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I have never before been to Kirstenbosch on a heavily overcast day, so Saturday was a first for me.  I would have loved to walk in the rain (had a few drops on Sunday) but was also happy to enjoy the experience without any rain!

The flowerbed in the picture is one of my favourite “reflection spots”.  As the seasons change, the “content” of the flowerbed changes.  From a shower of colour to nothing visible.  But the underlying process does not change.

Prepare, care, produce and enjoy the results.

Like the Chinese bamboo tree – you plant the seeds and for 4 years nothing visible happens above the ground. And, living in a culture that is often driven by instant gratification, that may leave you frustrated. But in year 5 the Chinese bamboo tree 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.

You and I also go through seasons in our productivity, performance and life enjoyment.

But the underlying process remains the same, does it not?  We want something to be different and we want to change it.  And in the “instant gratification” paradigm, we want everything changed by tomorrow – or maybe next week.

Then we jump in, boots and all, only to discover the pull of our old habits…

Don’t try and change the system that will deliver a more productive you, overnight.  Think of the seasons.  Think of what you want to change.  Then choose just one small thing you can control, and work at that for a week or three.  Then the next one, and then the next one.  And in “year 5” you will enjoy spectacular productivity.

How about the following: To give yourself a positive head start to your day, prepare the previous day, and enjoy the flowers the next day.  Do this just before you leave your office or the last thing at night. A few things to consider:

  • What happened today?  What worked?  What did not work?
  • What can I learn from today to make tomorrow better?
  • Who did I interact with today?  Any “closing the loop” calls to make or emails to send?
  • Looking ahead at tomorrow: Am I ready for everything? Is there anything I need to renegotiate with others or myself?
  • What are my “Top 5” achievements for tomorrow?

Don’t even try to overhaul your entire productivity enabling system in one go.  It won’t work.  “Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey”!

I am more than happy to share up 30 minutes with you on a Skype (no video required) or phone call to talk about one thing that you would like to change and that you fond challenging – no charge.  Drop me a line and we can arrange a time.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Quote: “Don’t keep pulling up the flowers to see how the roots are coming. Be patient. You can’t violate this process. Like the law of the farm, you have to plant, and nurture, and weed and water. Then the harvest. You can’t go into a crisis mode. There is no quick fix. There is no cramming system that will work.” – Stephen R Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

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Why do we sometimes make things more complex than they have to be?

In two weeks’ time my brothers, sisters and I will get together to celebrate my birthday, and they offered to come to Cape Town so I don’t have to travel.  And – I can choose where to go, given a certain limitation on the amount to spend.

Then I turned something simple like choosing a venue into something unnecessarily complex by going back to them, asking if the amount was just for the main course or included starters, dessert and coffee.

Still fairly simple.. but then the complexity set in when one of them asked for a breakdown of the combination of starter and main, just main and dessert, main and coffee… I opened a Pandora’s box!

So I went back and told them that I would look just consider the price of the main course as a guideline and went back with my recommendation a few minutes later.  To cater for everybody’s preferences and then make a decision, could have taken me another day!

To quote:

“Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University and the author of “The Art of Choosing,”  Professor Iyengar and her research assistants set up a booth of samples of Wilkin & Sons jams In a California gourmet market. Every few hours, they switched from offering a selection of 24 jams to a group of six jams. On average, customers tasted two jams, regardless of the size of the assortment, and each one received a coupon good for $1 off one Wilkin & Sons jam.

Here’s the interesting part. Sixty percent of customers were drawn to the large assortment, while only 40 percent stopped by the small one. But 30 percent of the people who had sampled from the small assortment decided to buy jam, while only 3 percent of those confronted with the two dozen jams purchased a jar.

One way to tackle the choice problem is to become more comfortable with the idea of “good enough,” said Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College and author of “The Paradox of Choice” (Ecco, 2003).

Seeking the perfect choice, even in big decisions like colleges, “is a recipe for misery,” Professor Schwartz said.”

Just in this past week (serendipity?) I read a few time management and productivity improvement articles in which the authors suggest that we limit the number of tasks we want to complete on a specific day.  Some say 3, others say 5 or 6. The actual number is maybe not as important as the principle of getting more done by doing less.  Of separating the vital few from the trivial many.  The 80/20 principle, in other words.

Shall we do an experiment this week?

Every evening, write down the things you want to tomorrow.  Do you agree that these things pop up more or less in the order of importance?  If so, the STOP after you have the first 5.  STOP.  Don’t add one more.  Then imagine yourself getting to tomorrow evening and as you reflect on the day, all 5 things have been DONE.  Feels good?

If this way of getting to 5 makes you feel that you have not considered ALL the possibilities, then write things down until your “run dry” after 10, 20, 30 … Then go ahead and pick just 5.

You may also want to experiment with Warren Buffet’s “not to do list” process:

  1. Write down your 25 top goals, and then circle the top 5 most important.
  2. Then, separate the top 5 into their own list — and goals 6-25 get put on a ‘not to do’ list.
  3. Ignore everything on the ‘not to do’ list until you’ve achieved your top 5.

Let me know how it’s going!

Quote: “It is not clear that more choice gives you more freedom. It could decrease our freedom if we spend so much time trying to make choices.”  – Benjamin Scheibehenne

I was wrong, I admit it.  I learned…

After dropping someone off close to the station in Cape Town, I stopped and waited at the red traffic light.  The intersection is  bit strange in the sense that once you turn left after “green”, there’s a  distance to go before you get to the light that regulates traffic in that lane.

Being Cape Town, as I turned, there was a whole contingent of jaywalking pedestrians crossing the road!

I stopped for them and waited at the red light – which I could (should) have crossed.

Not realising my mistake, I found it strange that a guy stopped behind me, hooting and waving his arms at my stupidity and for blocking his progress to the next robot, about 50 meters down the road.  He even squeezed his van between me and a structure on the pavement, and passed probably no more than 5 cm from my car, still hooting and shouting.

He raced down the road – and I stopped next to him as he was waiting at the next robot.  I chose not to make eye contact…

He got emotionally entangled in a short-term, close-at-hand, immediate and obviously frustrating situation that he did not create, and had no control over (with me having gone “stubborn” because of his apparent aggression).

If only he took a few seconds to look ahead and see the situation just a bit further down the line, he could have chosen to adapt to the behaviour of this stupid driver with grey hair in front of him, and would have arrived at the next stop in exactly the same time, but calmer and less frustrated and stressed.

How often don’t we (and I can only speak for myself here) get so caught up in a short-term crisis, focusing only on the here-and-now and do our very best to resolve the situation without thinking ahead.  Who knows, if we slowed down a little to clarify what lies ahead, we don’t have to waste so much time and effort on battling the Hydra of the moment!

I read a great article by Zat Rana about how the quality of our daily decisions inform the quality of our lives.  It contains this bit of wisdom: “Being able to step back from immediacy and use high-level thinking to evaluate the effects of your actions and decisions beyond just the initially visible cause and effect relationship is an indispensable quality, and it’s how smart people make good long-term decisions.”

He also refers to the 10/10/10 method, invented by Suzy Welch: “Any time I feel a slight conflict about a decision or an action, I take a moment to ask myself the following three questions:

  • How will I feel about it in 10 minutes?
  • How will I feel about it in 10 months?
  • How will I feel about it in 10 years?

Here is how he applied it to a trip he was considering:

  • How will I feel 10 minutes after booking? — “I’ll likely be a little conflicted, but slowly, I know I’ll get excited about seeing old friends and catching up.”
  • How will I feel 10 months after the trip? — “There is almost no chance that I’ll look back and wish that I had continued to postpone my plans until now.”
  • How will I feel 10 years after the trip? — “The extra work I may have done will be completely irrelevant, but I’ll probably still treasure the memories I made.

This makes so much practical sense to me.  I am going to implement it when faced with difficult choice or decision.

Here is an article from FastCompany about how the 10/10/10 method can help you when making tough decisions.

I invite you to join me for this week, and apply the 10/10/10 method to just one tough decision in your personal life and one tough decision in your professional life.  Write to me about your experience if you want to, and I will provide a summary (anonymous) of a few experiences in a next memo.

Shall we 10/10/10?

Quote: “Don’t let short-sightedness get in the way of your success.” – Paul Morigi

Every day, without fail, a group of guinea fowl make their way through the veld on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, just outside my apartment.

They scratch around in the same space day after day, trekking up the hill, looking for food.  And tomorrow they will be back for a repeat performance, revisiting the same space – and they will get something new to eat.

Part of my “mission statement” for improving productivity is “to continuously look for new ways to get the right things done with as little effort as possible”.

Observing the guinea fowl yesterday made me think about the effort and energy that can go into exploring new and different productivity tools versus revisiting “old” and time-proven principles and techniques.

Uncovering new things is exciting and I will never stop doing that, but revisiting familiar space and still finding “something to eat” can be equally satisfying.

I am therefore putting a moratorium on buying new books about productivity improvement.  I am going to review what I already have and rediscover  the truths that are waiting on the bookshelves.

I can only think that over the years you have tried may new thing, read many new books and attended new courses to improve yourself.  That’s great! I want to encourage you to also reflect on the things that you already have in your arsenal, and that have been most valuable to you in the past.  Scan your books and notes, dust them off and look at them with new eyes. “Ex bibliotheca semper aliquid novi…”

It could be a fun and rewarding journey – just ask the guinea fowl!

Quote: “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.´- T. S. Eliot

As I was working through my project list on Friday, I wanted to make sure I am investing time and effort in them, and not spending or wasting time on things that are really not worth the effort.

 

I revisited the GE “Return on Effort” matrix, and after a few minutes had my projects  prioritised, and a few of them trashed.

 

It was actually quite easy to do it.

 

You consider two aspects of a project: Effort required and Payoff.  (I cannot recall the saying exactly, but must have read somewhere that if you cannot explain something using a 2-dimensional matrix, you have not thought about it deeply enough…)

 

  

The matrix is self-explanatory – all you have to do is make a call on what each of the four criteria means to you in your situation.

 

One of my clients managed to “kill” about 10% of the activities in his “to do” system, because he realised that they were coming from “Time waster “ projects.

 

My challenge to you is to apply this simple method to evaluate your business and personal projects (or activities) and then prioritise them accordingly. 

 

Will you let me know what resulted, and how many you deleted?

 

Thanks!

 

Quote: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen R Covey

During my recent visit to my daughter and her family in Singapore, we took Carli and Nadia to school and I was amazed to see the school principal, Andy, at the entrance to the school to say good morning to the children and parents when they arrive at the school.

I talked to him again later in the day and asked why he was doing it – it is not something I expected of a school principal.  One of the things he said struck me…

He said that he is the leader of the school, and wants to set an example – he is an upbeat person and he wants the children to arrive in a positive,  upbeat environment when they get to school.

He wants them to enjoy getting to school and that it must be a good experience and that he children must be happy in the school.

He also said that he missed the children when he was in his office, where he could easily sit and do “school principal stuff” rather than greeting children and parents.

He stated very clearly that he is sincere about this, and that it is not a “marketing ploy” to attract children to the school – I don’t think the school needs that, anyway!

It made me wonder… how easy is it not for managers and executives in the corporate world to rather stay in their office than be “out there” with their people – especially when times are tough.  We are all familiar with MBWA (Management By Walking Around), and maybe we should practice it a bit more?

How about “missing your people” when you don’t see them every day;  how about setting the tone for the culture of your team or business; and being sincere when you interact with others, and not just do it because the flavour of the month is now to say good morning to your team members.

Is your focus on the task or on the people that are helping you to get the job done? You may enjoy this article about task-oriented vs. people-oriented management styles.  There must be a balance and only you will know what is best for you and your team.

You are the leader of your team.  But you can only be a leader if you have willing followers.  Get the job done while treating your people in such a way that they enjoy coming to work and are happy in their jobs and in the organisation, feeling that they make a difference and a contribution.

When a gear in a machine breaks, you take it out and replace it. But it’s not the same with people. I think a leader should rather be a “gardener” than a “mechanic”. As leader, your job is to prepare the soil (culture), buy the best seed (people), then plant, feed and water the plants as they grow.  If you plant and take care of good tomato seeds, they have no choice but to develop and grow and bear fruit.

It’s the same with people – if you want your people to be productive (bear fruit), it is your job to ensure a productive environment with appropriate nourishment.

Like saying good morning to children as they arrive at school…

Quote: “Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again. “ – Og Mandino

Do you also sometimes feel overwhelmed and even confused by “the 10 steps to increased productivity”, “6 things to avoid if you want to be more productive (backed up by science)”, “1001 time-saving tips for everyone in the world” and all the literally thousands of sources about productivity on the web?

That’s how I felt on Sunday, while looking at current trends in the field of personal productivity.

I wondered if there could not be just ONE unifying productivity principle – a fundamental truth that will guide me to live the life I want… just one “guiding light”…

I won’t jump out from under my 2-minute shower and shout “Eureka!” like Archimedes, but I may have had it in my possession all these years without seeing it as such.

It is the quote from The Art of Living by the Greek philosopher Epictetus: “First, say to yourself what you would be; then do what you have to do.”

 Why, for me, this could be “it”: I looked at it in this way:

  • First: This implies that there are more things to do in life, but before you tackle anything else, there is this thing that needs attention.  It’s called “prioritise”
  • Say to yourself:  The power of self-talk.  We talk to ourselves more than we talk to others. And most of our self-talk (so I read) is negative. We can change that.  Don’t wait for others to say to you what and how they think you should be – this is your choice.  Affirm it.
  • What you would be: Be specific.  And focus first on BE-ing, not DO-ing or HAVE-ing.  You are a human being, not a human doing or human having.  Do you want to be a great leader, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, sibling, researcher, marketer, human being…?
  • Then do: Action is required!  Deciding that you want to be XYZ, does not make it happen all by itself.  You have t take action. But “do” comes after the word “then”… action follows clarity.
  • What you have to: Neglect what needs to be done, and emptiness follows.  You can only be fulfilled (have fulfilment) if your doing follows being.  It’s inside-out. But in the end you have to do what needs to be done…

Please drop me a line to let me know what you see as “the one” productivity principle for you.

Have a fun week!

Quote: “If I am what I have, and I if lose what I have, who then am I?” – Erich Fromm