Today I started pruning the Christmas tree groves, but really there was very little actual pruning of trees and much, much more clipping and cutting of the endless waves of saplings that grow up through the conifers, along with a certain amount of cutting all the extra growth from the balsam stumps themselves. There is so much of this to be done that I never get to all (or even most) of it in any given year.
As such it is a great example of overwhelming work, the kind of work that feels unbreakable, never ending, eternal. Sisyphus rolling the stone up the hill. I have ten acres of trees, and each year I'm lucky if I can do this to two or three acres. My goal is to leave an area completely clean, all the trees well defined by clipping branches to make that clear 10" of trunk that helps people really see it, the right smaller trees and sprouts leapfrogging off the stump, and the general growth of the branches allowed only in the right directions where they won't crowd out the trees themselves. I cut back all saplings except those I'm keeping for poles (I need about 30 a year, a pace the local forest edges along the road can't sustain) and the really good ones I'm pruning up super high to grow into full sized trees. The undergrowth gets clipped when necessary, except for azaleas and rhododendrons, and paths get carefully cleared and all the brush piled up out of the way.
When I'm done with an area, I don't need to return to it for several years, and when I do it is in much better shape than it was originally. This process, leaning intensely on a portion each year, works much better than trying to do the minimum amount to everything. When I have tried to do the minimum amount to everything, nothing got better and in fact everything slowly slipped farther and farther into chaos.
I think this is a good approach when applied to any overwhelming work, one that you can never hope to completely take care of at any one time and that will continue to need work in the future. I take this approach to maintaining our house (each year I tackle the most pressing three projects) and with the grounds (I tend to ignore thickets or tangles of stuff until I tackle it completely). The important thing is to do just a bit, and to do it as thoroughly as possible, so that it won't need your attention for years to come.
Slowly, bit by bit, the ratchet of improvement lifts everything up.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.