When I sent Jo a WhatsApp on Saturday morning to hear how things are going, he sent me video of where he was walking and panned out to show me the bigger view of the ocean.

He referred to the relatively calm state of the water further away from the land, and that it reminded him that we should be calm like that within ourselves.

What struck me in his video was the barriers between where he was and the calmness of the ocean in the distance. Big rocks to climb over. Slippery surfaces down to and in the water. Waves. And the possible obstacles of crosscurrents and maybe even sharks. Insurmountable? No.

I reflected on my reality; where I am and how I want it to be. There are many things going on for me now. Creating the Online School of Productivity (where the teachers never sleep) where individuals and groups from organisations can enrol for our online courses. Pivoting from face-to-face onsite workshops to blended online learning. Understanding and communicating the benefits of blended online learning. And to ‘gently accept’ that Mr. Covid is a permanent guest in my life.

These things are like my life’s rocks, slippery slopes and water puddles, crosscurrents, and sharks. Insurmountable? No. Once I understand the nature of the beast, I can deal with it.

After watching Jo’s video I defaulted to my trusted tool of calming the waves in my head: the mind dump. In my book it remains the best remedy for being more relaxed about life. One of the nicest emails I have received after a productivity workshop was from a lady who said that she continued the mind dump we did in the class at home that evening. She sat for about 2 hours, just writing down (yes, with pen and paper) everything that came up in her mind – and for the first time in many months she enjoyed a night of uninterrupted sleep. Something to try if you have sleeping difficulties?

Another tool I use to create order from chaos is the mind mapping software Xmind 8 – get your free copy here. I now keep Xmind open with a mind map for each of my active major projects open all the time. With two clicks I am in the right place and whenever something shows up during the day it’s the easiest thing in the world to go the right context and dump it there.

The barriers between where we are and where we want to be are there to test and teach us. It tests our seriousness about the project – is it worth the effort to get over and through the barriers? It teaches us the wonder of creating and maintaining a calm, decluttered mind using the tools we already have. It teaches us that order is just on the other side of chaos.

And that ‘if it is to be, it is up to me’.

“The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.” – Marcus Aurelius

 


I heard about the curse of knowledge for the first time over the weekend – and the phrase has been coined by in 1989 by economists Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein, and Martin Weber.

The aim of their research was to counter the “conventional assumptions in such (economic) analyses of asymmetric information in that better-informed agents can accurately anticipate the judgement of less-informed agents”.

I am so glad you understood that!

Because I did not, I was happy to find a simpler explanation of this important phenomenon, especially the way in which Jeff Walker explains the ‘tapper and listener’ experiment. Before you read further,take 4 minutes to watch Jim’s video.

What it boils down to is that we tend to under-communicate/clarify when we are talking about our field of expertise to someone who is not as knowledgeable as we are in that area. We assume they also know what we know – and that’s the wrong assumption. What also happens is that the more knowledgeable we are, the more inaccurate our assumptions about what the other person understands.

Let’s take a minute to think about our interactions with other people. What do we assume they know about what we are talking about (it can be about any topic)? If they do not fully understand what we are talking about, how can we expect them to do what we want them to do?
This not only relates to the workplace, but in communicating with friends and family members as well – especially children?

This sounds like a good opportunity to practice the principle of slowing down to speed up! To take the time to have the other person explain back to you what they understand from what you said. Is it not better to take some more time to ensure mutual understanding before rushing off and then the wrong things get done, or things get done wrongly?

Maybe we can benefit from checking in with ourselves as well. We speak to ourselves more than we talk to other people. Do we understand what we are telling ourselves? Are we making sense? How about getting out of the self-talk monologue and have a self-talk dialogue?

When talking to others and ourselves, if we assume that we will be misunderstood, how will that change what we say?

Makes one pause, doesn’t it?

“Don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you can’t be misunderstood.” – William Howard Taft

I walked right past it. A few steps later, I turned back.

The last time I paused to look at and think about antlions was in February last year, in Kirstenbosch.  I never expected to see antlion pits in a tarred road in Cape Town, But there they were. Just as perfect as the ones in the softer earth in Kirstenbosch. How did they get here?

A quick review of the lifecycle of an antlion refreshed my memory. After mating, female antlions will stick their abdomen into sand to deposit eggs. Each egg turns into a larva, which makes its pit, eats whatever falls into the trap, turns into a cocoon, and then flies away as an adult.

From wherever they were flying around, the antlions spotted an opportunity. A very narrow strip of sand in a tarred road. They took it.

Before it was tarred, the opportunity would have been a large area of uncovered earth. Now it is under ‘lockdown’. Covered. But over time the crack opened and presented the micro opportunity, ready to be exploited by ‘pregnant’ antlions to lay their eggs where they found the opportunity.

What used to be freely available opportunities for us to ‘lay our eggs’ have recently been ‘tarred over’. Opportunities to get outside, walk, run, cycle, and (may I mention it) surf, have now become small cracks of opportunity.

How many opportunities in our own lives have we not tarred, or even allowed others to tar for us?

But our ‘eggs’ have not been taken away from us. We still have our talents. We still have what makes us unique human beings.

And we can still ‘lay our eggs’. We must just be open to the possibility of finding opportunity in the tarred roads of our lives.

And when we spot it, to go ahead and share what we have inside of us. A smile. Encouragement. A joke. A random act of kindness. Sharing our knowledge and understanding of something to make life easier for others. A virtual hug. A virtual cup of coffee.

Let’s give our spirit the wings to fly into the space of possibility. Let’s be open-minded to see, consider and use new opportunities that are already there, waiting for us.

If we believe it, we will see it.

“So, we live in an accelerating possibility curve. Perhaps we can’t control it, but we can learn to ride it like a surfer on a wave or a bird on a thermal, to use its power to take us where we want to go – to live in uncertainty and yet act with confidence.” – Dewitt Jones

In 1876 Samuel Plimsoll, a member of the British Parliament, was so concerned with the loss of ships and crews due to vessel overloading that he persuaded Parliament to pass the Unseaworthy Ships Bill, which mandated marking a ship’s sides with a line that would disappear below the waterline if the ship was overloaded.

This line, known as the Plimsoll line, is a reference mark located on a ship’s hull that indicates the maximum depth to which the vessel may be safely immersed when loaded with cargo. It is still used in the shipping industry today.

I learned something about this line over the weekend: a ship does not have just one Plimsoll line, but six.

Only once a ship’s dimensions, type of cargo, time of year, and the water densities encountered in port and at sea have been accounted for, the captain can determine the appropriate Plimsoll line needed for the voyage (see above image):
• TF = Tropical Fresh Water
• T = Tropical
• F = Fresh Water
• S = Summer
• W = Winter
• WNA = Winter North Atlantic
• LR = Letters indicating the registration authority; the circle with the line through it indicates whether the cargo is loaded evenly).

As we leave the harbour of the night and set out to reach the 20:00-05:00 curfew on day 39 of COVID-19 lockdown, I am wondering if the appropriate ‘Plimsoll line’ is being used to determine the ‘load’ that the people and the economy are being subjected to.

Maybe we are in ‘Winter North Atlantic’ conditions but we are loaded as if we are in ‘Tropical Fresh’.

Beware! If an inappropriate Plimsoll line is used as reference, SS South Africa may just capsize.

How about your business? Your family? You?

“There is just too much to do and not enough time.”

“There’s too much on my plate.”

“I don’t have breathing space – my calendar is packed with back-to-back meetings.”

These situations did not arrive in our lives as if by magic by parachute on a Sunday evening. We get the life we choose.

Too much on your plate? Get a smaller plate.

Not enough time? It’s not true. We have all the time we will ever have. The situation is created by saying ‘yes’ to things we should have said ‘no’ to. Saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is a conscious choice, and we cannot blame others or the environment for our situation.

We are overloading our lives – nobody else is.

We are each captain of the ship called ‘My Life’.

The same for rules and regulations. There are so many rules and regulations in the current situation that it is probably impossible to not be guilty of some or other crime by the end of the week.

Load people, teams, organisations, countries with too many rules and they may just be loaded beyond the appropriate Plimsoll line. When that happens, the boat will (not ‘may’) capsize and result in chaos.

Why not download a graphic of a boat with its Plimsoll lines visible and stick it on the wall or make it the desktop wallpaper for your computer – and every time you are faced with a choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a request from someone else, or respond to something that surfaced from the depths of your own mind, behold the Plimsoll lines and choose the appropriate one before you respond.

Let’s load wisely, shall we, keep our plates smaller, give our calendars more unscheduled time and practice the muscle and air movements that produce a ‘no’ when it will save us from capsizing.

Bon voyage!

“If you have 10,000 regulations you destroy all respect for the law.” — Winston Churchill.
“When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.” ― Émile Durkheim

Warm regards from my keyboard to your eyes, and from my heart to yours.

Have a funtastic day!

I initially thought I would avoid the COVID-19 topic in today’s memo, but since my musings are on things I observe and experience in real time, this would have been a blank memo if I did.

In these weird times, I have heard many people ask, ‘What am I going to do for 21 WFH days’ (I learned that WFH = Work From Home)? ‘What are you DO-ing?’ follows right after ‘How are you?’

It’s been said often but it’s not trite: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” It’s been attributed to many, but the man most frequently referenced is Winston Churchill, who used the phrase in 1940.

In fact, the words can be traced back at least to Niccolo Machiavelli who wrote, “Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” Machiavelli, and Emanuel after him, understood that crises shake people out of their complacency, create opportunities to challenge conventional wisdom and give leaders some room to take on vested interests and achieve transformative change.”

What are the opportunities we are offered in this period of no live sports to attend in person or watch on TV, no live entertainment anywhere, no cable car rides up Table Mountain, a broken underseas internet cable slowing us down, no parties, no family get-togethers, no walks in Kirstenbosch…?

Is this not an opportunity to turn inward, to think deeply about the “old normal” we have created (by DO-ing certain things) for ourselves and the entire human population and to re-evaluate our values? What really matters most to us?

Is this not an opportunity to think about who, what and how we want to BE rather than just getting upset about ‘I have nothing to DO’? I recommend you search the “be do have” phrase (include the quotation marks and choose where to go next from the 479 000 hits. Refine your search for images, which tells a story in a simple way.)

I like the one I found at this website. In case you cannot see the print well in the picture, here’s the flow:

BE: Who am I and what is important to me? Based on this, I choose what to DO, my actions. My actions have an impact, and I HAVE (get) results and outcomes which I can re-evaluate and feed back into my be-ing.

Makes sense?

 

Erich Fromm said, “If I am what I have, and I lose what I have, who then am I?”

If my money defines me and I lose my money, who then am I?

If my job defines me and I lose my job, who then am I?

And, in these times, if my DO-ing used to define me before COVID-19 and I have now lost the ability to do those things, who then am I?

You see, all of this is outside-in. E.g. if an external ‘something’ is true or happens, then I will be happy/successful/at peace…

On the other hand, we cannot lose our choice of how, what and who we want to BE.

On 1 January I wrote my ‘to be’ list. These are not perfect examples, just what came to mind in the Dell in Kirstenbosch.

TO BE…
• Curious and learn something new every day.
• Patient.
• Someone who people feel free to approach with questions and even ask for advice.
• Creative. Ask people what their needs are and develop a product that will exactly meet their needs.
• Of value to my clients and broader community.
• Someone who leaves people with ‘shiny eyes’, a la Benjamin Zander.

Here’s a thought…why not use the opportunity that the COVID-19 crisis offers us, and think deeply about matters most to us now that the world has changed. Yes, it’s not going to change, it has fundamentally changed already.

Who, what and how do we want to be in this new reality?

“Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being.
Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric?
Think first about the foundations of humility.
The higher your structure is to be,
the deeper must be its foundation.”
– Saint Augustine

It’s there…

I was so happy that Kirstenbosch was still freely accessible to everyone on Sunday – and I hope it can stay that way in these unusual times!

The thought of standing on the Boomslang elevated walkway, looking out over the garden and all the way to the Stellenbosch mountains appealed to me and up the steps I went.

I took a slightly different route to get there (the road less travelled) and found myself underneath the supporting structure of the walkway.

You can read more about the design on this website. “Deep concrete foundations anchor ten steel columns, supporting galvanised steel components that were laser cut and fabricated off site, before being transported to the gardens and craned into place.”

Without the deep concrete foundations, without the ten steel columns, without the steel components on which the decking made from stained pine battens rests, there can be no walkway. No big picture vistas. Yet, when we walk the Boomslang and enjoy what it offers, we don’t think about the support structure that is not visible from where we are.

You and I are enjoying life on our personalised Boomslang walkway. We see life’s big picture ‘from a distance’ as we take the next small step to the end of our journey.

We have support systems, and although they are not always visible in the moment, they are in place. And we benefit from them. Your own spiritual “support system”, family, friends, colleagues, dentists, doctors, nurses, teachers (now mostly online), ambulance drivers, street cleaners, grocers, government structures… The list goes on and on and on…

Let’s make this a moment of gratitude for our support systems. Take a moment and write down the names of everyone and anything that is making even the smallest contribution to supporting your elevated walkway we call “Life”.

How about making a few calls, or write a few emails just to say, ‘thank you for being there for me’?

You are part of my support system – thank you for reading my musings!

You have to rely on your support system. Growing up, I always thought it was a sign of weakness to ask for help, but now I realize it’s really a sign of strength to say, ‘I need help, I can’t do it all.’ – Kerri Walsh

Saturday brought so many unexpected joys!

I took a wonderful trip all along the coast from Cape Town to the Harold Porter nature reserve in Betty’s Bay, then to Kleinmond and back to Cape Town via Highgate and the Elgin Valley.

One of the takeaways from Harold Porter was that in one place one sees both the big picture and small picture.  From magnificent vistas to the smallest drop of sticky liquid on the flycatcher. One should be open to both. Each has its own story to tell.

Just like life.

There are details that need attention within the bigger picture we have for our lives.  The conversation I had over a cup of coffee with Ferdi Steffens illustrates this.

A few weeks ago, I invited responses to my one-question survey: “What would your number one challenge be for living a productive, successful and fulfilling life. If you have no challenges, please write that as response and let me know how you ‘got it right’.”

In his unique way, Ferdi highlighted seven ‘career flycatchers’, which am quoting with his permission (thank you, Ferdi!):

“I have submitted the survey with a “nothing” answer….let me tell you why.

There is no one silver bullet to get to the point of being comfortable in your career. There are a few things one should get your head around and then of course implement those. Thinking about it gets you nowhere. Action gets you going.

  1. If you’re in it for the money, then get out! Money is necessary and fills a few voids… However, if you are in a job because of the pay-check only, you WILL be frustrated. There has to be more to the job than the money. Money should be an outflow of the success you enjoy and not the objective by itself.
  2. If you’re in it because that’s what someone else expected you to do, then you will also be unhappy. Stop doing what others want you to do and start doing what is best for yourself.
  3. If you’re doing it for the status, you’ve missed the plot. I don’t care what others think of me or my profession. I am not them and what they think is their problem, not mine. I make sure I enjoy what I do, and I do it for myself, not them.
  4. Take pride in what you do. If you cannot be proud of what you do and put your “signature” on each piece of work at the end of every day, then you’re only doing it for the sake of doing it – it’s meaningless. If you cannot do something and be proud of the end result (no matter what it is), then it only means that you are going through the motions and for sure you will be frustrated because as humans we want to inherently feel a sense of pride – and that brings satisfaction.
  5. The opposite side of the same coin in point 4 is the fact that you should stay humble. Don’t worry about who gets the public credit. As long as you know you have done your best and your “signature” is at the back of the piece of work, you will feel satisfied knowing you’ve done a good job and contributed to the success irrespective that someone else gets the credit.
  6. Never stop learning and never shy away from an assignment even if it is outside of your field of expertise or outside your “Job Description”.
  7. Lastly – know that every job has its ups and downs. Learn to celebrate the ups and embrace the downs so that you can learn from it – even it means that you realise that you are in the wrong job because that should then give you a kick in the whatsitsname to change direction…”

Thank you for your wisdom and guidelines, Ferdi!

 

Living a purposeful, productive AND fulfilling life is our big picture – the vista.  How we get up the mountain to enjoy the view is in the details, the steps we choose to take – the careers and jobs we choose.

Choose wisely.  Avoid being seduced by, and staying stuck in, a Ferdi Steffens ‘flytrap’!

I wish you a wonderful week – let’s keep our career flytraps hungry…

 

 

 

“Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it.”
– Katherine Whitehorn

Seriaaaaas?

Last week we did our annual ‘benefit survey’ to see what people are getting from the workshops they have done with us, specifically to help them use Outlook as their productivity partner and not just for managing email and meetings, like most other people in most other companies do.

While it was great to see that 92% of respondents are now more in control of their work, knowing what they now know about the programme 98% would have chosen to sign up again, 64% have less stress, 98% deal with email more effectively and 66% have fewer distractions. That’s all good news.

While it is the individual’s responsibility to implement what they get at the workshop, there was one thing that was a bit disconcerting: 2% of people never even tried implementing the system, 51% have fully implemented it and 47% implemented it, but struggle to maintain it. My takeaway: We must review the process we recommend for implementing the key principles of personal productivity.

A phrase I heard for the first time last week is going to help us help future participants get even more implementation bang for their buck.

“Signals Of Seriousness” – you familiar with the phrase?

“Signals of Seriousness” signals (to others and/or ourselves) our intent to do something, to take action, to see it through. It can apply to changing a small habit or developing a new career – anything, really.

Implementing a new system of workflow management using Outlook as your tool, also has Signals of Seriousness, which can be practical and action oriented, or symbolic.

Here are a few examples that apply to the ‘implement what you’ve learnt’ scenario for Outlook Productivity:
• Attend the workshop. That’s a biggie.
• Being present.
• Dedicate time to implement what you’ve learned. Make it visible in your calendar.
• Tell people what you are doing.
• Get an ‘accountability buddie’.
• Attend fortnightly refresher webinars.
• Take the next uncomfortable step. Saying ‘no’ to people might be very uncomfortable, but its signals to others that you are serious about protecting your boundaries.
• Your stance (“mental or emotional position adopted with respect to something”) on making this happen.
• A symbolic signal of seriousness: A mug or T-shirt with a message to match your intention – a reminder of what matters most.

Is there anything you would like to change or implement or get done? Do you think that having signals of seriousness could support you in making it happen?

If ‘yes’, you know what your next (uncomfortable?) step is: Write them down. Tell people about it. Set aside time to work on it. What is the most uncomfortable thing you can do next to get you going? What’s the worst things that can happen if you do it? If that thought doesn’t make you shiver or break out in a cold sweat, why not just do it?

I will really appreciate it if you would let me know what a few of your past signals of success have been, and what your signals of success are for something you are working on at the moment. Thanks.

Have a S.o.S week!

As usual, the ‘university’ of Kirstenbosch did not disappoint in offering a lesson or two on Sunday. I enjoyed a (for me!) a brisk walk from Gate 2 down to Gate 1, then up to the Boomslang from where I could again, looking out towards the Stellenbosch mountains, realise that life always has a bigger picture.

We get so caught up in the day-to-day stone-chipping that we easily lose track of why we are chipping stone and how every stone we chip fits into the bigger cathedral of our lives.

On my way down to the Dell and Colonel Bird’s bath the plaque with a brief history of the origin of Kirstenbosch and the role that Henry Harold Welch Pearson (professor of Botany at the South African College) played in founding the garden in 1913. On Pearson’s death on 3 November 1916 (he was 46 years old) he was buried in Kirstenbosch, his epitaph reading “If ye seek his monument, look around”.

What struck me on Sunday was this sentence (circled in the picture): “Pearson arranged his professorial duties so that he could devote Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday to the Garden. His evenings were spent walking around the Garden, inspecting work and arranging various matters with the Curator and Ranger, and attending to Garden correspondence, writing up his research notes and reading.”

We don’t see that “Pearson did not have time for reading.” He arranged his duties so that he could read.

We don’t read that “Pearson had too much to do and was overwhelmed by all the things on his plate.” He arranged his duties so that he could do what needed to be done about the thing so close to his heart.

We don’t read that “Pearson was not sure about his purpose.” He arranged his duties so that he could pursue what simply had to be done to make his purpose ‘happen’.

He knew what was important. He took charge of his calendar, scheduled specific times of the week to attend to what mattered most to him.  He did not leave it to chance. He did not allow his calendar to take charge of him. He probably was a proactive person who made life happen rather than waiting for life to happen to him.

Therefore, we can now look around and see his monument.

Stephen Covey loved to to tell the story of getting the big rocks in the jar first so that you could then fill the jar with pebbles and sand. To attend to the most important things first. You cannot get everything in if you do it the other way around.

Do we sometimes, even often, say that we don’t have time? That our plate is too full? That life is hectic? That we are in the whirlwind? That we are so busy with everyday things that we neglect the important things in our lives? And tomorrow and the next week is a repeat performance?

Just because figuring out what our ‘big rocks’ are, is not urgent, we don’t do it and then forever vacillate between what to do and what to leave. . Is it family? Church? Studies? Self? Spirituality? Exercise? Making money?

What is your and my ‘Kirstenbosch’ legacy?

Pearson arranged his duties so that he could work on Kirstenbosch.

If he could take control and arrange things to attend to his ‘big rocks’, what’s stopping us?

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

Let’s keep rocking around the clock with those big rocks!

Why not do it anyway?

image

It was Goldilocks weather in Kirstenbosch on Saturday, and I enjoyed the day there with Marlene.

Another visit was scheduled for Sunday morning and when I looked outside just after 5am it seemed to be a repeat performance, and I looked forward to it.

But then the weather changed, and I was having doubts about whether it was worth going because it was cold and looked like it would be rainy and windy. Richard asked if I wanted to go to the same place two days in a row…

I just started reading the book “Year of YES”, so said “YES”. Even if you visit the same place two days in a row, there will be something that’s different – maybe a flower died overnight, or there will be a different bee working in another flower. Same place, yet different.

What I was not prepared for, was the dramatic change in the weather. It started to drizzle, and the most beautiful rainbow appeared as if by magic. I doubt that I will ever again be presented with the opportunity that I captured in this picture.

And then the wind turned into a micro storm, giving me another experience that I have never had there before and maybe never will have again.

Life lessons for Gerrit:

  • Say YES for doing something that might seem unpleasant.
  • When you do, amazing things can happen.
  • Visiting the same place more than once is actually a different experience every time.

I go into this week with a fresh awareness of the possibilities that lie waiting in the familiar things. To experience the possibilities, we must engage with it.

Having meetings with the same people – again? It might be about the same topic. But it’s not the same people. They might look like the same person on the outside, but maybe there’s a storm brewing on the inside. Or a rainbow that just needs our eyes to be open to see it. We don’t know what their life was like since we last saw them…

Teaching the same subject year after year? It’s not the same experience – your students are different.

Your friends are different today from what they were yesterday.

The people we work with every day are different every day.

Email today is different from yesterday’s email.

Even the task we procrastinated yesterday is not the same today – it could be worse!

What opportunities that we usually would avoid, can we say YES to this week and have a new experience of the “same old thing”? Maybe even a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity?

Let’s pluck up the courage and engage with these things, and just see what happens.

We might just be pleasantly surprised.

“You cannot change what you refuse to confront.” – Marc Chernoff

Will be nice to hear from you about what you did!

I wish you a productive, successful AND fulfilling day.