Money matters. But another important metric for serious planters is the PB, or Personal Best. This refers to the most trees that you’ve planted in a day, even if it wasn’t your best “money day.” Here are some sure-fire ways to bring up your number and reach the next level of success as a planter.
After your first year, you run into a small problem in the fall or winter. You start thinking back on your season, and your brain has this sneaky habit of filtering out many of the bad memories and retaining a higher percentage of good memories. This happens regardless of how much you have told yourself you hate tree planting and would never do it again.
Is this a real phenomenon? It certainly seems like something that has been documented by psychologists. The reason that it’s a problem is that you start having a better outlook about planting. This positive bias seems to happen to a lot of planters. Why is this important? Well, it relates to an event that happens to every planter at some point in their career: the PB or Personal Best.
The PB refers to the best day of your career. This is the day that you planted the highest number of trees. It does not matter too much about how much money you made because the PB is more about bragging rights than about your paycheque. Sure, some planters also keep track of their “top money day,” but the PB is the most important metric to most people. Maybe that is because it sounds impressive to people who do not plant trees. Many non-planters just can’t understand how a person could plant as many as four thousand trees (or more) in a single day.
Your PB day will always be one that you remember well. It relates to the phenomenon of having the clearest memories of the day you liked the best. Sometimes, you’ll remember a series of several PB days. Each successive time, you ended up beating your previous record. For almost every planter, their PB day is one of the most memorable days of their career. Even if you stop planting and move to a new career, you’ll still be able to remember your PB day ten years later. Even if you cannot remember the slow, rainy, and lethargic days, you'll remember your PB day.
So what is it that makes a PB day happen? Is it motivation? Can a planter make a conscious decision at breakfast to set a personal record? Well, the decision itself is not hard to make. In fact, many planters have this kind of a mindset almost daily. For a PB to happen, a lot of different factors have to come into play. This is the “Perfect Storm” of tree planting. Let’s look at those factors, the most important of which are land, weather, and length of work day.
First of all, you cannot set a PB in tough land. Most PB’s are set in the easiest types of land, which is usually the lowest priced ground. Quite often it is a block that has a good site prep: soft small mounds, clean drag chains, or creamy trenches that run perpendicularly to the road where your cache is. It helps if the land is flat. It helps if there isn’t much slash. It helps if the soil is sandy. Finally, it helps if you have a huge piece, so you do not waste time in the middle of the day when you are moving to a new one.
The next factor in your production is weather. A cold rain or snow will make you fumble when grabbing trees out of your drawbag, and bulky clothing worn to keep warm might slow you down. Even if the rain is warm, it may make the soil turn to muck and stick to your shovel. It is for this reason that a lack of precipitation is usually the best weather condition for any attempt to set a record. Clear blue skies can also be a problem though. If the sun is beating down on you all day, it might be pretty warm. Hot days will slow you down by sapping your energy, making you sweat and increasing the amount of insects.
The best planting weather is overcast and cool with a slight breeze. It is warm enough that you can get away with planting in light clothing but cool enough that you are not sweating buckets. This will prevent the need for you to keep stopping to drink gallons of water. Days in late May and throughout June are ordinarily the best. By July, the temperatures are usually pretty hot. By that point in the season, the blocks are probably also starting to green up, which can slow you down.
The length of the work day is the final factor that affects your PB. Let us say that your block is pretty far from camp. Your 11-hour work day might be occupied by more than an hour of travel time each way, driving to and from the block. You are immediately cut down to 9 hours of actual planting time, compared to about 10.5 hours if the block is only ten or fifteen minutes from camp.
Your numbers will also be affected by how quickly you can get started once you arrive at the block. Do you have to walk for ten minutes to get to your cache, or is your piece at the front? Were you set up in the piece the day before, so you can get right to work, or do you have to wait for the foreman to set up one for you? Did you put your planting boots on when you were back in camp, or do you waste a couple minutes doing that after you arrive? Every single minute spent from the time you get into the trucks to the time your first tree goes into the ground is time when you are not making money. You want to be on a crew with an organized foreman, where everyone is ready to leave camp a few minutes before the departure time.
Factors mentioned above will affect your numbers daily, not just on your PB day. There will be times when you feel ready to set a record, but conditions will crop up and cause downtime. When ideal conditions come into effect at the same time, you’ve got clear sailing to set a new personal record. At that point, the only thing you have to fight with is your physical endurance.
To be the best, you need to have the daily mindset that “today is going to be the best day of my career.” With that kind of an attitude, you’ll be earning money even on the days that are not a PB. Remember the moral from the Tortoise and the Hare: “Rapid Rabbit sets the pace, but slow and steady wins the race.” Every day does not need to be a PB, but if you keep plugging away and try to eliminate as much of your non-planting time as possible, your bank account will grow.