My granddaughter Nadia might only be 4 years of age, but can she teach the world a thing or two!

Scene One: Just this week, in her school group, she gave wings to her artistic interpretation of her family. We may think it is funny or a weird depiction of reality, but for her that is reality reflected using her current drawing ability. And she is proud to share it with the world, no matter what the world may say of it.

The lesson : Be proud of who you are and of your work, no matter what others think or may say of it. Let’s not allow what we think others might think, affect what we do. The way I see it, is that when we act based on what we think others might think, we give away responsibility for our lives to fiction.

Scene Two: Nadia’s teacher, Miss Fiona, told Lindie, Nadia’s mom, that Nadia was working away cutting out a picture using a small pair of scissors. She, the teacher, sat down for a friendly chat with Nadia and kept on talking and talking and talking. Nadia then looked at her and said: “Excuse me, but can you please be quiet now? I have to concentrate.”

The lesson: Protect your focus. Protect your boundaries. It doesn’t matter who is interrupting you and keep pulling your focus away from the task at hand, turn them away gently and respectfully.

When we get distracted, or let me rephrase that to ‘when we allow distractions’, productivity suffers. Our focus drops from 100% to 0% in an instant. When we return to the task, it sadly does not jump back to 100% immediately. No, we have to rebuild our focus.

I read that in more than 60% of cases where people are distracted from a task, they do not go back to that task after the distraction. That’s when you end up with 23 open emails at the end of the day. Emails you started but not finished. How does that feel?

Practise the skill of protecting your boundaries, and just like Nadia in this picture, you can enjoy the focus of being and staying in the moment.

“Excuse me, but can you please be quiet now? I have to concentrate.”
~ Nadia Oppermann ~

I suggested to my writing coach and friend Dorian Haarhoff that we go to the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden in Betty’s Bay on Saturday morning. I wanted to chat about an idea for my next book.

But, with the devastating fire in the area just a short while ago, I wondered if this could be a poor choice of venue.
Would there be anything to see and enjoy?

There was. More than enough.

There were dead tress and shrubs, more than you wanted to see. In their scorched state, there was a special kind of beauty in them.


There was also abundant show of new life. Nature just carries on doing what it does so well. Rejuvenating itself after disaster.
It takes whatever events life throws at it, whether it be rain, wind, sunshine or a devastating fire, and just deals with it and its consequences.
In it state of temporary brokenness, it became a teacher.

Dorian earlier quoted the story of ‘the glass is already broken’ often told by Achaan Chaa, a well-known Thai meditation master. He tells about a glass he received as a gift. It holds his water beautifully. When he taps it, it makes a beautiful sound. Should the glass fall and shatter, he would say “’Of course’. When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

When we visit Harold Porter, Kirstenbosch or any place of beauty and understand that it is already burnt beyond recognition, every moment in it is precious.

When we recognise that we are already dead, every moment of being alive becomes precious. How does this change our priorities? How we interact with others? How we delegate? How we participate in meetings? How we drive our cars? How we eat?

Love your job? Imagine you’ve already lost it, then every moment in it becomes precious.

Love your car? Imagine you’ve already lost it, then every moment driving it becomes precious.

Love your family and friends? Imagine they’re already dead, then every moment with them becomes precious.

Everything is exactly the way it should be in this moment.

Interact with everything as if it is already broken. And with everyone as if they are already dead.

Every moment then becomes precious.

Shall we live this week as if we are already dead?

Think that can have an impact on your productivity, happiness and fulfilment?

You  see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it. I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over, or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious. Every moment is just as it is, and nothing need be otherwise.”
                                     -Achaan Chaa-


The launch of my new book Productivity 106 on 30 March is getting closer.

On Saturday, between a ‘Full Monty’ breakfast at the Kirstenbosch Tea Room (where the launch will take place) and a lovely relaxing morning in the garden, I went to speak to Jacques, manager of the Tea Room about the launch event.

This was the third time I discussed it with him.  I wanted to make sure that our area in the Tea Room will remain reserved during our walk.

His response was spot-on: “You’re worrying too much about this. I know what I’m doing. You worry about your book.”

Paraphrased: “You delegated this task to me. I know what I’m doing, and I know how to do it. Now go away and leave me alone so I can get on with the job. Go and do the things that you are supposed to be doing. Don’t cross the boundary you yourself have put in place by delegating the task to me.”

Or, even simpler: ”Don’t micro-manage me.”

We delegate tasks because we implicitly trust the other person’s character and competence. If either of these is lacking, there should be no delegation of responsibility in the first place. It’s worthwhile noting that an abundance in the one does not make up for a shortfall in the other. One can be the nicest person in the world but if one cannot do the job, one is not trustworthy.

Peter Schutz, the former CEO of Porsche, said “Hire character, train for skill”. Or “Hire the smile, teach the skill”. Hiring character and training competence can work. But when you hire purely based on skill (“What’s your diploma/degree/certificate/years of experience?”) I don’t believe it is possible to train ‘bad people’ (i.e. lacking character) to be ‘good people’ (you may have experienced the opposite – please let me know).

When delegating, be very clear about a few things:
• What specifically must be achieved by doing this task?
• Are there guidelines within which the job should be done?
• Time, money, people, technology, etc, – what’s available as resources?
• How and how frequently will we get together to monitor progress?
• What could be consequences be of doing a good job, or failing at the task?

When a delegatee is worthy of our trust, let them get on with the job. Let’s not peer over their shoulders and micro-manage unless that was agreed on for the monitoring process. Don’t meddle.

By all means encourage them. Support them. Cheer them on. Be a resource to them. But don’t take the pride of successfully completing a task away from them by hijacking ownership of their process.

Jacques, I know you will deliver the perfect venue for the perfect launch.

I will now focus on my book.

See you again at 07:30 on 30 March!

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.”
(Ronald Reagan)

Keep cycling!

I never thought that taking ‘a road less travelled’ could lead to an amazing hour internetting with antlions.

Started up the Smuts Track (that eventually takes one up Skeleton Gorge) and turned off to get to the Nursery Stream and Old Dam in Kirstenbosch.

As I stepped off Smuts Track, I saw about eight antlion traps just below the step. It intrigued me, as these structures always do. As children we used to spend time dropping small pieces of wood (and yes, even ants!) into the trap to see what would happen. Even dug out the antlion to see what it looked like.

Yesterday I stopped short of doing that. Maybe it’s more difficult to get up now after being in a kneeling position for a while! But my mind did not stop. How did they get here? Why just a few and not hundreds? Why is this the best place for them? How did they know to make their traps here specifically?

Back home I asked Uncle G “how do antlions know where to make their holes”. That triggered an evening of learning.

I never knew that antlions have a multi-year life cycle. That the adult antlion is a flying insect. That the female lays an egg after repeatedly tapping the prospective laying site with her abdomen.

The egg changes to a larva, which conceals itself under leaves, debris or pieces of wood, hides in a crack or digs a funnel-shaped pit in loose material. When it has reached maximum size many months later, it creates a cocoon of sand and silk around itself a few centimetres below the surface.

In about a month it transforms into an adult insect which moves to the surface and flies off in search of a mate after about 20 minutes of ‘wing expansion’.

I never realised that what I ‘knew’ as ‘THE antlion’, was merely one of the stages in its life cycle. And never bothered to even think about it. What I ‘knew’ was not the whole story.

How well do we know ourselves? How well do we know our spouse, partner, children, friends, team members, colleagues we report to and those who report to us?

How well do we know our abilities be live life at optimal productivity and get the right things done with as little effort as possible, doing what comes naturally?

Maybe our current ways of saying yes when we should not, procrastinating, striving for perfectionism, living in the Inbox, allowing distractions and interruptions, attending meetings we should not even have been invited to is just a phase in our productivity life cycle?

Maybe we are in the larva phase on our way to beauty in our own productivity flight?

To grow and develop into the adult antlion, the larva has to eat until it reaches maximum size.

To grow and develop into the most productive, happy and fulfilled people we can be, we can feast on the banquet that people (suggest you Google them) like Jim Rohn, Stephen R Covey, David Allen, Alan Watts, Roger Merrill, Carl Honoré, Hyrum Smith, Jerry Fletcher, Brian Tracy and many other giants in the domain of personal and interpersonal effectiveness and performance have laid out for us.

The antlion larva matures faster with plentiful food and can survive many months without feeding.

But do we just want to survive? When there’s plenty of food available?

How about taking a stroll down a productivity path less travelled – a path of feeding the mind through reading, learning, growing, sharing, listening and maturing to a level where we can make our way out of our own limiting productivity cocoon, stretch our new wings and take flight on the next phase in our cycle of improving productivity…

“Once you stop learning, you start dying”
(Albert Einstein)

Bon appétit!

I was so happy to be in the company of this flower and its companions yesterday. You must please join me on one of my walks in Kirstenbosch – there is so much beauty to enjoy.

And so many lessons to be learned.

Referring to this photograph, I shared what I thought was the ‘Lesson of the Day’ with a few people: “Focus on one thing at a time”.

Many loved it.

My brother Almero shot back:

1 Focus on the right place.
2 Do not lose sight of the bigger picture.”

It hit me between the eyes.

For the past two months I have been almost singularly focused on getting my book finalised. From early in the morning till late at night. Book. Book. Book. Book. I enjoyed it, and still am! At times such focused attention is required. Nothing wrong with that.

But not at the expense of the rest of life and living. I lost sight of my early-morning walks. I lost sight of the importance of my Pomodoro-break every 45 minutes. I lost sight of a few other things that make up the bigger picture of my life.

For two months the book owned me.

Could there be a danger that we allow our pet projects, maybe even our pet hates (irresponsible drivers, bosses, incompetence, politicians to name but a few) to own us to the extent that it consumes our lives to our own detriment?

What determines “the right place” for our focus, within our bigger picture? Our current priorities, which flow from our personal values and mission statement, give the frame for focus.

In photography, “framing is the presentation of visual elements in an image, especially the placement of the subject in relation to other objects. The goal is often to focus the viewer’s attention upon the subject…”.

Frame first, then focus on the subject – in relation to other things.

No frame, no focus.

“Better to sleep all day on a park bench than do work you don’t believe in.”
(Marty Rubin)

Braille Trail Living

The Braille Trail in Kirstenbosch was the place for me to be on Saturday morning. It was the place with most potential to enjoy nature and receive a few nudges about life.

There is a rope suspended between “mileposts” next to the trail, that one can hold on to guide you if you are unsighted.

I accepted the invitation at the beginning of the trail to “close your eyes or put on a blindfold, grab hold of the rope and discover a world of textures, sounds and smells”.

I had a good look ahead, closed my eyes, grabbed hold of the rope and started walking.

I experienced feelings of excitement and trepidation at the same time.

Excitement because I was in unchartered terrain, ready to explore and learn new things. Trepidation because I was not sure of how it would work out. I could walk straight into someone coming from the other side, or stumble and fall, losing my grip on my guideline.

It’s not a long trail, but I just could not do the whole distance with closed eyes. I peeped. And stopped to have a good look around. And then continued.

It’s pretty much like life, isn’t it?

We set out on our path through life, holding on to our guiding rope, our values. Our parents give us this rope to start off with. Then we pull off some threads and add others as we develop our personal and professional values. Our own rope to grab hold of to keep us on track.

Just like the rope guided me and governed my behaviour on the Braille Trail, our values guide us and govern our behaviour – or should.

Saying that we value patience and then behave impatiently, is a serious disconnect. One of two things need to change here. Either change behaviour to be aligned with values or get real and dump the ‘patience’ value if we cannot live it.

I think it’s better to live out fewer values that we are serious about, than showing off a long list of values that have not yet moved from the paper to our hearts and our body movements.

Patience. Fairness. Honesty. Integrity. Respect. Tolerance. The list goes one. But what do these words mean? What do others see us do when we live out our values?

I’m sure the rope on the trail gets checked regularly to see if all is still in order. Maybe we should do that with our values-rope as well? Make the time to stop and peep and take a good look around? The test could be to translate our values into behaviours and then do a reality check. Is the rope still good or is it beginning to unravel?

We could even include other people close to us in this maintenance check-up. Share our values with them and ask them to help us identify recent behaviour that was not true to the values.

Life is our Braille Trail. The rope is ours to make. The mileposts are ours to define. It’s up to us to hang the rope securely on our mileposts.

It’s up to us to grab the rope, set off and discover the textures, sounds and smells of living.

Shall we go?

I wanted to get a picture of the small bird in the picture on the left at ‘take-off’, but was a bit late on the trigger. Within a split second I was then given an image of just the branch – no bird.

Now imagine I showed you the picture without the bird, and told you a little bird was sitting on the branch just before I took the picture.  Would you believe me?

It depends on the nature and quality of our relationship. On the level of trust you have in me.
If there is no or little trust, the more I try to convince you, the more sceptical you might become or simply not believe me. A lot of negative energy exists.

On the other hand, if there is high trust, I will not have to do any convincing. You will believe me straight away and may even ask about the colour of the bird, how long it was sitting there. Positive energy is generated in the conversation.

How much of our energy does not go to waste in low-trust relationships, both personally and professionally?

I have not done this before, but the thought of drawing some form of ‘trust map’ with me at the centre and important relationships fanning out from the centre. Then I mark those that I am not so happy with, for whatever reason.

And reflect on what’s causing the negative energy in those relationships. Could it be low trust? And if so, what can be done to rebuild the trust and turn the relationships around so we can again enjoy the positive creative energy?

Character and competence determine trustworthiness. What’s missing? How can I rebuild it?

It will take work, but how nice won’t it be to show you a picture without proof and know that I won’t have to try and convince you to believe me when I tell you that there was a bird sitting on the branch?

“Most good relationships are built on mutual trust and respect.”
(Mona Sutphen)