On managing focus in everyday life

I have been challenged to productively plan my own days since I left my last employee job. It has been hard at the beginning, because I had no experience in integrating sudden inspirations into a structured day program. I had also little conscious feedback about how much to structure the day: meals at fixed times? Timeboxes or do an activity until the planned result is achieved?

After quite a long test phase I settled for a simple planning system, based on a weekly cycle. At the beginning of each week I plan the 4 or 5 goals I want to reach. I pick these goals from a bucket list that I occasionally update. Every day I select maximum 3 activities I want to do and decide a rough outline of the day. I usually don’t put exact times, as I prefer to finish a given activity rather than switch when it is not yet done. If an activity is not completed or not done at all, I shift it to the next available day, or think of which problems are preventing me to complete it.

I find that this loose planning helps me focusing on each activity, because I know that I planned for it, I decided it was important; I can forget other activities and deadlines, because I am confident that each of them has been marked in the planning and will get a dedicated timeslot. It also gives me clear feedback on how productive my week was.

That made me think about the focus of attention of a rider in an obstacle course (it applies in other disciplines and riding moments, but the obstacle course makes it especially clear). The rider has the whole sequence of jumps in mind (that’s my guess!), but not in the immediate focus of attention. Approaching a jump, the focus narrows solely on that obstacle. Right after the obstacle, the attention turns to the next obstacle – and the body faces it too, as a physical message for the horse. Between jumps there are some moments where the focus of attention can embrace a wider part of the jumping course, but they are (should be) usually brief, because the next obstacle approaches fast.

4111124449_0cf510bed3_z_d
ABS Horse – from MazetMan on Flickr — I like how rider and horse look straight to the obstacle, even if their bodies are in an unstable, dynamic equilibrium

My difficulty was in finding a good way of planning, that is efficient and not too demanding in terms of time and attention. I felt I was alternatively being the rider, the horse and the instructor. Sometimes I would have loved to be only the rider, or only the horse, but it was never an option (or at least not a good one). I found a lot of inspiration from friends and the wider Internet, who suggested me planning tools, tips and tricks – but the ultimate feedback came from myself. Quite a hard lesson for my obedient side, which prefers to take pride in completing an assigned task, rather than taking responsibility on choosing one task among many.

 

Refusing to jump – reflections

Picture credit: Tom von Kap-herr, of backhomeinbromont.com

While watching a couple videos from 2012 London Olympics, specifically the ones of the riding part of Pentathlon, I saw several horses refusing jumps, many more than it happens in dedicated jumping competitions. Why so? The horses themselves were experienced jumpers or eventers and the difficulty of the jumps in that competition was reduced. The differences are two: first, the rider is an athlete that only dedicates part of his/her time to horses and riding, and second, he/she meets the horse only around half an hour before the competition.

The result is that the horse and the rider could not have enough time to adapt to each other, and the horse is more often required to mask the rider’s insecurities or mistakes, or even abort a jump if it doesn’t feel it will be able to clear it safely. I can very well imagine that it’s rarely a matter of disobedience, more often a lack of coordination. On the other hand, it was amazing to see how some horses decided how to approach the jumps, independently from the riders’ advice, sometimes carrying the rider along without paying much attention.

Then I noticed how differently the riders reacted when their horses refused to jump a given obstacle. Some of them tried again with a better preparation and balance, others hit the horse, or at least clearly wanted the horse to obey. Not all riders thanked the horse after the end of their run. I find hard not to disapprove the lack of closeness between rider and horse, but at this level of competition there is so much stress and tension that I can understand why that happens.

That made me think about  leaders in general. I witnessed a wide range of reactions when their team is not willing to go on, or would prefer to avoid an obstacle. If there is pressure of various origins, there is probably no time to understand why the team is not complying. Still, I would suggest to check how crucial is the goal in question, if it is worth to push the people through at any cost, or not. If it is not, cancel the jump yourself, don’t let the team struggle. I have been myself in the position of not having the possibility to refuse to jump and I have very few other memories of such an acute mental pain. Seeing the refusal coming is a big help. Learn to see worried faces, well before anyone talks to you, that would likely be too late anyway to abort the jump. Praise the team afterwards, especially if it has costed much in terms of stress and energy. And for next jump, improve the approach and the balance.