As the story goes, there was a preacher who made a bet with a friend that his horse would be able to walk up the stairs in his home. The preacher won the bet with ease! The real challenge was that the horse refused to make the trip back down again. No matter how hard the preacher tried to entice the horse down the stairs he would not move. In frustration, the preacher covered the horse’s head and remarkably, the horse obediently followed the preacher back down the stairs. In that moment, the clever preacher realized that restricting the horse’s vision would empower the horse to take risks and do things it ordinarily never would. The invention of blinders was the result.
Today, blinders are used for race, work, and carriage pulling horses to remove distractions and help them to concentrate on the task at hand. Blinders also help horses from being spooked and backing up. When the blinders are on a horse knows that, it is not just a regular day – it’s time to focus and get a job done.
While horses have a blind spot directly in front of their noses and are incapable of seeing their own tails, they do possess nearly 180 degree vision and have outstanding peripheral vision. In the wild, this powerful peripheral vision protects a horse from predators. Unfortunately, when it comes to completing a task it is less beneficial.
Blinders, are leather squares or plastic cups that restrict a horse’s vision forcing them to focus on what’s ahead, and rely more on the jockey or carriage driver.
As a leader, have you ever felt like a wild horse in the midst of your many responsibilities? Have you experienced the distractions – information, communication, people, and tasks – all tugging at you simultaneously?
Just like a horse, leaders tend to stray on the way to their goals, experience panic moments, stay stuck or even worse, back up without focus.
How can you put on blinders and get into race day performance mode? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Organize your work area
Taking a few moments before you start working to clear or organize your work area can significantly increase your productivity and eliminate distractions. The more you make this your habit, the less clutter there will be to put away.
2. Create routines
Just like a bedtime ritual of brushing your teeth, washing your face, and picking out your clothes for the next day helps you wind down and prepare for sleep, a routine can help you switch gears and get into work mode. Your routine might include having your coffee, tea, or water nearby, clearing off your desk, or lighting a candle – but whatever your routine is, it should prepare you to work.
3. Proactively eliminate distractions
The things in a horse’s peripheral vision tempt it to stray from the target ahead. Phones ringing, incoming e-mails or instant messages chiming, and people the knocking at your door are distractions, that feel like they need your immediate attention. Turn your ringer off, log out of your e-mail or instant messaging programs, and hang a sign on your door. Anticipate those interruptions so that you can concentrate on what needs to get done.
4. Prioritize your tasks
A long list of things can be overwhelming. Determine each day what three tasks are most important. If you complete those, pick the next three most important tasks. You may actually have 10 things that must get done today, but focusing on them all at once can be paralyzing. Ticking off three and tackling another three allows you to create momentum and focus.
Do one thing at a time as you move through the top three things on your list. The more you divide your attention, the more you reduce the effort put into your work. Not only does the quality of you work suffer, so does your spee
6. Work in blocks of time
Class time in school was bearable because you knew recess was coming. The same idea applies to work. Working for an hour and then taking a short break will allow you to be more productive during the next block of time. It lets your brain rest and it rewards your hard work.
Set a timer. Knowing that you need to accomplish something in a specific block of time will encourage you to get ‘er don
7. Create the right environment
Some work best in silence, and others work best with background music. Which kind of person are you? If you work in close proximity to others, headphones are your friend!
8. Start with the most challenging task
The most difficult tasks require more thought and focus. Starting with the most challenging tasks will allow you to tackle them when you are fresh before your focus dwindles. Completing that task will also empower and motivate you to get others things done.
9. Communicate your personal policies
Recently, a colleague told my husband that he only read e-mails between 4:00AM and 6:00AM. While not when I would want to tackle e-mails, communicating his policy to my husband enabled my husband to work more effectively with him. Whatever your policies or boundaries are, be sure those you work with are aware of them.
A horse has the advantage of having someone else put the blinders on. As leaders, we must take responsibility and do this for ourselves. What one small change might increase your focus and contribute to you working more effectively so that you can accomplish your goals?
Still struggling to focus? Be sure to check out the next post for more thoughts on how to cultivate focus. You may also want to enlist the help of Certified Christian Life Coach to help you improve your focus.
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