Diego. Today's episode with Chris Thoreau is a different type of episode.

It's different because it's say shorter episode and the subject matter that we take on in this one. It's shorter for a couple of reasons. One is because I recorded this episode with a really, really bad cold. You'll probably hear it in my voice when we recorded this one, two, it's the very last new episode that'll air prior to a two-month podcast hiatus for me.

And that hiatus ties directly into this episode. What do you do when you're running a business, and it seems like all you do is work, and you can't get a break and you feel like there's no light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes the entrepreneur in us is just like grit and bear it and push on and keep working.

But that could put you into a rut. That could make you snappy. It could leave you bitter. And I think right now I'm a little bit of both, if I'm being honest. So for a long time, I've planned on taking this two-month break as a reset. I want you to listen to this episode and think about the stuff that Chris and I talk about in it, and then think about you and think about self-care.

How does your life look right now in terms of balance? I know if you're a veggie farm, this is the busiest time of year. Don't let that busy burn you out physically or mentally. Don't let that busy spill out onto the other people in your life. And don't be afraid to take some time off and enjoy the summer while you have it.

Diego: [00:02:10] With that, let's jump into it. It's balancing life and planning for life and business. With Chris Thoreau. Now, one thing that can be really challenging for a lot of people that take on the entrepreneurial lifestyle farming related or not is balancing out life and running a business. And I know firsthand it is a lot harder than advertised, and it's been tricky.

Your life has changed a lot. And you've grown a lot since you first started growing microgreens as a business over 10 years ago. What was one of the biggest challenges you faced of just balancing non-business life with running a business?

Chris Thoreau: [00:02:54] The biggest challenge was balance in general. I had no balance in the beginning and we've talked a bit about this before and in the beginning, you should expect to put more time and hours in, some of your hobbies go to the wayside.

Maybe you're not running as much or doing that. You're playing soccer once a week, instead of twice a week. There's a certain sacrifice you need to make in order to make something happen, even if you're not starting from scratch. Even if you say you've done these videos, you've done some of Curtis's videos, you've got a good set of information.

Knowing the information is one thing, being able to execute with that information as another. And so because of that steep learning curve, all your extra time and thus all your extra energy goes into that. And what happens is more than just your activities go by the wayside. What happens is it can affect your personal relationships as well.

most people have some pretty solid relationships and I think they can handle a bit of chaos, but one of the tricks is that can't last for too long, and that can't be your business model. So I think having a plan in the beginning about how are you going to get to a point of balance as quickly as possible?

Remembering that continually working actually, isn't always that efficient because at a certain point, our efficiency really starts to decline because we're not focused. We're not tired. We feel we should be working, but if that work isn't producing any results or moving you forward, Then you're actually moving yourself backwards because not only are you not doing work, you're actually fatiguing yourself.

And this is when you get into burnout and different people talk about burnout and different people experience it to different degrees. But when you really experience burnout, you're like, Oh, like I am done. I cannot look at my computer. I cannot socialize. I might be able to get out of bed today.

And so there's a real question sequential so that, because if you start averaging those days in with your productive days, what happens if is your productive day still only average out to about, seven to nine hours of productive work a day.

So it's important to even if you don't have the skills and the plan to make that happen in the beginning to have that in mind, to work towards that and try to pull yourself away from the work occasionally, and do more social things and do more recreational things. So you don't get caught up in something and start to resent it before it's even had a chance to find success.

Diego: [00:05:32] I think burnout is one of those things that a lot of people will find themselves facing. And I feel like I'm quasi-there now either. On the front side of it or on the backside of it, I'm not quite sure. And I've always had trouble balancing it because on one hand, you feel like you need to keep applying pressure to the gas pedal to move things forward. And if it's a solo business, you feel like it's all on you.

And like you said, though, at some point you going all in on you results in a lot of hours, but productivity, I think declines. You're somebody who I don't think would be afraid to admit that, you've burned out over the years.

How have you managed that as you've gone through your career and, transition through different stages of life, having a kid to watching that child grow older to now, you're doing now you're back in grad school?

Chris Thoreau: [00:06:31] I have. I'm reflecting on that feeling of burnout that I have three distinct memories of it and I've probably had some minor versions and it's, it's a funny and interesting thing because not only is it physically, physically difficult, you just don't have the energy walking upstairs is hard. Picking up your child is hard. And when things become hard, you don't do them.

But also what also becomes hard is positive thinking. And so that's the first thing I noticed. I started to notice the onset of burnout or overworking, fatigue, just in my thinking. and the thinking is along the lines of why are you doing this? You're letting people down. There's no way you can do this. This was a mistake.

And then you got rested and you get back into things. No, hold on a minute, you're doing a good job, not everything's perfect, things are moving along. So I'm always looking for indicators and they're not just physical, but they're often mental as well.

But as I've gotten older, not that old, I'm 43�there, I said it. I've said it on recorded webinars or podcasts. it's that? So I can't work. Like I used to, I hit a point some days and I'm staring at my screen and it's, there's nothing coming out. I'm not reading anymore. I have nothing left to input.

And then when I was younger, there's a resilience when you're younger, you can do those things, you can be tired and you can keep doing it. I've said this before I should have started what I did 10 years earlier. I was actually 10 years too late because, I would have started saying my mid, early twenties.

I would have had the energy to keep that up well into my thirties. At which time I could, as I did pass off to other people. So I wasn't doing the same amount of physical labor. I wasn't taking all responsibility on myself. So it is a thing to think about, and I've done a lot of consults with folks around my age that want to make a career change or integrate this into what they're doing.

And half the session is about the system and half the session is counseling and I tried to paint a real, grounded picture of things. And I recalling a consult now where this guy was, I can't remember his name, but he's yeah, I'm going to bring my parents from overseas. They're going to help me run the business. We'll hire a few people. We're gonna run it from our yard.

And in essence, like he had it all worked out. But then I said, so I just want you to picture this day twice a week. Every day of the year for, for as long as you run this business, there's people in your backyard, there's people coming and going in your house to use the washroom, your privacy on those days is gone. You lose your yard. It's not your yard anymore. it's a business that you're a part of.

And it wasn't, an effort to dissuade him from doing it. It was just a matter of. You're giving up some of your personal space in your personal life in order to run this business. Is it going to give you enough in return to make that worth it and never heard from him again. I don't think that the business is happening.

And so people do really need to think about what life looks like when you're doing this type of business. The other piece, which we've also talked about before is quickly getting away from the idea that you need to do everything.

The idea of being the production person, the marketing person, the bookkeeping person, that the farmer's markets attendee, all those different roles not only take time and energy. But I know I personally like switching between those roles can be a challenge, like me going from production mode to, marketing mode to bookkeeping mode shift in, I don't know, how I use my brain, which I find very difficult.

And so if you know that you just need to work on production deliveries and a bit of bookkeeping, and someone else is taken care of, client relations and, marketing and what else, it really takes some pressure off. And I think what it does is it makes a business more resilient, because of has more resources in these other people.

And we set up the food Pedalers model that way, very intentionally that nobody worked full time, but everybody had a lot of flexibility in their lives and most people had some other work and did some other things. And this is something that I think people look at and often say, if I'm going to farm, then I want farming to be my thing.

And to a degree, you can do that. 45% of farmers, I think in the U S at all scales. Run their farm and then half have off-farm work as well. So agriculture on its own as a profitable, financially sustaining business can be a challenge. And it can be done, there's people doing it.

But the question is, can everybody do it? And so it's a question to ask yourself, am I the person who can do this? Or, am I going to burn out, am I going to resent it? And is that going to lead me to failure as opposed to finding a group of people you can do it with and you can do it collectively. Then you're also meeting bigger goals than just the business you're meeting the goals of collaboration, community, building, networking, things like that.

So there's a lot of stuff to consider about how it's going to affect your life. And as you mature with that business, how that might shift as well.

Diego: [00:11:52] And for somebody who wants to do this full time and may gain decent income off that, meaning let's say they have a operation that produces a hundred thousand dollars a year gross. And let's say they take home about half of that.

What do you think they're putting into that realistically, hour-wise in the beginning, I know everybody's different, but I think people think they're going to come in and spend 20 hours doing this when it's probably not 20 hours.

Chris Thoreau: [00:12:23] Yeah. you can, to a degree. So I'm trying to think back to, I remember the early days, the early days was a lot of computer work, a lot of thinking, a lot of, filling my extra time. So a lot of late nights, things like that, to be honest, once I got into the production side, I became efficient pretty quickly, but key there is having that focus on efficiency and being very systematic.

And I remember I would keep going through these phases and the rule of thumb I had for myself self is when a task seems tedious, I'm not doing it the right way. There's a more efficient way to do it. And I need to find that. So in the beginning, I was revising my systems quite a bit. Within my first year, within my first summer, my year would have been, basically through September, maybe in April by that first year, most of my systems worked out because I really focused on that.

And so I did front-load that time. I did have a very busy summer and the time leading up to it, but I did so very much knowing that this would be pay off afterwards. And I think it did fairly quickly where, I rarely would do a 10 hour day ever in terms of running the business.

Where are we going get long days as I do the business portion, and then the other hours I'm putting in our development or refining systems or understanding regulations or understanding different things. So if you well, can really find a system and stick to it and keep refining it, you can get to that point fairly quickly.

So I know what we do consults with folks. I'm always asking for pictures and I can get a very good sense just from the pictures that people see, send me how organized and how systematic they are, by the way they lay out their trays, the way they lay out their benches, the way they lay out their prep area. And so there's that stuff I often try to focus on.

So people aren't doing too many movements, things are in there are set up in a way that they're doing them, the most amount of work with the least amount of time and effort going into it. So you have to be focused on getting to that point as quickly as possible during those early phases,

Diego: [00:14:31] How did you manage the extra hours in the beginning? Like were you just stuffing in the late nights and you had a child at that time? I think one of the most difficult things for me doing what I do, now, even working from home is balancing being a dad with running a business. And before I came out to record this, like my wife and kids were gone all day, they just got home.

I got to see him for 10 minutes. And then it said, sorry, I got to go, bye bye. And when you have three little kids who are excited to see you, when you have to tell them, no, I can't hang out. That's not always the easiest thing to deal with. And it does wear on you for a while. I'm a little bit used to it, but it doesn't get any easier.

Chris Thoreau: [00:15:17] It's interesting. When I started the business, like literally I started in September of 2008, my son was born in November of 2000 dates. I had just moved to Vancouver. I had just started my undergrad at UVC at the time. So my level of responsibility was quite high. but in recollecting, so let's see, I been 34 at the time.

I was a sprite, young 34, and I still had some energy. I have some enthusiasm about the model, the energy of moving to a new city, the energy of having a child, it actually helped for a while. It was maybe one of the things that cost me the relationship I was in, because I was only able to give so much attention to so many things, which is for me, generally a challenge anyways.

The question is what are you willing to sacrifice? And, there is a big risk losing relationships. Because probably one of the biggest challenges I've had over the years is how the extra work affects sleep. you work till one or two in the morning, you're staring at a screen and you're up at six, so you're not getting a lot of sleep.

And then it becomes a bit of a vicious cycle. So it just goes back to the stuff we talked about earlier. You have to do that self care things, which you feel like are taking you away from your work. But in reality, when you go and play a soccer game or go for a run or go for a swim or spend a bit of time with your kids, it gives you some energy.

It clears up mental space. When you go back to work, you're working with a clear mind, you're working more efficiently. And you're working, the thing that comes to me is always you're working without resentment. And when you have your own business and you're resentful, that's very difficult.

And yeah, I get that when I'm tired, when I'm overworked, when things aren't going well. So it's a very important thing to avoid. Maybe that's just me. maybe I tend towards resentment when I'm tired, but my guess is if I do a good portion of the population does as well.

Diego: [00:17:21] I'm with you there in those, those breaks that you take the soccer game, the time to do the self care. It can be hard to do. that's one of those things it's easier said than done. When you have a, to do list that feels like it's not getting shorter when you're feeling the pressure of deadlines, especially when you're new in a business and you're starting and it feels like there's so many ways that you're getting pulled.

How would you advise somebody to enforce this self care? I feel like if it's just I'll take it when I need it. Most people aren't going to take it because it's not prioritized. It doesn't feel as critic. It doesn't feel as important as the next thing you have to get done for the business. Although it probably is more important than that thing, which can wait 24 hours.

Chris Thoreau: [00:18:14] I don't like to give strategies or techniques for this because it really depends on your personality. Some people, what they do is they set themselves an hourly schedule every day. And they can follow that, So if they have a sense of, okay, from six to six 30, because my walking time in the morning, and then I have every night from seven to eight o'clock and if they have that schedule, they can do it.

And I would say to them, make sure you schedule that stuff, do it twice a week to start. So don't set your expectations too high, just a bit of time. And then maybe you can increase that over time and you can do it that way. I, I don't work that way. I like to be a little more flexible with my time. So when I find a gap, I'm like, Oh, Hey, this appointment freed up. I'm going to go for a run now, or I'm just going to do stuff when I feel like it. That's what works for me.

I think it's, maybe the thing is to understand the process. You have to go through to get over what I call like the static friction. So if you remember this in physics class, if you're trying to do drag something heavy, getting it moving is really hard, there�s static friction. If it starts moving, you don't need that same amount of energy. Then you've got kinetic friction.

And so the same thing happens with exercise. And I've gone through this twice in the last four years. Four years ago, I started running and trail running, doing races. And in the beginning it was really hard. Like getting myself motivated to go for a run was difficult because it was quite painful. Then my lungs hurt, my legs hurt. I run a couple of blocks and need to stop and feel like I was giving up. But then, week after week I kept doing it and pushing through that with that same idea that I need to push through that, that's static friction.

I need to push through my, my lack of endurance, my lack of skill in this. And that year, as I got through the summer, I ran more and more, and I got more and more energy as I did it. I started sleeping better. I learned that when I was in a bad mood or even tired, and my thinking was negative. If I went for a run, that physical movement would improve my thinking.

So I could go from negative to positive thinking really, really quickly. I'm actually going through that again right now. And it's really actually just that this week that I really started getting over that static friction part and actually getting my fitness back after having a year and a half of no fitness, bad sleep, severe anxiety.

And I just tried to keep in mind. Okay. So some of my commitments have been lowered. I still have a lot on my plate, but I'm going to take this perspective of having less commitments now. Even though there's a lot of them. And fill that time with this thing that I know in the past has done a lot for me in terms of improving my mood and my mind.

So I have a conversation with myself. I tell myself a story about the benefits and they're not benefits I got from that from a website or a video, they�re benefits I'm drawing from my memory. So that it's what motivates me and a more and more motivated now cause when you're 25, if you go a couple years out of shape, 27 or 28, you can get the shape back into shape pretty quickly.

It's really hard getting in shape as you get older. Your metabolism doesn't work the same way. You're more prone to injury. It is harder to find the time. And so as I get older, me being in shape is going to be more and more important in terms of maintaining a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle. So if I let that fitness level slip, Any point to getting back into it is going to be harder and harder. So I know over the next several years, like I'm already looking to when I'm 50, like how do I keep on this path now where I don't let myself fall back into, getting overweight, getting into bad eating patterns, getting into bad sleep patterns, which leads into anxiety and this vicious cycle.

I want to find a way to keep some balance so I can keep this moving. Even if I'm not progressing to the level of being an Olympic athlete. I'm doing so in a way that the physical activity is as much a part of my lifestyle and my day as eating as brushing my teeth as going to dinner with friends, it's something that I have to do to maintain my overall health.

Maybe you look at it like a prescription you might get from the doctor. So that's like a whole bunch of the different thinking I've had over the past few years. I just helps me remember that my life is more than this work. I'm doing this business, this entrepreneurial thing.

And without that other aspect of life, the business and entrepreneurial stuff, all it does is maybe generate revenue. But if it's not giving anything else back, I might as well go work for someone else, let them deal with the stress and just collect a paycheck.

Diego: [00:22:55] You know, that's really well said in thinking of the overcoming static friction, whether that's a fitness or something else.

One thing that can be hard is for people to develop a pattern out of one way of life that they're currently in, whether that's a rut in eating habits or exercise or something like that. When you're trying to get back into this running thing, how do you overcome that static friction to make it stick? On one hand, you can go just all out right away, and maybe you go too fast, you burn out and you don't want to do it.

Is it just consistency leads to overcoming it? What are your thoughts there?

Chris Thoreau: [00:23:35] There's a few things. Definite strategies. One of them is ramping up slowly. and if you like, Oh, I'm super into this, I'm going to go for a run. See how fast I can run. See if I can run up that Hill. That's a great way to get yourself injured and not be able to run.

So that's one thing I've learned. I'm going to guess about six times now, that, is you've got to get back into it slowly, so I'll go and run for a bit. And when I feel tired, I walk, I don't tell myself you've got to keep running and if you stop running, you're a failure. It's I'm gonna go from running to running slower, at about the pace of a walk, because I'm still moving.

I'm still out. Instead of sitting in front of my computer. The next time I go for a run, I do push it a little bit. this is where I stopped. Last time. I'm feeling tired, but not too bad. So I'm going to go a couple extra blocks. and I don't just run at a certain pace and then come home.

Sometimes they do. What's called interval training. Sometimes I do, climbs. We've got the very famous grouse grind here. So it's like the staircase up the side of a mountain. I use different approaches like cycle. I do a bunch of different stuff, so I'm not always doing the same thing. You can do what I feel like on that day.

the other thing I do, which is. for me works really well is I compete. I go to races and I try to win the races. And that way, when I'm running the fitness, the running and the training, isn't just about getting in better shape. It's about being able to compete better with people my age. And I get a lot out of that.

Actually, I have a race on Saturday and I'm so excited for it. And I have this energy because of it, that allows me to work more efficiently and I work with a very positive mindset. so yeah, if you're going to get into something, you ramp it up slowly, which is a general fitness and insurance concept that any personal trainer would tell you.

Snd the other thing is you find ways to compete and that can be formally at races like I do, or maybe informally through, sharing your Fitbit details with friends or things like that. So that way you've got these little goals that are related to fitness beyond itself.

Diego: [00:25:41] There you have it, Chris and I on balancing life and getting out of a rut.

As I said, in the introduction to this one, how does your life look right now? If you are being honest, how does it feel? Do you feel like you're taking on too much? Do you feel like you're doing too much. If you are, you're probably past the point of when you should have taken time off. So try and plan for some time off this summer.

Summer will go by very quick, especially for a lot of you in the Northern climates. Don't miss it. Don't forget why you did this in the first place for this lifestyle. For this freedom.

While working is important. Other things in life are more important. You having fun in life, you enjoying the people around you. It's not all about keeping your nose to the grindstone. 24 seven. It's not about doing more.

Sometimes it's about doing less, but doing what is important. Don't forget the people around you. This summer family spouse partner, spend some time with them. The 80 hour work leak. It doesn't have to be necessarily every week. You can take time off. It's okay. As Chris talked about in this episode, sometimes you just need that self care to really clear up the mental space and stop working with resentment while running your own business can be empowering and it can seem like freedom in the beginning.

The workload can shackle you. And take away the freedom that you sought out. And I bet a lot of you have less freedom now is full time entrepreneurs than you did if you ever worked under somebody else. So take a little bit of that freedom back this summer and enjoy the weather. Enjoy the people around you and reset.

That's what I'm doing over the next two months. I'll be back in early September with brand new episodes through the end of the year. So stay tuned for that. If you want to listen to more, be sure to check out the feed for farm small farm smart. I'll be continuing to add all of the episodes of the urban farmer into the feed and all the previous episodes of farm small farm smart.

Hopefully by the time I come back in September, every episode that I've ever done related to vegetable farming will be up there and publish. So you can access all those episodes. If you want to learn more about, microgreens be sure to check out Chris's slash micrograins, but maybe just maybe the best thing that you can do is something I probably shouldn't suggest as a content provider, but I'm gonna turn off stuff for a little while this summer go work without headphones in, go drive without listening to something.

Let your mind wander. Let your mind decompress, hit that mental reset button and come back in the fall better than you are now. Enjoy it all. Everybody I'll be back in a few months until then go out there and do some Epic, you know what?

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