When it (finally) slows down..

I think we all know how to go into robot mode when we have 100 things on our to-do list. Show up to work and zoom through the list as fast as you can while also getting to your unread messages and doing that thing your boss asked you to do a week ago, eat lunch at your desk (if you’re lucky) and leave at the end of the day feeling drained and knowing you have to do it again tomorrow until it stops.

But what about after the busy season, after the big project? How do you handle your job when it slows down?

My life has been crazy for the past few months. First, I moved to a new city. Then it was getting adjusted while starting to focus on summer events at work and also a huge project I was responsible for at the end of the summer. It was chaos by the end of August. I could accomplish only the tasks that were directly related to events happening within the next day or week.

Now, our summer events are over, my big project is complete, and all were a success. And now, I have had a few weeks of time to catch up on work and regain my balance and I’m thinking about how to wisely spend my time now that I don’t have deadlines and events breathing down my neck (for a minute). Have you ever felt this way? Found yourself crazy busy and a week later sitting on Facebook and staring at the clock? Here’s my advice.

What to do when you have downtime at work

  1. Go back over old emails you missed during your busy time. I have a folder in my email where I save things that I don’t have the time for right now but still need to do at some point. Start there. Answer questions, fix little bugs, give updates to those who might need them. Don’t neglect things just because you are busy, you wouldn’t want someone to do that to you!
  2. Catch up on your communicating. When I am busy at work, I feel like I just don’t have the time to talk to my colleagues. I’m either out of the office traveling or I’m only in the office for 5 hours and have 500 things to do and no time to chat! When work slows down, take the time to catch up with your office mates. Don’t take this as gossip time, but use it to catch up on what they are working on or anything you might have missed. Ask them if there is any work you can help them with. Go to lunch with your team, get back in the swing of communicating with your people and it will be worth it.
  3. Keep track of your personal growth goals and visit them now. In my job, I have the work that it is my job to do and that includes the things I was hired for. But I also keep a notebook in my desk of all the ideas I have to improve my job and my professional skills. These are my ideas I get in meetings or talking to people about what I think can really improve my company that others aren’t doing. I keep a list of things I want to accomplish for each quarter of the year. If you haven’t done that yet, take some time to think of ideas you might have tossed aside the past few months. What projects can you start on that will add to your experience and your companies well being. For me at this stage, it’s not about thinking big, but more about thinking small and covering little details on your job.
  4. This is also a good time to journal and reflect on the past few months. Keep track of what all you accomplished and how it made you feel, what skills you developed and what things you went through in the process. Not only will this help you in the long run when you are trying to apply for new jobs, but it also will help you the next time you have a project coming up to remember how you can be better.

How do you spend your downtime at work?

Jayne

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Three days in Washington, D.C.

One of my favorite quotes is “Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards.” The idea of me being a yes woman started when I first became interested in ag. Not having a background in ag, I felt that in order to get a grip on the industry, I should just do everything possible. I think that saying YES to everything that comes my way has lead me on so many adventures (and several internships), shown me what I like and do not like to do and has introduced me to some great people in the agriculture industry.

I have never been to Washington, D.C. and so when my boss offered me the opportunity to go not once, but twice this summer, I obviously said yes without hesitation. This time, I am only here for three days, so I see it as just enough time to see the big things and get a taste of D.C. I had five hours of free time on Sunday, so I calculated a loop from my hotel to the White House, to the Lincoln Memorial, all the way through the national mall, through two of the Smithsonian museums, and then to the capitol and back. phew. It was a lot for one afternoon, but so worth it. D.C. is so much more beautiful and bigger than it ever looks on tv or in pictures. The giant monuments and rich history that just stare you in the face are astounding, even though you have seen these images a thousand times in your life. DSC_0066 DSC_0047  DSC_0031 DSC_0041 Although I am a yes woman, saying yes all the time can be exhausting. Travel is hard, networking is hard, maintaining a job while pushing for more is hard. I love my job and my industry, but I think we all have those days where you just ask yourself “why.” Why does this work matter? Why do I matter? Does anyone care? Whenever you have these moments, I think it’s important to step back and get a bigger picture of the world and get your ‘yes’ back. What a better place than D.C. to do this? Seeing this place where so much happens, and so much history is remembered, it can really remind you why and what you are working for. I can’t wait to come back next month and see what else I discover.

Food Passion- It’s a Good Thing!

I think just about everyone has given their opinion on the recent decision by Chipotle to remove GMOs from their menus. But no matter your opinion- if you hated the decision or loved the decision or thought the decision didn’t make any sense but it won’t stop your cravings for burrito bowls (guilty) can we all agree on one thing? People are really starting to care and pay attention to what they eat. And in my own personal opinion, I think it’s a great thing for the agriculture industry.

We in agriculture are always worrying about decisions like Chipotles that could hurt our industry (both the people in it and globally) and blaming consumers for lack of understanding of how farming really works. That may be true. But you don’t have to understand something 100% to be interested in it, and thats a big part of life. I have no desire to be an accountant, but I’d really like to make sure that mine is doing my taxes correctly, so yeah I might do some google searching one day and ask him some basic questions, is that so bad? Obviously I am not going to be an expert and what I read on Google might be wrong (shocker! not everything you read online is true) but I just took the time to ask an expert and now I probably do understand.

One thing is definitely clear in this situation: people care. In the 90’s and early 00’s food was focused on being “quick and easy,” fast food was ideal and dollar menus were booming. But here we are now in a time where people want to slow down and bring some love and culture back into food. Let’s not get mad at that- because isn’t that why were all in this industry also? Because we love food and the people who grow it?

So- back to consumer understanding and me and my accountant. Instead of getting angry that people think GMOs are the devil, lets continue to push conversation and explain as experts whats really going on. Because for the first time in a long time, people actually are curious and  want to hear about how you spray with glyphosate and the genetic makeup of a plant. Exciting times my friends! To take a quote from my man Don Draper on Mad Men, “if you don’t like whats being said then change the conversation.”

Let’s take some examples:

  • I read in a newsletter last week that over 20,000 letters were submitted as comments to the new Dietary Guidelines that are being created, where as the 2012 guidelines received less than 2,000. Let that sink in. Over 18,000 more companies, people, businesses, moms, etc. are trying to have a say in the food they eat. That is music to my ears, despite the fact that they could be speaking either negatively or positively about the things that I believe in.
  • Refinery29, my favorite fashion and lifestyle blog, has posted several articles about food and farming in the past six months. It may not be exactly how I would have written it from a farming perspective, but I think they do a great job of being science-based and sharing facts over fear, and I think thats saying a lot for a fashion blog. Check them out here:
  • My favorite Twitter hashtag, #WeekendEats. This is a hashtag created by the L.A. Times Food section that runs every Monday around 11 a.m. central time. It is just people who really love food sharing all the amazing things they ate that weekend and waxing poetic justice about food in general. Follow this hashtag and you won’t be sorry.
  • Even political campaigns are getting in on the action! The Iowa Ag Summit happened in March and brought together several big names in politics to discuss- FOOD. It was one of the first political meetings of this new election year and the topic was food, how cool is that? And let’s not even get started on all the coverage that came out from Hillary ordering Chipotle on her campaign tour.

Shouldn’t we be excited about this? The conversation on food has finally STARTED, and it may not have started in our favor 100% painting a rosy picture of farming, but at least people are interested. So let’s keep it going. Let’s go out there and share what we do, keep talking, always. Don’t tell people they are stupid for reading what they saw on Google, think about me and my accountant. Just remember to keep the conversation going, and stay interested ourselves, because everyone else is.

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*I don’t really have an accountant, and if there are any experts out there, feel free to holler at your girl.

What You Learn in your First Year on the Job

I am coming up on my first year in my first big girl job. Where in the heck did the time go? This is a pretty big milestone for me, and I feel pretty blessed that a year has gone by that I have been happy every day to go into work and have learned so much from some brilliant people in the industry.

As with a lot of people, new years are a time to reflect on where you have been and where you hope to go in the next year. I love that “fresh start” feeling that always came with a new school year or New Years Eve. I love starting over, a clean slate, and trying to be better. While you might not get a clean slate at a job you have been at, you can always reflect and get better.

Here’s my takeaways from my first year on the job:

1.  No one knows/cares what you are doing. You have to share.

I don’t even mean this in a harsh way, that no one cares about you. Of course everyone cares about you, they are just too busy with their own work to notice yours! You may think you kicked butt pulling off an event or handling something behind the scenes, but chances are that no one else noticed. I’ve found that sharing what I’m doing with my boss and other staff has completely changed my work. My biggest tip is to copy people on emails who will find the information relevant. It doesn’t annoy that person, it keeps them in the know about what you are working on. Share with your co-workers what projects you have coming up, and more importantly, let them know if you need help! You aren’t in this alone and it actually makes you look a lot better to your boss and peers if you have more eyes and people seeing what you are doing.

2. It’s about more than sitting in your office with the door closed and checking off your boxes.

This one was tough for me to realize. Although I am in communications, I am not always in extrovert. Sometimes I just like to be quiet and get my work done and that is what makes me feel productive and like I am contributing. But having a job is about a lot more than that. You need to be taking time each day to talk to your co-workers, find things you have in common with them and make friends with them! It makes work easier when you might need their help with something and overall it just makes work a more fun environment.

3. Change the job to fit you- but don’t be too good for any task.

When I started my job, I was very lucky that it came with a lot of freedom. My job was created as a result of two part-time workers retiring, so on top of their job, I was also hired to do communications work as I had time for it. It was my own job to create (with my boss of course). I realize not all jobs are like that, but understanding what that means can be really helpful. Even if you aren’t creating your own job, tell your boss what you like to do! If you love to create things on InDesign, tell him or her and chances are you will get a project doing that. If you hate writing magazine stories, you may not have to do that as much. With that being said, remember that you are the new hire and are a beginner, so don’t be too good for any task. Handle everything you are asked to do with enthusiasm and those projects that you really WANT to do will come shining through, I promise.

4. You will work on more projects than one at once, and you won’t finish them at 5 p.m. each day.

This one seems obvious, but coming from someone who was fresh out of college and pretty type-A, it took me a while. In college I was used to having a deadline for a project and pretty much relying on myself to get that work done and then once it was over I would check it off my list and never think about it again. The real world is so not like this. You have SEVERAL projects at once, some that end the next day and some that won’t end for six months. You can’t just check things off a list every day. You will have to rely on other people to answer your emails and do work for you. My trick to fixing this is to make a new list every day of things to do. And when I have a big project I break it down into steps to achieve each day or week or month. That way, it still feels like I’m completing something, even if the project itself isn’t done and I just emailed someone. This keeps me from going crazy.

Overall, my #1 piece of advice is to focus on YOUR JOB. Don’t worry about if you are doing what everyone else is doing, or if someone has gotten to do more than you or if your boss secretly wants you to do more. Just focus on doing what you were hired to do, do it well, and keep focusing on how you can improve. It’s as simple as that.

So there you have it- my first year in review. What are your favorite tips that you have learned in your job?

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Mexico and Guatemala Part 2: Food + Fears

I already posted a travel photo diary of my recent trip to Mexico and Guatemala, but here is part two: the takeaway.

Traveling is this thing that I’ve always told people I would do when I was older. I always pictured myself having a job where I would get to see the world. There was only one thing standing in my way of that- a paralyzing fear of flying. The fear has kept my from vacations and kept me up at night, but I promised myself I’d never let it keep me from a job.

The week after I accepted my current job, my boss at the time took me to lunch where she said to me “I hope you have a nice set of luggage, because you’re going to travel a lot.” I had gotten what I’d always wanted and also what I was most afraid of. 

I knew the time would come that I’d have to conquer my fear. When you are offered a trip to Mexico and Guatemala, you don’t just say no.

So I said yes- and I just did it.

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I don’t know if I would consider myself a pro, but by the end of my trip (5 flights total), I wasn’t so scared anymore. I wanted it more than I was scared of it. And now I have a new confidence that I can have the life I’ve always wanted.

Before this trip, the furthest I had traveled would be northern Texas (and yes, I drove there). I had never been out of the country and had very little world experience of how people other than myself lived. This trip was unbelievably eye-opening for that.

When we arrived in Mexico City, I would have thought it was downtown L.A. There were tall buildings, billboards, high-end retail stores, palm trees and people everywhere. This isn’t what I was expecting from the third-world descriptions I had been hearing from people. It felt just like America!

But then- with our first meeting, I got a taste of what not living in America was like.

In Mexico, they explained that the “middle class” doesn’t exactly exist. That the wealth gap is so wide that a lot of people in the city are either very wealthy or very poor and can barely afford food. We learned the average income is about $7,000 a year. We talked a lot about the eating habits of these people, referred to as B- and C+ consumers.

I learned that they eat very different than Americans do, not only in the cuts of meat they use but also in the traditions behind their meals. That in Guatemala the average person eat 6-7 tortillas per meal and that they would rather plant corn to make tortillas for more money than buying healthier foods for less.

Tradition is a huge part of how you have to market food in Central America. They don’t have the money to care about things that we do in America. GMO’s, pesticides, and health standards are less important than getting a meal on the table each day, and so those have to be taken into consideration before launching a food campaign. It’s fascinating to me.

I loved learning more about this food culture. I dined like a local while on my trip, eating ant egg tacos, pork skin soup, and sweet corn ice cream. Its fascinating to me that despite the language barrier and all the differences in culture that food can always bring people together.

I feel so blessed that I was able to go outside my comfort zone and learn about the big world that is out there. You can’t change the world if you only look at one tiny part of it, and sometimes just getting a bigger picture can remind you why you work so hard everyday and can reignite your passion.

Now that I know I can do it, I have the travel bug and can’t wait to start planning my next trip. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to top ant egg tacos though.

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Why can’t we be Friends?

Last week I was down in Louisville, Kentucky attending a trade show when I went out to dinner with a group of farmers and ag industry friends. Seated at a nice restaurant, we began to decide what we would all order. I decided to order the free range fried chicken, because I was in Kentucky and fried chicken in Kentucky sounds like a given to me  (and by the way I was NOT disappointed.) When the waiter came to our table to get our order I placed mine and one of the farmers I was with quoted the popular “Portlandia” sketch and asked if the chicken had a name. He was more talking to the group than the waiter, but the waiter responded quickly, “well if I wanted to eat chemicals in my chicken I wouldn’t worry about free range either.”

Well that sucked the wind right away from the table, and we became defensive back. And then it got me thinking- I am someone who works in the ag industry who just willingly ordered a free range chicken meal. It is my personal belief that that isn’t the most sustainable way to raise chicken, or that it’s any “better” than conventional, but I didn’t feel the need to share that when I placed my order. Does every meal have to be a political battle over what we believe?

I feel like this “battle” between conventional and other types of ag has gotten uglier than ever, and I’m ready for it to stop. Now I can’t speak for the entire industry, but most of the farmers I work with are more than approving of GMO free crops. Several farmers I know grew them last year and if I had to guess they will again this year too as the demand keeps increasing. GMO-free, organic, free-range etc. are continually growing markets and are a lifestyle choice and if people choose to engage in them, we don’t want to stop them! ALL AGRICULTURE IS GOOD AGRICULTURE. I think its great that now, more than ever, people are taking an interest in what is going into their mouths. The only thing I want is for people to stop trying to bring down one side of agriculture to promote the other.

Can we agree here and now that what food you choose to purchase and eat is exactly that, a choice, and shouldn’t be used to make people feel guilty about it? Good, because I don’t want to stop ordering fried chicken in Kentucky.

How to Work a Trade Show

Drive to location. Unload stuff. Set up booth. Sit in booth for several days. Tear down booth. Drive home. Repeat. (sigh.)

I am halfway through my first trade show season. Not coming from an ag background, trade shows were a completely new concept to me when I accepted my job, but now I know that in ag and many other fields, they are a necessity. Here are my best tips for breaking what can be the tiresome yet boring cycle in working trade shows.

  • First and most important. Find a trade show mentor. Either someone you work with or who used to have your job or someone in the industry that does shows, take time to sit down and talk to them. They will have tips that will save your life. They know who to talk to about getting an extension cord, how to best store your props and which shows you need to wear layers to because they are cold.
  • Don’t treat time out of the office like a vacation. Its not. I travel most weeks at least a few days a week. With the weird hours of driving to a location and then working a show all day, it can be easy to hit your “I’ve worked my 8 hours for the day” wall and want to crawl into your king size bed at a hotel with takeout food. But, for me at least, there is still work I need to do back at the office that doesn’t have to do with the shows I’m attending. So:
    • Put on your out of office message while you are gone. This will give you some time if you can’t respond right away to something.
    • I try to sneak away for an hour each day at shows to go somewhere quiet and get some work done. Get someone to cover the booth for you during a slow hour.
    • When I get home from a show, I head straight to the gym to work out my kinks from staying in one place all day and then shower and open my computer up to work. It can be nice to have a little bit of a normal “office” routine when you are on the road a lot and that’s mine. Instead of laying down when I get home or going to dinner, that’s my little trick to tell my brain its time to work.
  • Make “showie” friends. These people will save your life as much as a mentor but also become another routine part of traveling a lot. You may be in a different town or state, but finding those friends at a show can make you feel at home. They are people who can talk about the show, go to dinner with you when you don’t know anyone and introduce you to lots of new people in your industry. I always try to make a relationship with the people surrounding my booth because chances are you will be next to those people next year, too.
  • Have a “show goal” Sitting in a booth for eight hours four days in a row can become a little boring. Especially when shows get slow, the hours can drag. But remember you have a more important job than having people come to you. Set yourself a goal you want to achieve each show and it will make it go faster. Whether its to sell a certain number of a product, hand out 2,000 giveaways or talk about your new website to 500 people, it makes trade shows a little more exciting. I also make personal goals to make dinner plans with someone new or trade 5 business cards.
  • Be prepared, ask for help, take notes
    • My first show was a disaster. I didn’t know how to set up any of my equipment because I figured it would be common sense (it wasn’t) and never practiced, I didn’t know where to park to set up, I didn’t bring any props to help carry my things in and pretty much every other rookie mistake. I wasn’t prepared. You can’t just show up to a trade show and wing it. So now I:
      • Make a pre-event checklist. Include props to bring, where to unload, what your move-in time is, who is helping out at your booth, what the address is, what your booth number is.. etc. Keep this in a binder that you take to every single show.
      • Call the event before hand if you have never been! Sometimes its’ as simple as asking about what you don’t know. Call the offices and ask if there is electricity at the event or if there is carpet provided. Don’t do extra work when a phone call can fix a problem. The same goes while at an event. Don’t carry in every box by hand if you see someone walking by with a dolly. Ask them where they got it or if you could borrow it. People don’t bite.
      • Take notes. This is so important. I keep track during the show of who I talked to, what we talked about, how traffic at the show was and any environmental things I think I need to remember. When you go to 12 shows in 4 months it can be hard to keep track of which show had a crew to help unload and which show you need to bring a cart to, so make a report and file it.

Overall, just enjoy it. Trade show life is hard but rewarding. It is a job that many people in the agriculture industry start out in and can lead to great friends, experience and knowledge. What are your favorite trade show tricks?

 

-J

Journey to the Ag Lane

I think I owe an explanation of my journey into the ag lane, why I’m here and talking to you right now.

So, here’s the extremely shortened and pieced together version of my story. When I graduated high school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so instead of wasting a lot of money to go to a big college until I figured it out I went to a community college in my hometown. In my time at my Illinois community college, which was positioned in between acres of corn and soybean plots that make up the outskirts of the Farm Progress Show (the biggest ag show in the nation) and Archer Daniels Midland headquarters (one of the biggest ag companies in the nation), I was literally surrounded by agriculture. At this time I was also becoming very interested in food on my own and thought I would go into environmental or food law.

I was helping out at an advertising agency in my town and I told this to my boss who mentioned to me a program at the University of Illinois (my dream school) called agricultural communications. She handed me the brochure and I kind of had an ‘ah-ha’ moment right there. It made perfect sense. Although I didn’t have that “ag background” that most others in the major had, I knew that I had the passion and knowledge of being surrounded by these things my entire life. I took my passion for food and for farming and marched right to the University of Illinois that next September.

There was a very real learning curve I faced at U of I. Not being a “farm kid” you never really understand the life that farmers have or how in-depth agriculture is. Something that seems so simple on the surface (you plant seeds and harvest the crop?) is so complex on so many levels from agronomy to trade barriers and much more. I had only just begun to learn all of this, so I was eager to start working to make up for lost time. I became the intern queen, working social media for events such as the Global Agribusiness Summit, taking student lead on the Women Changing the Face of Agriculture conference in Illinois, and interning at the North American Livestock Exposition with Z-E-R-O knowledge of livestock except that I could probably spot the difference between a beef and a dairy cow. But I loved every second. I knew this is what I was meant to do and what better way to learn than by diving in head first? I then scored a summer internship at Charleston|Orwig advertising agency in Wisconsin and then in the fall with Certified Angus Beef in Ohio. These internships gave way to some of the best times of my life- moving to a new state, meeting new friends, seeing new cities- and learning more about agriculture than I could ever imagine- all while being great experience and expanding my network.

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some shots from my time at U of I- football games, intern badges and my summer in Wisconsin with my friend Marit.
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As it turns out my journey came full circle. When I worked at Charleston|Orwig I got to work for a client called the Illinois Soybean Association. I loved the projects that i got to help with on this client and felt really passionate about how they did their work. I went back and finished my senior year of college and as it would turn out, a month or so before I graduated a job opened up at the Illinois Soybean Association and that is now my current job. I am the soy queen and am crazy about all things soy (ask my friends).

When I used to meet people in the industry I had the same sentence I would say over and over. “Hi, I’m Jayne Godfrey, I work in the ag industry but I didn’t grow up on a farm.” It was almost like this was my shield to protect me and let everyone know I was not an expert. I am happy to say I don’t do that anymore. I think I have as valid of a voice in ag as anyone else, and my journey has just begun.

-J