I always find January to be a tricky month.

People are coming off of holidays and slowly getting back into their routines. Budgets are (hopefully) final and start taking effect. New products are launched or promoted. Hiring picks back up. 

All of these things are pretty commonplace in any industry, whether you’re looking at it from my side of covering the industry or your side of being a producer in the industry. After the mad dash to end one year, January seems like a chance to get your feet back under you as you start the next.

But what so often happens is a lot of those things I mentioned in the second paragraph start playing havoc with your plans. And this year, we can add on a lot of additional variables for the food and beverage industries. What will be the effects of new tariffs? How will the cannabis market continue to grow? What’s going to happen with plant-based protein? Will there be another innovation that seemingly comes from nowhere and shakes up the industry?

All of these things and more are making it hard for us to nail down exactly what we expect from the industry this year, so I can only imagine how much heartburn those questions are causing for processors. I haven’t even mentioned challenges such as ongoing sustainability efforts, finding and keeping qualified employees, or an election that could shake up policy and regulations.

These pieces of the puzzle all combine to eat into what might be our most valuable resource: time. It takes time to figure out shift schedules and production runs. It takes time to develop, test and bring to market new products or new ingredients or packaging for existing products. It takes time to adjust when a new market begins to gain traction. It takes time to hire and train new people for a new plant, an expansion, or just to fill openings created by people leaving.

It reminds me of something the owner of a company I used to work for would say, which is that we can throw more money at a problem at a moment’s notice, but we can’t work 25 hours a day. The time we have to react to a market trend or fix a production issue is finite, whether we like it or not.

January is a good reminder of that, because most of us find ourselves looking at the calendar on Feb. 1 and wondering how we lost the first month of the year. As we try to solve all the challenges that pop up when a new year starts, we get so bogged down in all the little things that we lose sight of the big picture and how quickly we can fall behind by losing a little bit of time here and there.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a great solution, because all of those little things have to be taken care of. But as a new year begins, taking a little bit of the time we have and using it to focus on the big picture can help offer some perspective—and help preserve some sanity.