Can we really separate what happens ‘at work’ from the rest of our lives?

This question came to mind as I looked at this fence that separated two areas in Kirstenbosch. On the one side was the garden and about 10 meters away, on the other side was Ficus Road, leading from the main entrance to the parking lot.

On one side it was tranquil, and one could enjoy freedom of movement without the risk of being run over by a car. On the other side, although it was still part of the bigger Kirstenbosch, one would have to be more careful.

Uncle G gives this legalese-like definition of a fence: “A lawful fence is a good, substantial, sufficient, and well suited barrier that is sufficient to prevent animals from escaping property and to protect the property from trespassers.”

A fence is a visual screen to mark the boundary between properties, and between private and public space.

The fence in the picture succeeded in keeping me on the one side and discouraged me from climbing over it by baring its fangs in the shape of sharp metal points on top. But this fence is not a “sufficient and well-suited barrier” to prevent small animals from moving from one space to the other. Or maybe even large animals like elephants.

The plants around the fence do not care about the fence either – in places even using it as a trellis to support their growth into new space, far away from the ground.

And then we try and separate what happens ‘at work’ from the other areas of our lives? With often ill-designed and poorly constructed fences?

And we even try and compartmentalise different areas of our lives…

Nature doesn’t care about the fence I saw on the garden boundary, being constructed in the way it was and with the purpose of preventing people to exit or enter the garden at that point.

Unless we build very unnatural Berlin-like walls, and implement metaphorical watch towers, patrolling guards, spotlights and machine guns, chances are that the small things in our lives can migrate from one space to the other. And the big things in our lives can also cross our poorly constructed and badly communicated boundaries.

Maybe we could (should?) have different kinds of “sufficient and well-suited” boundaries, depending on what we want to achieve? Why spend energy and effort on constructing Trumpian borders in places where a simple single rope would be sufficient, and where it is OK – even invited – for the small things in our everyday lives to cross the boundary?

On the other hand, we should not expect a spider web to keep a trumpeting elephant out.

Boundaries are necessary and should be designed and communicated to achieve the kind of separatedness we need and want in a particular situation.

One wall does not fit all.

Wishing you a week with appropriate boundaries!

Friday was a wonderful day to enjoy the gifts of Kirstenbosch. I thought it was going to be a bit cold, but it was Goldilocks weather for this time of the year. I was surprised, when I eventually decided to go home, to see that I’ve been there for 5 hours.

The thing that struck me most was the marks left by a climbing plant that wrapped itself around the trunk of this tree. They must have been together for a pretty long time, judging by the extent of the ‘scar tissue’.

Looking upwards, it seemed as if there was still a living part of the climber attached to the tree, but I am not sure.

Be that as it may (and I stand to be corrected!) it seems that there has been a long-standing symbiotic relationship between the two entities. [Biologists and ecologists define a symbiotic relationship as an “intimate interaction between two or more species, which may or may not be beneficial to either”.]

Figuratively speaking, although we are all part of the same Homo Sapiens species, could we also be involved in symbiotic relationships with other people – which may or may not be beneficial to either?

As I understand it, the mark (scar?) on the tree is made, and left behind, whether it was a mutually beneficial relationship or not.

And even after the part of the climber that created the impact has died and is physically no longer present, the impact of the interaction remains.

It must be all of 58 years ago that Mr Bol Van Rensburg called the whole class together at my work bench in the woodwork class, showed them the part I have been working on the last 30 minutes or so, and said (I am sure he was not meaning to do any harm): “Now this is how NOT to do it!” Could not have taken him more than 10 seconds to say those words. I can still hear and feel its impact to this very day.

I remember how, at about the same time, Miss Roux’s knuckles would come down hard on my head if I made a mistake in a multiplication table.

A family member, when in primary school, had to hear from a teacher that she would never be good at maths.

Mr van Rensburg, miss Roux and the maths teacher are no longer with us, but the impressions they created, remain.

Since seeing the scarred tree on Friday, I have been thinking about what I might have said or done to other people during my life so far that could have left a scar. I will be lying if I said no scar tissue came up.

We interact with others every day. In person, by phone, instant messaging, email or online conference. We interact with ourselves.

If we want to live our best life, causing less ‘bad’ scar tissue, does it not make sense to take 5 minutes in the evening to review the day and ask “What did I do? What did I do well? What not so well? How could I improve?”. Here is a 4-minute animation that explains this better than I can. Be kind to yourself and watch it now – when you reach the page, scroll down to the video, which reflects the content of the article.

Every interaction leaves an impression, whether we want it or not. A mark. A mark that could go away after a while, or a scar that will remain long after we have left the scene.

Like the scars left behind after a once-intimate relationship between the tree and the climber.

“I make use of this opportunity, daily pleading my case at my own court. When the light has been taken away and my wife has fallen silent, aware as she is of my habit, I examine my entire day, going through what I have done and said. I conceal nothing from myself, I pass nothing by. I have nothing to fear from my errors when I can say: ‘See that you do not do this anymore. For the moment, I excuse you.’” – Seneca

Enjoy your “look over my shoulder time” tonight!

On Saturday, the Braille Trail in Kirstenbosch became an echo of what I heard Dewitt Jones say in his talk Extraordinary Visions when I was in Salt Lake City for an international symposium of the FranklinCovey Company.

Many years have passed since then, but the passage of time did not diminish the validity of what he said: To see and transform the ordinary rather into the extraordinary, one must put yourself in the place of most potential. To choose to live in a world of possibility rather than scarcity and fear.

A few weeks ago, I was walking the trail and noticed a spider web down the slope on the other side of the rope that was put there as a guide. There are no ‘do not go beyond this point’ signs to keep people in the space of the ordinary. So, I climbed over the rope to put myself in the place of most potential to get a good picture.

The position of the sun was different this time around, and I could not see the spider web from the same position – most probably it was not there. So, Wendy and I climbed over the rope and went down the slope to have a closer look – from a place of more potential.

A man and his two small children passed us, and they asked “Daddy, may they be there, on the other side of the rope?”

“Not really. But it’s OK.”, he said in a tone to make us not feel bad for breaking a law that did not exist.

When he saw the rope, he saw a boundary. But it is not a boundary. The power of conditioning created that perception.

How many opportunities of best potential have you and I not missed because we live ‘roped in’ by the stories we tell ourselves about what we see?

And then we complain about our situation and accept no responsibility for the part that we played in arriving at the place where we are.

We get what we get because of the stories we tell ourselves about what we see, hear and experience. We first see, then tell ourselves a story about what we see. This in turn triggers how we feel about the situation and what we behave in a way that gives us our results.

For the next week, shall we switch ourselves on to check our perceptions, the way we interpret things? To, when we tell ourselves a story about what we see, pause for a moment to reflect and question our story. “Is that really what is happening here? Or is there another possibility?”

I think we will be amazed at how our experience of life can change by taking the time to ask these questions.

“Through that lens of celebration, I could see one of nature’s most important lessons– There’s more than one right answer. There’s more than one right answer. There are a thousand ways to come at any challenge to find that extraordinary view.”

– Dewitt Jones –


Saturday was a day of joy. Dorian Haarhoff (who was my writing coach for my book Productivity 106), celebrated his 75th birthday in beautiful Pringle Bay. I was so happy that he invited me to share in the joy.

Two candles were lit. One in memory of beloved ones who have recently passed away and the other for all those who wanted to be there but could not make it.

During a conversation with Russell, a qualified pilot with tens of thousands of flight hours in his bag, we talked about the Boeing 737 MAX disasters that killed 346 people, and Air France flight FA447, killing 228 people. For a moment I saw 574 more candles surrounding the silently screaming dog…

Why did these planes go down? Is it because the pilots were flying a computer and not an airplane? That they were entering data into a computer without properly reading and interpreting the output? That they could do high-tech but when that failed, they had no trusted low-tech system to use? (Note: These are just questions popping into my head, not meant to be used for a scientific investigation.)

In the early days of personal computers, we all wanted to ‘computerise’ things. A company guideline at the time was to ‘only put it into a computer after a working manual system is in place’ .

Today a Google search for “productivity apps” spews out 1 740 000 hits. By next week there will probably be thousands more.

But are we more productive in the time of high-tech apps than when we used the paper-based Franklin Planner, or Time/system personal organisers, or the diary from the local shop to help us plan our days and do “time management”?

I enjoy using technology, but at times take out a week or so when I do my personal stuff just on paper. To keep my back-up system (including my mind!) in working order. Interactions with others, however, remain connected in the absence of a mutually agreed upon alternative.

The manual system does not have to be complex. A single sheet of yellow paper (thanks, Joan!) is perfect to organise action reminders for a day or even a week (the Outlook equivalent would be Tasks with Categories). Yet another sheet takes care of appointments and meetings (Calendar in Outlook). In a folder I collect things that need attention when I am next in town.

I am all for technology and apps that make life easier. But let’s add the word appropriate in front of technology.

What if, when we wake up tomorrow morning, we find that we have lost all our latest-shiny-thing productivity apps? Will we crash with disastrous consequences? Or do we have a trusted manual system that can take over?

Let’s make sure we can fly our low-tech productivity planes and not just feed a computer.

“I do not fear computers. I fear lack of them.”
— Isaac Asimov

Enjoy your week – keeping it simple.

The interpretation of three questions and one response almost ended a 30-year business relationship.

And highlighted the danger of using email to discuss matters of a sensitive nature.

I made an enquiry about our current arrangement at one of my service providers, upon which they let me know that from what I asked, they assumed that I have already decided to terminate our relationship – which was not accurate.

Based on their response, I could have jumped to the conclusion that they didn’t want me as a client any longer, which iwas also not accurate.

So rather than prolonging the back and forth of emails, we met for a conversation and cleared up the misunderstanding. We got real.

A couple of things can be learned from this, the most important (in my view) is that we enter dangerous territory when we base our thinking (and doing) on what we think others think. We may be 100% right or 100% wrong.

When there is any uncertainty, Slow Down to Speed Up and then take the time to Clarify.

And the learning about using email…When we are face to face with someone else, they see our body language, they hear how we say our words and hear the words themselves. The combination of these elements influences how others experience the communication. One can sweetly, with a loving stare in the eyes, whisper “of course I love you”. The same words, when shouted and accompanied by agitated body language will probably have a very different meaning!

When someone gets your email, they only get the words. Also, the way they interpret your email depends on their current state of mind; are they being distracted; do they have a lot on their mind; maybe they are tired; they may be pressed for time – who knows.

So before we shoot off an email about something important, or that has potentially emotional content, it is probably much better to send an email requesting a meeting and the discuss the matter face to face.

Life is not a race. Let’s take the time to build on reality, not misunderstanding.

Let’s get real or let’s not play.

“When we say we know what others think, or would think, about something we have done or are about to do, we are mistaken. We are mistaken because we never know what another person is thinking unless they tell us.”
~Barry Winbolt~

I think you think I want a fun week – hey! You are right! Let’s play!

We were walking along the Braille Trail in Kirstenbosch on Saturday when Dugald spotted these spider webs. I stumbled down the slope to get a bit closer to get ‘the perfect picture’ but it evaded me.

How did the spider create this web, many meters away from the closest trees? Did it do at night? Did it slide down from one tree using its silk thread and somehow worked from there? Did it sit on one tree and then somehow moved to the other tree, come back halfway and started weaving the web?

Whatever the details of its construction, it’s a masterpiece.

A masterpiece of beauty and at the same time a masterpiece of a death trap for insects that get caught in it.

Eventually this body of work of this spider will be destroyed by whatever means, a strong wind, a bird flying into it, a human being breaking it…and probably without a warning that would give the spider time to prepare for the end of its web.

Eventually the webs we spin with the daily silk threads of our lives will also be destroyed. Maybe with warning, maybe without. Our lives will be over. Our bodies will be gone. But, unlike the spider, not our bodies of work, the entirety of our particular creative output. That will remain.

Which resurfaces the topic of finishing what we start so we preferably leave behind as few as possible open loops and even regrets (like my father who used to say towards the end of his life that one his big regrets was that he had never written a book, the title of which would have been The Regrets Of My Life).

But it’s not only about finishing what we start. It’s also about choosing wisely what we start.

An idea for this week: We are all on a quest to weave beautiful life-webs. This requires a few things, I think:
• Know what kind of spider we are. We can only spin the web we have been made for. Action: Understand our Ikigai.
• Be crystal clear about what we want to create. What we want to ‘catch’ in our life webs. What matters most to us. Action: Revisit values and mission statement.
• Focus. Minimise distractions. Minimise procrastination. Perfectionism doesn’t pay. Action: Finish what we start. No regrets.
Let’s keep climbing like the Itsy Bitsy Spider

“I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.”
~Walt Disney~

388 years of life experience were on tap Sunday when our brothers and sisters enjoyed each other’s company again.
The conversations went from mindset and belief systems to politics to religion to population growth and growing the economy, with the potential downsides that both the latter could have for the planet… Fascinating that even after pooling almost 4 centuries of living, ‘THE SOLUTION’ still did not show up for any of the ‘issues’ we had conversations about.

On Saturday I bought a bottle of alcohol-free beer to use in the cheese-broccoli-beer soup for Sunday, and noticed ‘THE SOLUTION’ to fixing a hangover on display at the till (note that this is not an advertisement for the product – just an observation). ‘THE anti hangover’ – not ‘An anti hangover’ or ‘A possible anti hangover’ but THE. And it comes with easy-to-use instructions complete with illustrations: Bend it, Snap it, Drink it. A single shot hangover fix. “Oh, and it tastes like pancakes.”

There will only be a market for this product if someone has overindulged the previous day. No excess, no cure required.

Don’t you think there could be something out there in the combined 3 482 700 000 years (57 million people x average life expectancy of 61,1 years in South Africa) of combined living in our country that we could ‘bend, snap and drink’ to make things better for us all? And it will ‘taste like pancakes’ when it is administered?

Is there not something in our own lives that is waiting to be discovered that could help us as individuals to get over our ‘hangovers’ of past thinking and past behaviour?

But first we should identify excesses have we ‘indulged’ in in the past that are now causing our ‘hangovers’. Do we suffer from ‘procrastination hangover’? Or perfectionism hangover? Or saying yes when we should have said no hangover? Or a hangover of not clarifying what really matters in our lives and then spend our time on things that leave us frustrated and busy without feeling fulfilled? Or not doing what we say we will do, therefore leaving us with untold numbers of ‘open loops’ that come and bug us every day? We can cluster these things as the hangovers of unproductive living, keeping in mind that productivity is not just chasing more of whatever in shorter time, but getting our right things done with as little effort as possible.

The way I see it: there is a cure for our ‘anti productivity neglect hangovers’ – ourselves. There is no magic muti that we can buy, bend, snap, drink and as if by magic find ourselves living productive, fulfilling and happy lives. To quote from Epictetus, we must put time and effort into clarifying who we want to be, and then to do what we have to do. Without fail.

Thought for the week (maybe a possible anti hangover prescription?): In which areas of life are we not happy with what we are experiencing now? That’s a hangover. What caused the hangover?

How can we ‘self-medicate’ to cure our anit-productive hangovers?

“If it is to be it is up to me.”
~ William Johnsen ~