A few weeks ago Amien and I made an appointment to meet at Kirstenbosch for a brunch, walk and talk on Sunday. With the weather in Cape Town being, well, the weather in Cape Town, we said we would check in at 9am to make the final decision as to go ahead or not. It was a 50/50 call and we decided to reschedule.

Later that morning, my daughter told me that she and a friend had a similar experience. Just before their walk it looked like rain was on its way. She called her friend, who said, ‘Well, I have a raincoat.’ They went for the walk. It did not rain.

With that bit of inspiration I decided to go anyway albeit by myself.

The tomato shakshuka was as good as always, the cappucino superb, and I could get some very useful work done on my upcoming webinar on the new way Outlook users get and stay even more productive.

My walk through the garden was shorter and faster than usual, but not without a lesson.

The same beautiful flowers that are open and show their full beauty on a sunny day were closed and ‘withdrawn’ on this cold and windy day. It’s still the same flower. It just adapted to changes in its environment, its context for being what it is.

That’s not only OK, that’s the way it was designed to be.

And for us humans? Don’t we experience changes in our environment? Changes in our context of being? Is it not OK to “wear your heart on your sleeve”, showing how we feel in our current ‘weather’?

Why do we wear a mask (not talking about covid masks 😊 ) and pretend we are OK when we are not? Would the people we interact with not prefer to be talking with the real us and not with the us-with-a-mask?

I am no psychologist so won’t even try and go one millimeter deeper than asking the question.

This thought would not have occurred to me if I stayed at home.

Is there a moral to this story?

“Proactive people carry their own weather with them.” – Stephen R. Covey

 

 

I wouldn’t say that Sunday was a bright, sunny, beach-going, surfing, mountain-hiking day in Cape Town.

So, I was surprised when I saw this vehicle with a surf board on its roof pass me on the M3, going in the direction of the Muizenberg, a popular surf spot.

“You’re going to surf?  In this weather?”

On reflection I realised what a silly thought that was.   I mean, when you surf, you are not exactly in a dry environment. And you are most probably inside  a wetsuit.

Clouds?  Rain? Wind? Who cares? It could even be more exciting!  I have no idea of surf culture.

It could even be that the person behind the steering wheel was delivering the surfboard to a friend.

My first reaction to what I saw came from my own head.  My framework. My assumptoins.  Without understanding what was really going on.

Stephen Covey’s teaching came to mind.  His popularised version of psychologist Rollo May’s article (quoted at the bottom of this memo):

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Do I not too often form an opinion about a person, group of people, religion, political party, professor, teacher, child, someone in my class… on my incomplete picture? And then even go further and spread the word as if it is THE truth, and not just MY assumption?

My theme for the month of September is “Push PAUSE”.

Push PAUSE In the heat of the moment.

Push PAUSE after every 50 minutes on intense work.

Push PAUSE at the end of the day.

Push PAUSE to listen with my ears, my eyes and my heart – especially when I don’t agree with, or don’t yet understand the other viewpoint.

I’m pushing PAUSE right now.  To add one small drop to the huge pot of 2,25 billion cups of coffee that are consumed all over the world every day.

Enjoy your PAUSE!

“Freedom is thus not the opposite to determinism. Freedom is the individual’s capacity to know  that he is the determined one, to pause between stimulus and response and thus to throw his weight,  however slight it may be, on the side of one particular response among several possible ones.”
– Rollo May. “Freedom and Responsibility Re-Examined”.

 

At our Online School of Productivity the teachers never sleep – pay us a visit?  It’s time for a break.

 

It was just after 9am and the queue to get temperature-tested and filling in ‘the form’ was long. I did the necessary and then had to go to the back of the queue.

Now, I have a lot of patience, but queuing is not one of my strong points. When I saw what looked like a side entrance to the venue I wanted to visit, I decided to chance my luck.

Bad luck. It was indeed a ‘side entrance’ though a small office. But the exit door from that office – the door that would allow me to get to where I wanted to be without the queue – was locked.

I explained that I have already signed in and passed my temperature test (I hate tests). No lick. Then, after some more conversation, he opened the door. I could go to the main venue! No queue…

With a wink he said, ‘OK, off you go. But when you get to the other side of the passage, don’t look back.’ I wondered why, and the only reason I could think of was that if someone else from the establishment saw me enter from that passage and I looked back, he could end up in trouble.

I thanked him, walked down the passage, and entered the venue – without looking back.

How often don’t we arrive at (or even create?) closed doors in our lives? A dead-end career. A project that is going nowhere. Our own mental locked doors of limiting beliefs.

When we don’t challenge the closed state of that door, we stay locked in the current situation we want to escape from.

What if we could open some of these doors that are preventing us from being who we want to be, doing what we want to do en enjoying the results we want to enjoy?

These thoughts prompted me to revisit the little book Five Secrets to Personal Productivity, by Kurt Hanks, Gerreld L. Pulsipher and David Pulsipher and published by The FranklinCovey Company.


Chapter 1 is about ‘Time Maps’ – illustrated in the diagram. The sold line in ‘the past’ is our path of choice. The dotted lines are the options we had in the moment of choice but decided not to pursue. ‘Options denied.’

Ahead of us lie possibilities. All are available. Anyone could remain a solid line should we decide to follow that possibility. And when we choose one, in that moment all the others become options denied. Dotted lines.

The words ‘decide’ and ‘deciduous’ come from the same root word in Latin: decidere, ‘to cut off’. Deciduous trees ‘cut off’ their leaves in winter.

When we have four options to choose between, and we decide to take option 3, we cut off options 1, 2, and 4.

Don’t agonise about what could have been. It’s not part of our current reality. We cut it off and let it fall by the wayside.

Each choice in our ‘time travel’ leads to a specific outcome. Where we are now (maybe in front a closed life-door?) is largely the result of the choices we have made along the journey.

“Don’t look back.”

“When we pick up one end of the stick, we pick up the other end.” – Stephen R Covey

 

Get LOST

Dorian Haarhoff arrived in my WhatsApp chat on Saturday morning.  And just like every Saturday, he made an impact with a quotation and a story.

Saturday’s quote was in the form a poem, LOST, by David Wagoner.  Let me share that with you first, and then a few thoughts…

 

“Lost”

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,

Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,

I have made this place around you.

If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.

No two trees are the same to Raven.

No two branches are the same to Wren.

If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,

You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows

Where you are. You must let it find you.

In my recent Meaningful Productivity programme, ‘purpose’ caught our attention.

‘What is my purpose in life?’

‘Why am I here?’

‘Without working towards a purpose, my life feels empty.’

‘How do I find my purpose?’

‘Why do I need a purpose?  My purpose is to do whatever I am doing  in the moment as well as I can.’

How often don’t we wonder and even agonise about the ‘purpose’ question?

You are in the forest of life.  You are in the career forest. You are where you are.  “Wherever you are is called Here.” A productivity principle comes to mind. “Wherever you are, be there.”

You “must ask permission to know it and be known.”  For me, this means we should engage actively in life. Life offers opportunities.  ‘Test me’ samples that can only be known by engaging.  We will never know what the content of that sample ‘test me’ bottle smells like unless we push the nozzle.

“No two trees are the same to Raven”…similarly, the same tree is not the same to different Ravens.  The same job, the same career, may seem like perfect because your friend is doing so well in it.  It might not be the same for you.

Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Life knows where you are.  You must let it find you. Not by passively pondering ‘purpose’ but by engaging with your ‘forest of here and now’.

Thank you, Dorian, for contributing to my understanding of purpose!

Why not visit Dorian at his blog? Go to ‘Sound Bytes’ and enjoy previous readings.  Want his weekly quote and story? You have his permission to connect on WhatsApp on +27 82 873 6802, after which he will send you his weekly inspiration by voice note.

 

“Discovering what you’re passionate about in life and what matters to you is a full-contact sport, a trial-by-fire process.  None of us know exactly how we feel about an activity until we actually do the activity.” – Mark Manson

Coffee, conversation and learning.  A winning combination!

It was so much fun to experience all three on Saturday morning in (guess where!) Kirstenbosch.

We talked about ‘negative space’, gamification of learning, and Forge of Man: Meditations on a chaotic world.  I learned how to use Elevate, an app “with 35+ games that are designed to boost productivity, earning power, and self-confidence in skills like math, reading, writing, speaking, and listening.”

And then it was time for a walk.

At the bottom of the 13 steps I noticed the sign post that I’ve seen many times before.  For the first time I became aware that, from where I stood, I had a choice of 16 places to go to, not seeing the ones hidden on the other side.

Maybe this is an example of the term ‘overchoice’ that Alvin Toffler introduced in his 1970 book Future Shock. “Overchoice or choice overload is a cognitive impairment in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options.”

 

 

 

It was so much simpler when I arrived in the parking lot 2 hours earlier!

One big arrow.

Don’t get me wrong – I am all for choice!  When I was still buynig chocolates, I tended to overdo it and  get three different kinds of chocolate.  I like to think that I was not buying chocolates but buying choice 🙂

Sometimes we make a ‘big choice’.  Where we choose to live. What to study. What career we embark on. Who we want to be. Whether to live a life of complexity or essentialism. Whether to make our plate smaller when our current life plate gets overloaded by stuff we allow into our lives.

But don’t you also find that once we follow ‘the big arrow’ for our life, we tend to mess things up and get sidetracked into so many details and rabbit holes that we get stuck because we have replaced the one  big arrow with 16 or more options?

I find that when that happens, I can’t make up my mind about which route to take.  Then I go down this route, then that one, then the next one.  And the next one.  And after 6 months or a year I am back where I started.  With little to show for the effort.

The rest of this memo is from my personal perspective.

A couple things played into my decision to simplify my business life down to one big arrow.

The book The 1 Thing.

One of my favourite video clips from City Slickers.

The Hedgehog Concept in Jim Collins’ book From Good to Great – “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Foxes pursue many goals and interests at the same time. As a result, their thinking is scattered and unfocused, and ultimately they achieve very little. Hedgehogs, however, simplify the world and focus on a single, overarching vision, which they then achieve.”

The One Thing Domino Effect video.

Over the years I have embarked on many wonderful explorations. I fully subscribe to the quote by T S Elliot, that I have shared many times, ‘“We shall not cease from exploration | And the end of all our exploring | Will be to arrive where we started | And know the place for the first time.”

The place I arrived at is where I started about 17 years ago: My ‘one thing’ is to help companies that use Microsoft Outlook save time to the value of one month’s payroll.  How? By enabling their people to use Outlook as their everyday business productivity tool and not just for email and meeting management.

That’s it.

That’s my one thing.  My first domino.  Everything now aligns and supports to this.

I am at peace.

What’ your big arrow?

I just swapped Sunday for Monday.

Why?  Because Kirstenbosch opened again today!

What a joy to walk around and see that trees and plants were still in the same place as a few months ago.  They don’t need us around them to carry on being what they are and doing what they do.  They don’t need  to be micro-managed to thrive and bring pleasure.

Many if not most of the plants and trees in the garden have probably been selected and planted by humans. Then they were planted in the area where they had the best chance to fulfil the promises held in the seeds.

Once planted, they were cared for but left alone to do their thing.

Why do we so easily complicate our own live by micro-managing relationships (personal and in business) that could have and even should have left alone after being established, taken good care of, except for occasional weeding?

In your team, is every member currently ‘planted’ in the area where they can be and do their best – without being micro-managed to the nth degree to be who they are not and can never be?  Limited by suffocating rules, regulations, daily check-up reports, and and and… ?

Stephen Covey famously said, “Don’t keep pulling up the flowers to see how the roots are coming. Be patient. You can’t violate this process.”

Like the Chinese bamboo tree – you plant the seeds and for 4 years nothing visible happens above the ground. In year 5 it grows something like 30 metres!  All the time it has been preparing itself for performance by growing a strong root system to support the rapid growth.

Let’s decide what trees and plants we want in our personal and business gardens.  Take time to select the best seeds and seedlings of what we want.  Plant them in the team garden so they can be who they are and thrive.  Feed them.  Water them.  Get rid of the weeds.  And we may just be cultivating a top-quality harvest of teamwork and results.

Monday, Monday, so good to me!”

 

“Keep patience…. For even TIME needs TIME.” ― Mayank Sharma, A Cocktail of Love

Over the weekend Richard and I were having a performance check-in conversation when the conversation drifted to the ‘check’ part.

We digressed (as usual) and ended up caught in a blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie thorn tree (colloquially known as the ziziphus mucronata, or buffalo thorn).

“The young branches of the tree are a very distinctive zigzag shape, symbolizing that the path of life is never straightforward. There are two very sharp thorns at the nodes, a small hooked thorn pointing backwards – reminding us never to forget from whence we came, and a long sharp thorn pointing forwards – representing the path ahead.”

We talked about the good feeling we get when we ‘check off’ something as completed.  For that we usually use “A check mark, checkmark or tick (British English) is a mark (✓, ✔, etc.) used (primarily in the English speaking world) to indicate the concept “yes” (e.g. “yes; this has been verified”, “yes; that is the correct answer”, “yes; this has been completed”, or “yes; this [item or option] applies to me”).”

 Then, the ‘learn and improve’ productivity habit squeezed its way into our conversation and twisted the traditional checkmark into a crooked checkmark.  A ziziphus checkmark.

Let’s not just check something (often in a rush) and feel good that it’s completed.  Slow down for a moment.  Reflect on the activity we are checking off.  What worked?  What did not work?  What can I learn from this to make my future better?

Make a note somewhere (Outlook, OneNote, Evernote, piece of paper) and at the end of the week create some more ziziphus time.  Marvel at everything you have learned during the week.  And make your next week better.

What can you lose by giving this a shot: For the next week, use ziziphus checkmarks when you complete something.

Pause.  Think back. Learn.  Plan forward.

Viva the crooked check mark, viva!

 

“Learning from experience is a faculty almost never practised.” –  Barbara W. Tuchman

 

About a week ago Three Anchor Bay was all over the news with the storm in Cape Town.

Pictures like this one, and videos went viral as people shared news that was exciting, scary, dramatic, and not something that happens every day. If this were the state of the weather every day of the year, it would not be shared.

 

 

On Sunday I went for a walk on the Sea Point promenade and took this picture of the same area at Three Anchor Bay. No wind, no storm.

How many videos and pictures did you receive on social and mews media about the beautiful, wind-free, sunny day in Cape Town?

Same place. Different conditions. Different newsworthiness.

Today you are the same you as yesterday. I am the same me. Is it not newsworthy that we woke up this morning, that we are alive, breathing and can continue with our lives?

Is it not exciting that we can feed our bodies and minds with things we choose to, and not allow others to walk through our minds with their dirty feet, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi?

Is it not share-worthy that there are things in our lives that we can be grateful for?

It is true that bad news sells better than good news. We respond quicker to ‘bad news’ words than ‘good news’ words. Which of these fictional headlines would probably draw your attention and make you want to read more?

• “Anticipated unemployment numbers in next three months threatens economic recovery.”
• “Unemployment improves by 1% year-on-year.”

The article can be the same, but we tend to get drawn into ‘bad news’ stuff.

Yet people say they prefer good news to bad news.

So why not make this a day of spreading good news!

Make it simple. Write a one-sentence email to three friends/colleagues/associates and tell then just one thing you are grateful for today. It can be anything from being alive, having the sense of touch so you can type or activate a phone call, a beautiful sunrise, a glass of water, a special friend, the weekend, a day without load shedding…

Not sure what you can be grateful for? Here’s a list with 100 ideas.

From me to you: Today I am grateful that you have chosen to read this Monday Memo.

Let’s ‘viralise’ this good-news day, shall we?

“Gratitude means realizing that right now I have more of what really matters than ever before, no matter how difficult this moment might be.” – Greg Baer

Maybe this is already a historical picture?

If I understood President Ramaphosa correctly on Sunday evening, SA parks are now open for exercise purposes.  Kirstenbosch is a park, and walking is a form of exercise so my assumption -a and I will confirm this a bit later – is that I can walk in Kirstenbosch again.  That will be great!

I went to Kirstenbosch anyway on Sunday, to have an early lunch at the Kirstenbosch Tea Room (have a look and visit when you are next in the area), after passing my temperature test.  It was good to see everyone again – not to mention how nice it was to see and enjoy their bobotie again.

I stood at the barrier and enjoyed the view of the garden. The ‘gate’ was closed but the garden itself did not ‘close down’.  Nature was still being nature.  Flowers were still being flowers. Birds were still being birds.

The purpose of the barrier is (was?) not to protect the garden from the corona virus.  Nor to protect the garden from human beings.

Is the purpose of the barrier not to protect us? So, instead of being upset at ‘them’ for telling us to “Stay Out!”, should we not be thankful that the barrier is giving us a better chance of staying strong and healthy?

Thinking of all the interruptions, unnecessary phone calls, Zoom calls and ‘do you have 2 minutes’ requests we get every day – when we are busy with other things…  It probably won’t cost a lot of time or money to create and print (or make a voice recording) our personalised “I am closed” message. And since things are always better accepted if there is a reason for the request, you may want to add any reason for being ‘closed’.

Personalise it: “I am closed due to heavy workload.”  Not “This door is closed…”

“I am closed due to upgrading my mental operating system.”

“I am closed because I want you to grow and think.”

“I am closed because I care about you.”

This does not mean that you have stopped being you, that you have stopped caring about those who work with you.

If we are ‘closed’, could it not benefit those who come to us for quick-fix help if we give them an opportunity to discover the answers themselves? To become stronger and less dependent?

Like everything in life, our context guides us in the moment of choice, to protect our boundaries with a “I am closed” message, or to let visitors through.

When we understand our priorities and communicate our priorities up front (e.g. block out ‘No Fly Zones” in your shared calendars), we have earned the right to display our “I am closed” sign.

And, just like the barrier at Kirstenbosch, it does not have to a permanent fixture.

When people can see that it’s for their benefit, they will knock on your door less frequently.

Let me call Kirstenbosch to hear if I may approach or whether it’s still a “No Visitors Allowed” zone… and then respect that boundary.

A lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect.” –  Anonymous

I was so excited when Jacques, manager of the Kirstenbosch Tea Room, told me on the phone last week that they can again serve sit-down meals!  Could not wait for Saturday to go there and just enjoy the environment even though I could not put a foot into the garden itself.

Saturday arrived, as days always do.  When I went outside, I stepped into a heavy fog.  One peek at Devil’s Peak and I decided to skip the outing.

Why did I make that decision?

Because of the story I was telling myself.  How cold it was going to be in Kirstenbosch, that I would have to sit outside because the inside would already be as full as it can be, given social distancing and the rest.  That I won’t be able to even see the closest tree through the fog. So why take the trouble – it’s not going be a pleasant experience.

Many assumptions are built into that story.  That the fog I experienced in the city bowl would be as thick in Kirstenbosch. That it would be full inside the tearoom.  And I can go on.

These were not facts.  I was making up my own reality and based my decision on my story.

Who knows how different it could have been if I went?  If I went early enough, I could be the first guest and get a seat at the heater inside.  Maybe I could have met the most interesting person.  Maybe I could see the vista of the garden from the tearoom, way beyond the closes tree.

My good friend, and one of the wisest people I know, Igno van Niekerk, taught me that a story always inserts itself between what we observe or experience and how we feel about it, which in turn informs our decision about how we want to respond.

Observe/Experience => STORY => Feel => Response

What’s the story you tell yourself when…

  • You see, in bitterly cold weather, a beggar (with a mask) approaching you inside your warm car, as you wait for the traffic light to turn green?
  • Our President’s televised address to the nation, scheduled for 20:00, has still not started at 20:20?
  • When you see your Inbox flooded with 20 ne emails every hour?
  • When you ask someone to do something, they agree, and then don’t do it?
  • When you are doing a presentation of some sorts, and someone in the audience nods off?
  • When you decide to put something off to do later instead of right away when it should be done?
  • When you walk into your office and see piles of paper all around?

We are where we are in life because of the choices we have made along the way.  Stephen R Covey taught us that, ‘If you pick up one end a stick, you also pick up the other end of that stick.’ That ‘the other side’ of choice A is consequence A.  It cannot be different.

We make choices of what to do and what to leave based on the stories we tell ourselves – maybe lies?  How could life have been different If we made different choices?  Of course, we cannot answer the last question accurately, but it would have been different.

I am not suggesting we spend inordinate amounts of time, going into a state of deep meditation and reflection every time we are faced with a simple choice (“chicken or beef?”).  But maybe, just maybe, it could worth to pause when we are considering which ‘stick of life’ to pick up, or ‘stick of how I treat people who work with me’, or ‘stick of my career’, think through the stories we are telling ourselves about it before we pick up the stick?

To clear our mental fog before choosing.

It’s foggy here in Vredehoek again today.  I wonder if it’s also foggy in Kirstenbosch.