Plough Horses and Context Shifting

Mostly I just miss my grandfather and this is just an excuse to share a story I’ve always liked for some reason. On another occasion he tried to do that old timer thing of telling me how hard he had it as a youngster because he had to ride a horse so many miles into town to get to his job at an absurdly early hour, then got all misty-eyed and ruined the effect with “…and sometimes I’d give that stallion his head and we’d go flying…” 

My grandfather told me a story one time about how he used to plough with a horse not too far from town. Then and now, there’s a factory right at the edge of town. In those days that factory would blow a whistle at quitting time. My grandfather’s plough horse would finish the row they were on when it heard the whistle, but it would absolutely refuse to do anything else after that.

How is that relevant you ask? As I get a little older, I know that I’m less able to make large context shifts late in the afternoon as quitting time gets closer and closer. If I finish something pretty complicated after lunch and the next thing up is also going to be complicated or worse, involve a pretty large context shift into a different problem space, I know better than to even try to start that next thing. Instead, I’ll do some paper and pencil work to task out the next day’s work or switch to some easier work or correspondance.

Since I’m largely able to set my own hours and I’m mostly unencumbered by meetings (don’t hate me for that), I can actually think about how to optimize my work schedule to the work I’m doing. One thing I’ve learned is that you do best week over week if you pace yourself to the old XP idea of a sustainable pace. For me, that’s also knowing when to push hard and when it’s best to either quit and rest or just start lining up the next day’s push.



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