Archive for August, 2016

I am so glad that I parked close to the Mouille Point lighthouse on Sunday morning, because I was given this picture just after 07:00 (I still wonder what the little green light above the door is for!).

2016-08-28 07.10.37It reminded me of the “lighthouse” story that Stephen R. Covey liked to tell.(Watch the first 02:11 or so minutes.)

To quote…“In short, as the story goes, one night at sea, Captain Horatio Hornblower awakens to find that a ship is in his sea-lane about 30 km away and refuses to move.

Horatio commands the other ship to move starboard, 20 degrees at once.

The other ship refuses and tells Horatio that he should move his ship starboard, 20 degrees at once.

Next, Horatio tries to pull rank and size on the other ship, stating that he’s a captain and that he’s on a large battle ship.

The other ship replies, and it turns out it’s not actually a ship, but a lighthouse.

The take away from the story is, there are lighthouse principles – you don’t break them. You only break yourself against them.”

There are principles of productivity that cannot be broken – you can just break yourself against them.  And just like gravity will not go away if everyone on the planet votes against it, in the same way these principles won’t go away if we don’t like them.

They don’t care whether we like them or not.  We have the choice to align our choices with these principles or crash our shop against them.

Three examples: 

  • Wherever you are, be there.  When you are at home, be fully at home.  When you are in a meeting, be fully in that meeting.  When you are having a conversation with someone, be fully with that person.  If you allow your mind to drift off to other things, you lose focus on the matter at hand and productivity takes a nosedive.
  • Clarify up front. If you are not sure what someone has just asked you to do, tell them what you understand the assignment to be and let them confirm or clarify.  In case you missed my previous reference to it, click here to see what happens if one does…. Well, let me not spoil the video and learning for you!

 Only you can choose to align what you do with these and other productivity principles, or whether to ignore them.

Choose carefully…

Quote: “We are free to choose our actions, . . . but we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.”   –  Stephen R. Covey


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On my flight to Bloemfontein on Sunday, as I was enjoying the landscape below, something struck me.

The evidence of what must have been streams of water flowing when it last rained, was still visible even though it must quite a while after the event.  One sees the same thing flying over the Tankwa Karoo (if you have never been there I suggest you take your next “slow down to speed up” time-out there).

Our planet is the remains of cosmic events that have happened millions of years ago and forever since then.

Long after the events have taken place, the evidence is still there.

Maybe today’s thought does not have anything to do directly with increasing personal productivity but in a sense it has.

After every interaction we have with someone else, the evidence of that event may still be there after a while.  “Bad” interactions can lead to “bad” productivity in a team or organisation.  You may be familiar with Stephen R Covey’s metaphor of “The Emotional Bank Account” that reflects the level of trust in relationships depending on the “deposits” and “withdrawals” we make in relationships.

The higher the level of trust, the higher the productivity will be.

As “quote of the week”, I want to share the following piece with you.  It was written by Marina Smit, a young girl in grade 9, shortly before she was tragically killed in a car accident:

Footprints in The Sand

“It is said that somewhere in Namibia there are desert plains where footprints never ever disappear.

Isn’t it amazing?  But also extremely disturbing…  Would we like the footprints we leave behind to remain undisturbed forever?

What about the harsh words, the unkind remarks, the gossiping and the hurting of feelings?  Surely these are footprints on the delicate sands of minds.  What if this sand responds the same way as the sand in Namibia?  Most of us would like these footprints to be washed away by the waves like the footprints on the beach.  The problem is however that we are never sure what kind of sand we’re dealing with…

This realization made me decide:  I want to look back with pride at my footprints.  I want other people to admire my footprints.  Above all I want to see footprints next to mine… those of God guiding me through the desert plains of Namibia where your footprints remain forever.”

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A fun exercise that I like to have people in my workshops do, is to break the group into smaller groups of 5 or so people and let them stand very close together in their groups.  I then let one person hold the one end of a piece of chevron tape (or string) while I walk around the group twice and then tie the two ends of the tape together at waist height.

Given certain rules, they then have to move as fast as they can over a distance of about 15 meters.  Typically, their time is about 20 seconds.  “Not good enough!  The fastest time for this exercise is 4 seconds!”, I tell them.

They put their heads together and when they do it again, they take a few seconds less.

We then discuss what is holding them back, what the “problem” is.  Everyone knows that the tape is the problem.  I then suggest that the solution to the problem is in the problem.  Look at the problem and the solution will appear.

Then the penny drops – the tape has been put around them twice, and by “undoing” it so that here is just one loop of tape, so much space is created that everyone can run freely.  Their time when running like this?  About 4 seconds.

How often don’t we have a problem or challenge that is holding us back, causing us to be unproductive and operate at a suboptimal level, and we keep on working within the constraints of the problem rather than looking deeply at and into the problem, understand it in all its nuances and then find the solution staring at us from the problem.

Is time a problem?

Too many emails?

Unproductive meetings?

Look at these things and discover the solutions that will free up time, limit your emails and create productive meetings.

By the end of today, reflect on what happened, and especially what did not work (if anything!).  Then see if you can find the solution in what happened.

Have fun!

Quote: “The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.” ― Albert Einstein

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On Sunday morning my friensobo (friend + sounding + board) Richard and I enjoyed a working breakfast at Quaglino’s in Mouille Point, Cape Town.  We spotted a big ship out on the ocean (not the one in the picture) seemingly headed in our direction.

ship“I wonder if it’s moving…”, Richard said.

“I don’t know.  Let’s give it some time.”

After a while we saw that the ship was indeed moving and has made an almost 90 degree turn.

Turning a ship that size through 90 degrees must require quite a lot of effort, and our conversation turned to “trim tabs”.  “Trim tabs are small surfaces connected to the trailing edge of a larger control surface on a boat or aircraft, used to control the trim of the controls, i.e. to counteract hydro- or aerodynamic forces and stabilise the boat or aircraft (GC: my emphasis) in a particular desired attitude without the need for the operator to constantly apply a control force”.

I misunderstood the functioning of a trim tab (like a miniature rudder) initially, thinking that if you want to change course, you adjust the trim tab first and that this leads to the adjustment of the rudder, but after Richard’s explanation, I now understand that the trim tab only “kicks in” once the ship has been put on course and stabilizes the system so the ship stays on course.

Buckminster Fuller articulated this particularly well.

Just a week earlier, Albert van Niekerk introduced me to the concept of “Tiny Habits” as presented in the work of Dr. BJ Fogg (watch TEDx video) – “Forget big change, start with a tiny habit”.  I am oversimplifying this, but if you want to create a new habit, e.g. floss your teeth, use an existing habit, e.g. brushing your teeth, to trigger a tiny step towards the new behaviour and floss just one tooth – and then celebrate.  The format: “After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth.”  In general, “After existing habit, I will new tiny behaviour.”   You can find examples of tiny habits here.

Let’s say you want to improve your personal productivity – that’s the new direction you want to steer your life ship into.  You adjust your personal “rudder” accordingly.

As you work towards improving productivity and changing your work habits, there will be forces that, if not countered, are bound to push you off course.  Forces like interruptions, distractions, other people making fun of your new ways, and your own inability to keep commitments, low motivation…

Maybe a tiny habit can be the trim tab that keeps you on course to achieve your outcome of improved productivity?

From what I have just read about tiny habits, they need to follow one of your existing habits.  So the format below may not be “pure” but maybe it can work as “trim tabs” to counteract unproductive forces coming from other people as well?

  • After I open Outlook, I will think of one thing I am grateful for.
  • After I open Outlook, I will “clean up” on item on my desk top.
  • After I’ve read my 5 news websites on the internet, I will close my browser.
  • After I finish my last task for the day, I will plan tomorrow.
  • After I arrive in my office, I will do one push up.
  • After I find my mind wandering off to something that has nothing to do with what I am working on, I will write that thing down and return to it later.
  • After working for 45 minutes, I will take a 5-minute break.
  • After deciding to leave the office and go home, I will review and update my calendar.
  • After someone interrupts me, I will take a deep breath and immediately tell them they have overstepped a boundary.
  • After someone asks me to do something that I am not responsible for, I will say no.
  • Before I turn off Outlook, I will preview tomorrow.  (GC: I don’t know if “before” can work!)

Let’s have a week of tiny productivity habits!

Create just one of your own and let me know what tiny productivity habit you created.  I would love to share examples with everyone!

Quote: “Call me Trim Tab.” – Buckminster Fuller

What’s happening?

2016 public workshops: “Productivity Breakthrough for Outlook Users: 8 Basic Work Habits of Exceptionally Productive People”.

In-house Productivity Breakthrough workshops customised for your team.

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I have to thank the Cape Town Gallows Hill Traffic Department for the fantastic learning opportunity it afforded me last week when I went there to renew my driver’s license.

It reminded me of the one piece of experiential learning I facilitated in the FranklinCovey programme The 4 Roles of Leadership on the role of Aligning: Creating a Technically Elegant System of Work.  The exercise was about visiting the local traffic department to renew your license!

Last week the workshop game came to life painfully in Cape Town, highlighting the inefficiencies of bureaucracy (“an excessively complicated administrative procedure”).

(As you read the next few paragraphs, think about similar “sandpaper” situations in your business/team or personal systems.)

First you queue at the ENQUIRIES counters.  About 20 people in the queue.  25 minutes.

Then fill in a form.  Why – surely they already have my details in their system?

Then you queue to have your eye test done.  About 30 people in the queue.  45 minutes + the time for the test.

Then you queue to pay. About 45 people in the queue. 90 minutes.

gallowAnd at 15:00 there was an announcement that all of us in the queue will not be attended to that afternoon and had to come back the next day because the cashiers close at 15:45 and leave at 16:00.  And they don’t receive overtime payment…  One lady in the queue started throwing her toys out of the cot, but that’s another story!

The last queue held the biggest lesson. There were two “windows” open to receive payment for license renewal.  There was one window open (see the picture) that is dedicated to receive “fine payments” only. As you can see in the picture the lady behind that window did not have much to do most of the time, except looking with amusement and boredom at those in the other queue!

How difficult could it be to create a “technically elegant system of work” focused on the customer and not the internal bureaucracy?  Why have 100 people being attended to by 6 people in 3 departments, and one person sitting idle most of the time, instead of having 100 people in one queue being served by 10 people who can all do the complete process?

But enough about the situation at Gallows Hill!

How difficult can it be to review the systems used to get work done in your team, and even for you personally?  Maybe not all that hard.  Look at all the steps (“windows”) in the way you and your team do your work.

Are there “queues” that can be eliminated?

Too many “windows”?

Can one person do more than one task and increase operational efficiency?

Are there any “sandpaper” moments that can be eliminated?

There are many more questions, but I encourage you to keep on Creating a Technically Elegant System of Work.

Quote: “When you are in alignment with the people around you, you are much more likely to travel in the same direction and avoid hidden agendas.”  –  Mitch Thrower


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