Why I Stopped Doing Yard Work

Okay, I will acknowledge upfront that this is likely (certain?) to come across as pretentious, but I’m going to put it out there anyway:

I don’t do yard work anymore and I don’t think you should either.

There are some exceptions. If you own a lawn business or if you are 17 and trying to make some extra cash or if yard work is your form of stress relief, then sure, knock yourself out.

But if you simply take great pride in lining up 15 bags of leaves on your curb or you feel a supreme sense of accomplishment as you pull that first beer from your garage fridge, dirty and exhausted after 5 hours toiling away in your yard, then I think you should stop kidding yourself.

Look, I used to be like you.

When I bought my first home I got really into yard work. I went to a hardware store and bought a really nice mower. I got a leaf blower, some hedge trimmers and an edger too.

Most weekends after that I would load up a few podcasts or tune in to a football game and spend hours cutting grass, blowing leaves, and generally trimming and pruning things to the best of my landscaping abilities (which, I can assure you, were low).

I always got really dirty though, and I always felt like I had accomplished something. Those bags on the curb meant I had earned my nap on the sofa later that day.

But here’s the thing-the yard kept growing back while other stuff kept piling up.

When I lived in a yard-less condo I would work on my personal finances on Saturday mornings, but now I was too tired. Rather than take my wife to brunch after a week of not seeing her because we were both working so hard, I was now spending that time walking around behind a mower getting perfect diagonals in my sod.

Then I had kids and that was pretty much the final straw. (Speaking of straw, I once spent about 6 hours spreading 50 bails of pinestraw. Talk about a stupid use of my time, but I digress).

So now I pay someone to keep my lawn in shape. His name is Tate and he thanks me for the business every time I see him. The rate is fair and it helps him live a great life and employ many other people. Meanwhile I get to spend more time with my family and on work that creates real value and meaning in my life.

Of course, this isn’t just about cutting grass.

There are forms of yard work all around us. At most workplaces it is usually called “email”. You got your inbox to zero, but did you accomplish anything today? Sometimes it’s something you volunteered for that is taking you away from what is really important. Sometimes it’s a side business that is really just a hobby.

I don’t do real yard work anymore, but I have plenty of yard work that beckons me.

Recently a key employee of mine from another city was in town and stopped by our main office unannounced. I was excited to see him, but when he asked me to join him for lunch, I heard myself telling him I couldn’t. I had been plugging away at a spreadsheet project and wanted to complete it.

Never mind that this project was minimally important and could be done any time over the next two months. Something about that type of rote, analytical work checks all the boxes for me. It hits certain receptors in my brain and makes me feel like I am accomplishing something.

As this employee turned to leave I came to my senses and closed my laptop.

“Of course I’ll grab lunch with you,” I said.

That yard work had almost cost me an opportunity to  further a relationship with an employee I see maybe five times a year in person.

It seems obvious looking back: How could any spreadsheet project be more valuable than that?

It can’t, of course.

Quit doing yard work and replace it with real work.