Archive for July, 2019

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.

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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!

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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~

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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 ~


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It was a bit more than chilly Saturday morning when I stepped out of the warmth of the tearoom at Kirstenbosch (the tomato shakshuka there is to die for…). The slight breeze made it feel much colder than the reported 12 degrees C . For a moment I felt like getting to the car as quickly as possible to get back home.

But after that moment of madness I went for a short walk in the garden and was given the sight of tens of fresh molehills on the lawn. I wish I could have seen the underground tunnels and how the moles moved around and created the molehills.

Then I looked up and saw Castle Rock towering over the scene.

The visual impact of the mountain is so much bigger than that of the little molehill that I could have flattened with one swipe of my foot.

Like I could ‘flatten’ the little really unimportant things in my life by ignoring them, or by just paying sufficient attention to it and not make a mountain out of a molehill by “responding disproportionately to something … by greatly exaggerating the severity of the situation.”

It is impossible to flatten Castle Rock with one swipe of the foot. It can also be very difficult, if not impossible, to flatten and get rid of our self-made ‘mountains from molehills’.

Let’s just think about our molehill-mountains. What are the things that are causing (or have caused) us pain, frustration, anger, feelings of not being worthy – you name it – that could have been avoided by dealing with the molehill when it was just being pushed up from below the surface?

How often do we rush through a conversation without making sure we understand the other person/people and then come to molehill-to-mountain conclusion about them, or about the situation?

How many wars could have been avoided by seeing its little molehill for what it was and dealing with it appropriately?

How about this idea: Once a week, maybe on a Sunday evening, review the week and identify our molehill-to-mountains that we have created? What were the triggering molehills? How could we have prevented them from becoming mountains?

The Free State plains only have real mountains on large stretches of flat earth, no molehill mountains … Let’s flatten our current molehills before they grow into mountains that become as difficult to remove from our lives as it is to remove Castle Rock from Kirstenbosch. Then we can deal only with our real mountains.

Need a shovel?

“An exaggeration is a truth that has lost its temper.”

-Kahlil Gibran-

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