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I am so glad that I met Kevin Horsley, international grandmaster of memory and author of  Unlimited Memory: How to Use Advanced Learning Strategies to Learn Faster, Remember More and be More Productive, a few years ago and that we could catch up over a cup of coffee on Friday.

I mentioned our new “8 Basic Work Habits That Will Skyrocket Productivity” workshop to him.  He asked me what the habits were and I named them.  “That’s only seven”, Kevin said when I was “finished”.  I forgot “Finish what you start”!

In the next 5 minutes he helped me to use a method (“number-shape pegs”) to remember the habits very easily by associating information I already know well (the numbers 1 to 8) with new things I want to remember, e.g. the names of the habits by associating it with the numbers using a very vivid picture of what the number represents.

Check it out below. 

Number (of habit) Shape See the shape as vividly as possible (weird and wacky imagery allowed!) Description of habit
1 Pencil Pencil writing in a brain Think Productive
2 Swan Swan on misty lake, wearing glasses with wipers so it can see clearly Clarity: Make your work visible and actionable
3 Camel (Two humps on its back in the shape of a 3) Camel walking on a red line Alignment: All actions must be aligned with one’s priorities
4 Boat sail People on a boat all looking at a whale while all the time focusing their  binoculars Focus: Stay focused on the task at hand and avoid distractions and interruptions
5 Snake Snake sliding through an electric adaptor plug Adapt when priorities change
6 Elephant (with trunk above its head) Elephant storming through the finish line Completion: Finish what you start
7 Fishing rod and line Lazy guy relaxes and takes time out fishing and just very slowly reels in the catch Slow down to speed up
8 Snowman Snowman reading a book Learn and improve

 

This method is particularly useful to remember lists of things, and here is how I will use it to help people in our workshops remember the 8 basic work habits very easily:

 

peg1

 

Here are the associations (pardon my handwriting!):

peg2

 

Thanks, Kevin!   Oops, what is habit 6 again…ah, the elephant finishing!

If you have to/want to remember any list, try this method – it works.

Quote: “Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.” – Albert Schweitzer

What’s happening: “Productivity Breakthrough: 8 Basic Work Habits That Will Skyrocket Your Productivity” public workshops for Outlook users in Bloemfontein (7 October), Johannesburg (14 October, 8 December), Durban (4 November), Upington (11 November) Cape Town (18 November), or invite us in-house.

Remember to have fun this week!

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What a fascinating week!  I spent about 22 hours on the road driving from Cape Town to Bloemfontein last Sunday and then came back on Saturday. I wanted to experience the wide open spaces of the Karoo and Free State again…and what a joy it was!

And I learned three important lessons.

I pulled off for an hour or so at Hanover, where I used to live 50 years ago – what a sobering experience. Gone were the beautiful flower beds my mother used to have.  In their place there was … nothing.  At first I thought back to the way things used to be, and why it had deteriorated to where it is now.  But then I was served Lesson 1 from this trip: “What was, was.  What is, is. Move on.”

Lesson 2 came from Eric, a trainee petrol attendant. He was all smiles and I asked him if he was happy.  “Yes, I am very very happy!” he said.  I asked him why. He said:”I had a vision. I am going to be a millionaire. I am going to have a school and teach children who cannot afford to go to other schools how to use a computer.  I will charge them R200 per month.  I have already started.  At the moment I am working on my capital.  Now I have to focus. Then it will happen.  I am going to be a millionaire.”

A simple, straight forward lesson in productivity:

  • Have a clear picture of what you want to achieve.
  • Know why you want to achieve this outcome.
  • Make a plan to get here.
  • Stay focused on the right actions.

Eric’s lesson can work for you and me today and every day. What do you want to achieve today?  Do you have a clear picture of what a successful day looks like? Write down your plan of how to achieve it – this can be a simple “to do” list.  Then eliminate distractions (email notifications, interruptions, distractions from your own mind, Facebook, Twitter, SMS, WhatsApp….) and all other activities that will take you away from your goal for the day, so that you can stay focused on the things that matter most for today.

Doing this will give you a much better chance of getting in  bed tonight knowing that you have done what you wanted to get done today.

Lesson 3 came from two of my Bloem friends. I stayed with Igno van Niekerk and his family (if you are a photographer check out Igno’s site) for a few days.  Christo Spies, who is a keynote speaker and mental performance coach and has worked with some of South Africa’s top sportsmen and women, was so kind as to give me three complimentary days in their lovely guest house, Matanja.  They gave me the opportunity to do some work with them in the evenings and both of them implemented the things that we discussed right away and were very happy that they did.  Lesson 3:  How often don’t we learn something new (read a book, attend a course, get some coaching…) and then not do anything with our new knowledge?  Reinforce and cement new knowledge by applying it as soon as you can.

Productivity quote:  “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” – Jack Welch

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One night during my stay in Upington last week, there was a bit of thunder and lightning with some rain – nothing of which could have happened if the conditions were not right.

If the conditions in nature are right, things happen.

The same is true for us.  To be productive, our “conditions” have to be right.

It can be simple things like getting enough sleep, exercising and eating well.  Or having a routine you follow in the morning (for planning) or afternoon (for review and learning).  Or saying “no” more often.

Here are some of the things successful people routinely do first thing in the morning.

And here’s a summary:

  • Tony Robbins practices gratitude and visualization.
  • Tim Cook does his email at 4:30 a.m.
  • David Karp checks his email when he arrives at the office.
  • Mark Twain recommended doing the hardest task first.
  • Howard Schultz believes in getting priorities established.
  • Geraldine Laybourne believes in helping the next generation.
  • Laura Vanderkam recommends writing a challenging report or email.
  • John Grisham believes in a strict routine.
  • Todd Smith always greets colleagues appropriately.
  • Benjamin Franklin always wanted to be helpful in the morning.
  • Steve Murphy devotes morning time to planning.
  • Tim Armstrong recommends learning and listening.

Everyone does something different but everyone knows and creates the conditions that get their day off to a great start.

How about you?  Do you know the conditions that make you productive?

Take some time every day this week to write down the things that are “in place” when you are in top gear productivity mode.  Or what is missing when you slump into low productivity.  Then use these insights to create your own conditions for high productivity.

Have fun!

Productivity quote: ”The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.”  – Mike Murdock

Productivity Survey – make your mark!  I am doing a productivity survey to identify “productivity handbrakes” – the things that hold people back from enjoying happier and more productive lives. Please join in!  Your feedback will assist us to create up to date material based on real needs so we can design our services and products to exactly meet your needs.  Click here to give your opinion.  Thanks

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It’s a beautiful rainy winter’s day in Cape Town and I snuggled in behind my computer to visit www.ted.com  to watch a few stories that range from inspiring to jaw-dropping.

And as always I was not disappointed.

In  the current Productivity Mastery Programme ( you can book a seat for the next one here) we recently had a conversation about “life purpose”, values, productivity and the role of happiness (“a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy”) in all of this.

I was therefore delighted to view Shawn Achor speak on TED about “The happiness secret to better work”.

He says that we tend to put happiness “on the other side of success” – “AFTER I succeed at doing this thing/becoming partner/losing 10 kg, THEN I will be happy.”

Shawn suggests that we reverse the happiness formula and put happiness before success.  Put happiness before increasing productivity.

He says: “Happiness and life satisfaction has led to improved performance in people who did one of the following things every day for 3 weeks:

  • Jot down three things they were grateful for.
  • Write a positive message to someone in their social support network.
  • Meditate at their desk for two minutes.
  • Exercise for 10 minutes.
  • Take two minutes to describe in a journal the most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours.

Research shows happy employees have higher levels of productivity, perform better in leadership roles and receive higher pay. Happiness could be your single most important competitive advantage.

In the Harvard Business Review (January-February 2012) it is reported that for companies, happy employees mean better bottom-line results.

Employees who score low in “life satisfaction,” a rigorously tested and widely accepted metric, stay home an average of 1.25 more days a month, a 2008 study by Gallup Healthways shows. That translates into a decrease in productivity of 15 days a year.

In a study of service departments, Jennifer George and Kenneth Bettenhausen found that employees who score high in life satisfaction are significantly more likely to receive high ratings from customers. In addition, researchers at Gallup found that retail stores that scored higher on employee life satisfaction generated $21 more in earnings per square foot of space than the other stores, adding $32 million in additional profits for the whole chain.

More than anyone else, Aristotle enshrines happiness as a central purpose of human life. To quote him: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

According the author of this web site and also this Wikipedia article, Aristotle spoke about achieving “eudaimonia”, which is commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, “human flourishing” has been proposed as a more accurate translation.

Carol Ryff highlighted the distinction between eudaimonia wellbeing, which she identified as psychological wellbeing, and hedonic wellbeing or pleasure. Building on Aristotelian ideals of belonging and benefiting others, flourishing, thriving and exercising excellence, she conceptualised eudaimonia as a six-factor structure :

  1. Autonomy
  2. Personal growth
  3. Self-acceptance
  4. Purpose in life
  5. Environmental mastery
  6. Positive relations with others.

To quote Aristotle again: “Happiness depends upon ourselves.”

We can choose to follow the guidance of people like Shawn and Executive Happiness Coach Jim Smith and think about where we are regarding the six points listed above and then take action if action is required.

Or of course we can choose to stay like we are for the rest of our lives.

It begins with what and how we choose to BE, which will drive what we DO, which will give us what we HAVE.  We are human Beings – not human Havings or human Doings.  Yet we tend to focus so much on the things we do and the things we have.

A quote by Erich Fromm also helps to put this in perspective:  “If I am what I have and if I lose what I have who then am I?”

The essence of all the things I saw and read today boils down (for me anyway) to accepting responsibility for our lives and live in such a way that will allow us to enjoy maximum life satisfaction.

We will be happier and more productive people and build happier and more productive organisations.

To your happiness and productivity!

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One of the major sporting events in Cape Town, South Africa (where I have the joy of living!) is the annual Cape Argus/Pick n Pay cycle tour that snakes for 109km around the Cape Peninsula.

35 000 cyclists descend on Cape Town for this famous spectacle.

One of the most often heard questions after the race is:”What was your time?”

Pages and pages of names and finish times are published a few days after the event, and people make promises to finish in a shorter time next year.

This is a rather linear way of looking at what this great event can bring.

How about asking questions like:

“Who did you meet along the way?”

“Did you also get the baboons at the turn off to Cape Point?”

“DId you pull off for that great massage at Tokai?”

It begs a response that is very different from the linear “so many hours and minutes” reply.

It begs a response about the experience of the experience…

The ancient Greeks, as I understand it, had three concepts/words for time:

* chronos: linear, measured, “clock” time.  1 hour + 1 hour = 2 hours.

* kairos: experiential time

* eon (aeon): An immeasurable or infinite space of time; eternity; a long space of time; an age (from http://www.dictionary.com)

From Wikipedia:

“While [chronos] refers to chronological or sequential time, [kairos] signifies a time in between, a moment of undetermined period of time in which something special happens. What the special something is depends on who is using the word. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative nature.”

I like this example: A golfer hits a hole-in-one. Or you bungy from the highest bridge in Africa.

* Chronos: How long did it take?  Less than a minute.

* Kairos: How did you experience it? How does it feel?  Great!  Fantastic! Unbelievable! Heehaaaa!

* Eon: How long will you remember this for?  For the rest of my life.

An important question arises: Do we (should we) not do things and live life for long term impact rather than instant gratification and short term gain (often at the expense of generations to come)?

If so, then let’s think where the long term impact (e.g. “I will remember it forever”) comes from  – from how long it took, or from what you did and experienced?

The answer is obvious: eon comes from kairos, not chronos.  It comes from what you do and experience and not how long it takes.

Yet we tend to focus so much on speeding things up rather than slowing things down.

The “fast productivity” question is: “How long will the meeting take?”.

The “slow productivity” question is” “Should we even have this meeting?”

So many people complain about attending unproductive meetings, yet they do not question the meeting.

Rather than keep on rushing from one meeting to the next, just stop the meeting madness for a moment and ask the Slow Productivity questions: “Why are we meeting?”, “What is the desired outcome?”, “What do you want me to come and to at your meeting?”.

If there are no clear and meaningful answers to these questions – don’t go!

In Africa we have the concept of “African time”.

From Wikipedia: “Africa time” or African time is a colloquial term used to describe a perceived cultural tendency, in some parts of Africa, toward a more relaxed attitude to time. This is sometimes used in a negative sense, about tardiness in appointments, meetings and events. The term is also sometimes used to describe the more leisurely, relaxed and less rigorously scheduled lifestyle found in these countries, especially as opposed to the more hectic, clock-bound pace of daily life in Western countries.  In October 2007, an Ivorian campaign against African time, [had] the slogan… “‘African time’ is killing Africa – let’s fight it.”

But is it?  Or is the clock from the West killing the real spirit of Africa?

Maybe Slow Productivity can embrace practical ways of exploring African time and Slow Time for paradoxically improving productivity?

“Ex Africa semper aliquid novi” – Out of Africa there is always something new.

Maybe the time for African Time is here if we want to have more sanity and improved quality of life and less rush; enjoy more of kairos and be less enslaved to chronos?

Only time will tell. 🙂

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