Test and Try!

Happy rest of 2020!

In the last 2019 memo we touched on the importance of having a purpose for our lives. A personal mission statement or credo. I asked the question, “Don’t we find our purpose by doing things and see if it works or not? If we like it or not?”

This thought and question carried over into the new year. On the first weekend of 2020 I visited the shop at the nursery in Kirstenbosch, and noticed small bottles with samples of a variety of herbal air sprays and oils. The labels intrigued me. It did not display the word ‘sample’, but TRY ME and TESTER.

What’s the difference? A sample is just a sample. TRY ME and TESTER invite us to do something, to take action. It’s easy to walk past ‘sample’, but more difficult to ignore invitations to take action.
Google teaches: “Try means to give it your best effort – and you may come out with something good or bad”. “Test normally speaking, is when you put your skills at the max to prove that you are good in that certain area” or “a critical examination, observation, or evaluation”.

Whatever the definition – it requires action.

Just looking at the TESTER and TRY ME bottles will not enable you to decide whether you want to invest in more of the product. Not even shaking them will do the trick. Even if you take them up a mountain with you and spend a weekend in deep meditation about the meaning of the words on the bottles, you still won’t know.

You must pick it up, right there where it is, take off the cap and spray, or put a drop or two on your skin, to know whether it is worth your effort and money or not.

How do we find out what our purpose in life is? It’s almost like there are different lives bottled up, waiting for us to try and test them and then choose which way to go. Forever wondering about how we find meaning in life and our life purpose, is not sufficient.

We must actively engage in different options “to see if it is suitable or useful or if it works”.

We cannot KNOW if we would like parachuting unless we try it.I don’t have any answers or even suggestions about the steps to “check out” the options available. Maybe we can learn from Shonda Rhimes (an American television producer, television and film writer, and author – think Grey’s Anatomy) whose sister described her using these six words, “You never say yes to anything.” She then wrote The Year of Yes in which she details how her entire life changed when she committed to saying “yes” to everything for one year.

Maybe we can identify things (‘bottles’) in life we think we could like doing, use our creativity and create “tester” or “try me” samples of these areas, say YES to it, and actively explore them.

I would love to hear your thoughts, and then about your actions and conclusion as we make 2020 our “Year of Yes”.

“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.”
John Gardner, a politician and a recipient of the 1964 Presidential Medal of Freedom, on how to live a meaningful life. (Thank you Ludi Venter, for sending me this quote.)

I was privileged to work with a group of fifteen very smart people last Monday and Tuesday in Johannesburg. We implemented proven productivity principles in their Outlook workflow management system to make their lives easier.

It’s almost like opening a jewellery case with them, and unpacking the sparkling diamonds and also see their eyes sparkle when ‘the lights go on’ and they are so happy to discover how easy it is to get more from the tool they are already using every day.

Back at Cape Town International Airport, I waited for my bag to arrive on the luggage conveyer belt.

All the bags were under lock and key. Some even had plastic wrapping around them (good marketing message from the ‘bag wrappers’ at the JHB airport by the way – “Let us protect your luggage”, not “Let us put plastic around your bag”. Benefits, not features. But I digress, following my jumpy mind…).

I wondered what it would look like if all bags were transparent, or even open, and how people might think and feel differently about the bags going past them if they could see the content. (And then look at the people waiting and play the game of matching bag content to waiting face!)

The conveyor belt gets loaded at one end and delivers the bags to waiting people, hoping that their bag is on the conveyor belt in Cape Town and not in Durban. And when they recognise their bag, they take it as fast as possible and move on, even though they cannot verify what’s inside and see if it has been ransacked.

The conveyor belt called ‘LIFE’ gets loaded with ‘bags’ and delivered to us where we are impatiently waiting for our special bag to arrive. Bags often look alike. How can we be sure it’s ours? If we take somebody else’s, how do we give it back?

If we live someone else’s life, what happens to our own? Kathy Caprino, Senior Contributor at Forbes has spent 11 years of career coaching, teaching and training, helping mid-career professionals “dig deep, discover their right work, and illuminate the world with it”. Mid-career professionals stated the following as their number one regret: “I wish I hadn’t listened to other people about what I should study and pursue.”

They took the wrong bag.

Maybe they were rushed, like so many of us are. Maybe their mind was not where their body was. Maybe their eyesight was not so good. Maybe they listened to someone else saying, “Hey, isn’t this your bag?”

Whatever the reason, for the time being they are saddled with the wrong baggage. Yes, they can put it back on the conveyor belt and when it comes by the next time they can smile and say, “I know it’s not mine.”

How do we know that, right now, we have the right bag? Maybe our real bag has not yet been loaded. Maybe we missed it. Maybe the conveyor belt of life has become stationary. Even if we put the bag we now have back on the belt, it will still be in front of our eyes.

But we can turn away and move on. But move on to what?

The typical age range of ‘mid-career’ is 35-50. Do you have the right career bag? Is the content of the bag what you wanted? Has your career become stationary?

Is it time to change? Do you still have the time to make a change? Or are you stuck where you don’t want to be for the rest of your professional working life?

“There are more questions than answers”, Johnny Nash sings.

How do we find our own answers to this question? Do a Google search about finding your ‘mission’, and more than 700 million results show up. Enough to keep us busy for multiple lifetimes!

I don’t think we discover our mission just by sitting and meditating about it, although that helps. Or by thinking and thinking and thinking about it. Or by reading about it. Or even by doing the valuable Ikigai exercise to help us find ‘our reason for being’.

Don’t we rather find our purpose by doing things and see if it works or not? If we like it or not?

How do we see if it is really our bag if the tag and all other markings are not on it anymore and it looks just like the one next to it? We open it. We engage with it.

Isn’t it the same with life?

“Our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

— M. Scott Peck


Responding to my note on Monday that my Monday Memo will each you on Tuesday, I was happy to receive several responses and enquiries to check if everything was OK.  Thanks for your concern and understanding!

Special thanks to Smiley Marais who asked if MM (Monday Memo) has now become TT (Tuesday Tips)?  And since ‘TT’ is a fast car, if these will be fast tips?

Good idea!  So here goes with our first fast TT (but MM will be back as from next week). There may be more on the spur of the moment TTs down the line 😊

TT1: Be where you are.  Have you ever been in conversation with someone, and in their eyes, you can see they just ‘left’? Not much value in continuing that conversation – they’re gone!  If you are home, be at home.  If you are at work, be at work.  If you are in a meeting, be in that meeting and get out of the meetings that you are having with yourself in your head.

How can you give yourself a better chance of being where you are?

By applying a very simple technique every day: take just 5-and-a-few minutes, grab a piece of paper or your favourite note-taking app and write down anything and everything that’s buzzing around in your head.  Small things, big things, personal things, professional things – anything goes and must go from your head into your system. In his book Getting Things Done, David Allen calls this your mind dump.  Get it out!  As he says, ‘your mind was not designed to think of thinks but to think creatively about things.

Before today is over, treat yourself.  Take the time and do a mind dump. Just 5 minutes.  Get it all out.  And then send me a message-in-the-subject-line email to gerrit@prps.co.za :  Your subject line:  I did a mind dump today.  It made me feel _____ (fill in the blank).

One of the nicest emails I received the day after a productivity workshop: “I did a mind dump like you cannot believe last night,  2 hours.  And for the first time in many months, I had a night of uninterrupted sleep.”

Want to be more relaxed?  A mind dump can help.

Want to work without mental distractions?  Do a mind dump.

Don’t believe me?  Do it anyway…

Stop a minute, right where you are. Relax your shoulders, shake your head and spine like a dog shaking off cold water. Tell that imperious voice in your head to be still. – Barbara Kingsolver

On Saturday, I sat.  For about 30 minutes, as I was covering the last kilometre or so to the first robot as you enter  Fish Hoek at the bottom of Ou Kaapse Weg.

As you can see, there was a long queue forming behind me.  The queue in front of me was stationary most of the time, crawling ahead about 5 meters  at a time every now and then. Which was more ‘then’ than ‘now’.

Some motorists could not take this any longer, turned around and rushed back to where they came from just a few minutes ago.  My guess was that they were going back maybe a kilometre or two to take the alternative route to Noordhoek, or a different route to the same robot they were heading to anyway.  Maybe they believed it would take them less time to get there even if it was farther.

I wonder what the final thing was that made them turn around.  Boredom?  Extreme frustration?  Inability to wait things out? A crisis at home?  Or urgency addiction, urging them to be on the move, be busy, rush around even though the rushing  could cost more than being patient?

In all this, I was visited by the CIA once again.  “Gerrit, is this situation in your direct Control (C)? Do I hear a no?  Can you Influence (I) it? Do I hear another no? Mmmmm.  Well, if that is the case your best approach to the situation would be to Accept it and Adapt (the A) to it.”

Buried in “accept and adapt” is another choice – what do we choose to use as ‘adapting mechanism’?

Some people chose the ‘be busy’ option by turning around and finding a different way, even though there was no guarantee that the alternative route could not also be waiting with a surprise delay.  Others chose to sit it out. Neither option is right nor wrong.

One should, however, think it through.  What are the possible outcomes of your choices?  And then base your choice on those possibilities.

In some instances, in the past, I chose the ‘at least it feels as if I am making progress’ option.  On Saturday I used the 30 minutes of slow progress to turn the inside of my car into a concert hall and enjoyed a piece of Beethoven I don’t often listen to.

“Slow down to speed up” is the one productivity principle that people find most difficult , yet most beneficial, to implement.

Shall we declare the week of 2 December 2019 to be ‘the week of the pause button’? To look before we leap.  To think before we speak. To not be busy just for the sake of feeling productive, but actually being productive.

To consider options carefully before we choose. And then throw ourselves whole-heartedly into our choice.

Shall we dance? Slow dance?

Human freedom involves our capacity to pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.

~Rollo May

I enjoyed an indoors weekend, working on the online community for the current Meaningful Productivity programme, and also having fun with going through the process of getting a version of my Productivity Breakthrough: “8 Basic Work Habits to Rapidly and Sustainably Increase Productivity” course on Udemy. Interesting and a lot of fun was had!

These actions were triggered by reading chapter 2 of the bookTHRIVE! – Stop Wishing Your Life Away by Alan Weiss . Although we have not yet met, I see Alan as one of my mentors.

My good friend Richard de Villiers and I are ‘working the book’ chapter by chapter, getting together for a weekly 30-minute call to share what we are going to implement from all the wonderful thoughts and advice Alan offers.

I have Alan’s permission to quote sections from chapter 2, Wishing is to achievement what watching TV is to aerobic fitness. This resonated so strongly with me that I “pulled the trigger” on a few projects and am happy to say that I completed two items today. Feels good.

I quote at random, with no comment or interpretation. I hope you find it valuable too.

“Weekly I watch people miss opportunities because they are wondering whether there might be something better around the corner. Publish the article, take the tickets in front of you, seize the opportunity that presents itself. You can always ‘fine-tune’ and adjust, but get your ass in gear.”

“The key, therefore, is to empower ourselves. Now, ‘empowerment’ has become a buzzword of dubious worth, so let me define what I mean by it here: Empowerment is the ability to make decisions that influence your life and/or the outcome of your work.”

“I don’t stand in lines, or endure long holding times on the phone. I take control of my life. I find alternative means.”

”If you agree to be on a fundraising committee and you hate fundraising, you’ve allowed yourself to be disempowered.”

“One of the worst crimes against your own humanity is disempowering yourself. That means that you willingly allow decisions which influence your life to be taken away from you, or refuse to make them.”

“Life is about success, not perfection.”

“ ‘Empowerment’ means something. You need to make it mean something for you, or else someone or something else is running your life.”

“We tend to look back at our lives bemoaning what we should have done. I call this ‘the view of the wake’ since we are looking back where the boat has already sailed (and it might as well refer to a wake where one views a deceased body – metaphorically your own). The trouble when you stare at the wake is that you fail to see the new opportunities appearing constantly through the windshield.”

“You have the personal accountability to look for opportunities that can enhance your life, work, interests, and relationships. That accountability is going to be nearly impossible to live up to if you … bemoan your past instead of becoming excited about your future.”

“If we spent as much time planning and seeking opportunity as we did wishing that we had done things differently, we’d all be in much better shape.”

“It’s never too late to move your focus to ‘What should I do?’ and away from ‘What have I done?’ Instead of bemoaning ‘What if?’, you’re assessing ‘Why not?’”

“You can’t afford to talk to yourself or anyone else in terms of ‘If only’ and ‘I wish I had’. That’s like watching the rerun of a sporting event and hoping it turns out differently the second time. You can’t change your personal history, but you can prevent it from ruining your future.”

“Wishing, like talk, is cheap.”

“Stop wishing. Start acting. Reach for the stars.”

I wish you an action-packed week.

Empowerment is the ability to make decisions that influence your life
and/or the outcome of your work.
– Alan Weiss

My car window was down when I stopped at the robot at the intersection of Rhodes Ave and Union Ave after a most enjoyable morning in Kirstenbosch.

There are usually quite number of men selling all kinds of things at that point, and today just after noon was no exception.

I never asked this gentleman’s name, but we had a most inspiring albeit very brief conversation.

He: “How’s your Sunday morning so far?”

Me: “Very good thanks, and yours?”

He: “Very good, thanks.”

Me: “Made some money already today?”

He: “Not yet. But there is still a chance. As long as there is a chance, I am having a good day. And when I can speak to someone like this, that makes my day.”

Just before the lights changed to green, I got his permission to take a picture and share his good-day-smile with you.

“As long as there is a chance, I am having a good day…”

Just this morning, in our online group for one of our mastermind groups, Cathy shared thoughts about the value of Gratitude Journaling. What an appropriate context for this man’s attitude and smile. He is grateful that he still has a chance to earn some money. To speak with someone through an open car window.

And I am grateful for the few moments with him.

How often don’t we rush through life behind closed windows? Cutting ourselves off from things that could “make my day”?

How often don’t we look back and dwell on the emptiness we see in the time that lies behind us (noon today for they guy at the robot) instead of taking a view that there is still a chance ahead of us that for something that will make our day?

Won’t that perspective give us a chance to be happier? And more productive?

A study at the University of Oxford showed that happy workers are 13% more productive. I enjoyed this reference to The Happiness Advantage, which identifies gratitude as one of the “seven principles of positive psychology”. Srinivas Rao says that “Happiness is a skill that can be developed. And with practice, we can raise our baseline level of happiness.”

How? With a daily Gratitude Journal.

Whether you use one of the many available apps, a digital document or a notebook doesn’t matter. Express your gratitude for something that has happened during the past 24 hours. Write it down. Even send a ‘gratitude email’ to a few friends.

“As long as there is a chance, I am having a good day…”

Why not take a chance on your gratitude journal?

What you focus on is what you tend to notice in your life. If you’re always focused on the things that suck, that’s going to colour your perception of reality. One of the simplest ways to shift that perception is with a gratitude practice.
– Srinivas Rao



I met Faan Naude for the first time on the beach at Vleesbaai.

It was a rainy September morning and I was quite surprised to see him and his wife walking on the beach with their dog. Nothing strange about it, except that Faan was on crutches.

I stopped by and we chatted while it was raining very softly.

Faan contracted polio when he was 2 years of age. As he grew up, he developed a keen interest in rugby and told a coach he wanted to play. The coach just gave him one look and turned him away.

In that moment Faan said to himself, “I will show you.” He took up wrestling, persevered and ended up wrestling for the national team.

He did not allow his physical condition to get him down. Rather, it spurred him on.

Every time I now walk on this beach, I think of Faan and his story. And about the things that I have given up on in my life so far, or things that I allowed to get me down. In comparison to a man that was stricken by polio so many years ago, my issues seem so insignificant.

Within the bigger picture of life and living, does it matter that I failed Mathematics solidly and had to sacrifice a December holiday while at varsity to study for the February ‘repeat’ exam (which I thankfully passed)? Was it worth getting all depressed about it, feeling sorry for myself for being in a situation that I brought on myself by not studying properly?

Or when a budding business relationship evaporates for no obvious reason?

Or like this weekend, when I came to Vleesbaai with friends for a business strategy session and the weather is such that, over 3 days, we could not even fit in one strategic braai?

In contrast to Faan’s condition, “These things too shall pass.”

Since feeling the rain drops on my face that morning with Faan, my perspective of ‘bad experiences’ and disappointments has changed

When we find ourselves stuck, but we keep going, we will get through the dip.

How can we get better at thinking beyond the immediate ‘bad experience’?

From Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi:

• “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”- Eleanor Roosevelt. How can we get better at withholding our consent when others or situations dump ‘inferior!’ on us?

• “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” – Mahatma Gandhi. How can we get better at hearing and seeing things for what they are, and not try and figure out “the story behind the story”, to not allow others’ dirty feet into our minds?

How could life change if we could just accept the things we cannot change, instead of making a Drama In Three Acts about it? And, like Faan, turn it around?

When I said goodbye to Faan two months ago, I said hello to the possibility of putting things in perspective.

Thanks, Faan, I thought about you again today, about the wrestler inside your polio-stricken body, crutching along on the beach with a happy story to tell and a twinkle in your eye.

“Life is about perspective and how you look at something… ultimately, you have to zoom out.” – Whitney Wolfe Herd

Have a Faan week…