Go through the Stars!

Go through the Stars!

Making the best of time, effort and dreams

Gerrit Cloete

Illustrated: Hanlie van Schalkwyk

1st edition, 2017 – 05 – 01


Published by VDS Brink at Shakespir, Inc.

[email protected]

“Working with Gerrit Cloete enabled me to streamline my email Inbox in such a way that I am able to go on a business trip for three days, return and still get on top of things within an hour of being back in the office! By re-engineering my Inbox I have improved my productivity and freed myself up to concentrate more on my business.”

Rob Dennison – Founder / Owner of TRAINIAC  

“I would like to thank you at this stage while we are still busy with the Productivity Mastery Programme. [Even] if we would stop at this stage, I would already feel that is probably the best value for money I received from any course that I have done – and I have done quite a few.”

Jan Mocke, COO, Joburg Market

Table of Contents

Learning from nature

Getting hit by life

Lessons of life

The author

Learning from nature


The famous tablecloth on Table Mountain cannot be made to appear by court order or by wishing for it. It shows up naturally if the right conditions prevail – it is a consequence of having the right things in place (e.g. Temperature, humidity, wind direction). And when the conditions are right the tablecloth cannot choose to form or not – it just happens as a natural consequence.

Personal productivity is pretty much the same. We cannot force or wish for a productive life. We can only understand which “conditions” lead to the consequence of enjoying a productive life – and then choose to put and keep these conditions in place. When we do this, just like the tablecloth, personal productivity naturally “happens” as a consequence. Choose wisely…


“When we pick up one of a stick we pick up the other”. – Stephen R. Covey




I should have known better. It was due to happen soon. I expected it, but did nothing about it.

My car battery died spectacularly on Saturday! Fortunately, it happened at home, but still, here I was, halfway through a long weekend without transport.

Thanks to the AA emergency service I was ready for the road again about 50 minutes after my call to them on Sunday morning. Thanks, Adian!

My lesson from this: When I noticed a few weeks ago that the battery was not as responsive as it used to be, I should have replaced it. It would have saved me calling out the AA!

What’s the “battery” for your life? Put differently, what is your “life center”? And how often do you revisit it to see if it is still capable of being of good service to you?

Stephen Covey wrote about “principle centered leadership.” [+ You may find this article of value+].

In the same way, principle centered living is about placing principles at the centre of your life – as the “battery” of your life, if you will. And principles don’t fade away. Principles cannot “die” on you like my battery did.

Is money at the centre of your life? Or your family? Or your religion? Or your social status?

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

If you are your money, and you lose your money, who then are you? If you are your career and you lose your career, who then are you? If you are your friends and you lose your friends, who then are you?

Principled living brings stability and independence of what could be transient life centers.

Have a quick browse through these “50 principles to live by” for some ideas. Then do not rush, but in times of reflection, think about the timeless principles you would like to live by. There is no “one size fits all”. You must choose what works for you.

Having principles at the center of your life makes things so much easier in terms of making choices. Once you have settled on your core principles, anything that does not align with that, gets a “no”. Choose once, and you have “pre-made” hundreds of other decisions.

The same with principles of living a productive, happy and fulfilling life… In our work, we ask you to consider the impact of these principles on your productivity, and then to integrate them in your everyday life at the office and at home to the degree that they speak to you:


p<>{color:#000;}. Think productive. Stop believing lies like “I don’t have the time”, “I cannot say ‘no’” etc.

p<>{color:#000;}. Clarity: Be crystal clear about who you want to be and then do what you have to do.

p<>{color:#000;}. Alignment: Everything you do must support your current priorities. Say “no” to the rest.

p<>{color:#000;}. Focus. Quit “multitasking” – it’s a myth. Minimise distractions and interruptions.

p<>{color:#000;}. Flexibility. Life changes, and so should you.

p<>{color:#000;}. Completion. Finish what you start. Minimise procrastination and perfectionism.

p<>{color:#000;}. Slow down to speed up. Do things at the appropriate “speed”. Speed-reading is good, but speed-meditation?

p<>{color:#000;}. Learn and improve. Learn from today to make tomorrow better.


We have embodied these productivity principles in my article “8 Basic Work Habits to Rapidly and Sustainably Increase Productivity”. [+ Click here to get your copy+].

Have a fun, and enjoy starting out on the road of principles centered living!


I love long weekends. You have so much more time not to do things!





Sunday morning at 7am, Richard knocked on the door to pick me up for my first “post-op” promenade visit. It was good to see that the world goes on whether one is an active participant or being side-lined for a while for whatever reason. It puts our place in the universe in some perspective!


We saw a beautiful white bird with yellow feet, catching and enjoying its breakfast in the shallow water (picture with compliments from [+ this web site+]) – a Snowy Egret, if my Google Search results are accurate.

The way it went about its task was slow, measured, focused and well executed. It was “stalking” its prey, almost like a lion, putting one foot slowly in front of the other, having a good look at the available offerings, and then quickly struck to get the next item on the menu.

This is in total contrast to the way in which I saw a seagull “stomping” in the shallow water to get its food to rise to the surface, and which I wrote to you about in January last year.

Neither of these birds are right, and neither is wrong. They hunt in the way it suits them best by “doing what comes naturally”.

The one does not try and imitate the other but does what it does best.

Contrast this to the often-repeated theme in the human world that to be successful, just copy what successful people have done, and you will be successful too. I don’t buy into that philosophy (Tony Robins will disagree with me). Yes, there are certain behaviours that are common to some successful people, but the opposite of those behaviours may be true for other successful people. You must find what’s best for YOU; you should work according to your unique pattern of high performance.

My friend and business associate, the late Dr Jerry L Fletcher helped people identify their unique “pattern of high performance”: The Distinctive and Consistent Sequence of Steps You Naturally Follow When You Achieve Your Best Results. (You may find this site of value.)

When you know, and live your own pattern, you are in “high performance mode” (sweet spot), and not in “grind it out mode” (sweat spot). To quote Jerry: “You can’t do anything well for a sustained period of time that doesn’t fit your high-performance pattern”.

I am sure you will enjoy revisiting the fable of The Animal School, where all animals had to take all subjects and where … well, let me not spoil it for you!

You have unique talents. Your children have unique talents. The people in your team have unique talents. Every person on the planet has their own way of doing what they do best. Give yourself and others the space to do that in that way you can become the best you, and not a copy of someone else.


“High Performance Patterns help us achieve optimum expression in a positive and value-added way and help us avoid the compromises that diminish our effectiveness,” Jerry L Fletcher.


Getting hit by life




I never thought that sitting for a period of time could make one go to hospital. I was wrong!

My post-op recovery was going very smoothly. But then I sat down for three hours in a meeting – without moving. Bad idea.

Long story short: I ended up going to the emergency ward just after midnight on Saturday in an ambulance because I was totally immobilised. For the first time, I understood the meaning of “pain in the butt”!

What I learned from the experience is the importance (sometimes vital) of asking for and accepting help. With one of my most important values being “independence”, you will understand that it was no easy thing to do.

Just a few of the people who helped:

The doctor, by taking my call after 22:00 Saturday.

The paramedics and the security guy who managed to carry me up 14 steps without letting me fall off whatever it was that they were carrying me on.

[+ Friedrich Sertürner+] who isolated morphine (named after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams) between 1803 and 1805.

The crew in the emergency ward.

And I can go on and on and on.


When a nurse in the hospital noticed the way in which the needle for IV therapy had been inserted into my arm (it took the paramedics 4 attempts to get it into a vein) she said: “If someone does not know what to do, they should not do it, and ask for help.” That triggered my thoughts for this memo.

Watching on TV, I saw a few people fall during the weekend’s cycle tour in Belgium. Without help from their team they would probably still be limping towards the finish line now.

How much time to we waste by not asking for help? “Please help me” is a question that should be part of every “time management” course on the planet. It should be part of organisational culture to ask for help rather than plodding along, probably making mistakes, venturing down the wrong track.

How much time have wasted by not asking for directions in an unfamiliar city (yes, the GPS can make mistakes)?

Asking for help is not weakness, but reveals strength, [+ as you can read in this article+].

Do you think that between now and four days onwards when you go to bed, you might need some help? I encourage you to ask for help, and let me know how it went!

(Trip down memory lane: A litle help from my friends – The Beatles or the Joe Cocker rendition)


“When you don’t ask for help when you need it, you assume all of a burden that might easily (and gladly) be shared. But you also deprive those who’d love to assist you of the opportunity to do so. Everyone is worse off,” Margie Warrell





I was sitting on a bench at Three Anchor Bay Watching the world go by, when I noticed something strange – let me rather say something that looked strange to me…

I saw three people sitting on the beach, each with a kayak paddle, rowing in the sand as if they were on a kayak on the water. Then I saw their instructor and realised that this was not “something strange” going on, but people practicing the moves on dry ground so that when they are ready to put their kayaks in the water, they will know what to do.

It’s a very good example of what Stephen R Covey called the P/PC balance – the balance between Production (laying the “golden egg”) and Production Capability (the health and wellness of the goose that lays the golden eggs). He said that maintaining this balance is the essence of effectiveness.

Ensure you are capable of doing something rather than just jumping and trying to do it – and maybe drowning in the process.

When you delegate work to someone, don’t accept that they can actually do it. If they cannot, both they and you may drown.

Effective delegation depends on the trustworthiness of the person you are entrusting with the task. To quote Covey again: Trustworthiness requires character (want to do it) and competence (can do it). An abundance in the one does not make up for a shortfall in the other.

So even if the person you are sending out to fish on a kayak is the nicest person in the world (and it might be you!) but has not practiced the skills “on dry ground”, it’s probably not going to work.

Don’t rush into action without proper preparation.


“Proper preparation prevents poor performance,” Attributed to many people.





The 40th anniversary of the largest timed cycle race in the world, the Cape Town Cycle Tour, was scheduled to take place on a Sunday. But Mother Nature intervened. With 100 km/h winds expected for most of the way, and after seeing what happened to those who did start earlier, the Tour was cancelled.

My clear vision was also cancelled, I went outside to see if I could find the cause of a disturbing noise as the wind bellowed down Devil’s Peak. Just to have my glasses being blown off my face. And they didn’t just fall; no. they were blown away parallel to the ground and are probably still flying around somewhere. Fortunately, I have a “previous edition” available so at least I can get around.

That’s the power of nature – and we cannot do anything to stop it. Something that is natural can blow technology and plans and events away.

That’s the power of principle. As Stephen Covey liked to say, “You cannot break principles; you can only break yourself against them”.

The framework for our Productivity Breakthrough programme is “8 Work Habits to Rapidly and Sustainably Increase Productivity”, and each habit is built on principles and processes – the what and the how. (If you would like me to send you a copy if my article about these work habits, please [+ click here+].)

The principle underpinning Work Habit 5 is to adapt to changes in your context. There is no value in kicking against the pricks. You can either choose to align your thinking, planning and living with this principle – or break yourself against it.

You may be thinking “How can I adapt when my calendar is overbooked?” The trick is to accept responsibly for what shows up in your Calendar. You say “yes” to meeting invitations. You choose to book time for your own work.

Also, choose to keep free time in your calendar. I refer you to the article of Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, [+ about The Importance of Scheduling Nothing+].

If you don’t take charge of your life (e.g. calendar), other people will.

Be well prepared with “free space” so you can adapt when the South Easter blows, as it surely will!


“The solution, as simple as it sounds, is to periodically schedule nothing. Use that buffer time to think big, catch up on the latest industry news, get out from under that pile of unread emails, or just take a walk. Whatever you do, just make sure you make that time for yourself … every day and in a systematic way … and don’t leave unscheduled moments to chance. The buffer is the best investment you can make in yourself and the single most important productivity tool I use,” Jeff Weiner.





Sitting at my desk, I am watching a family of guinea fowl outside, running up and down, seemingly without purpose or direction. They sprint along the fence, then stop, turn around and sprint back to where they just came from. And this has been going on for the last half an hour or more. And every day it’s the same thing!

It makes me think of my own behaviour at times over the weekend – now doing this, then doing that and in the process not achieving much except for losing focus (see picture) and increase my frustration about not getting things done.

The Basic Work Habits of Focus and Completion brought me back to sanity, and I can recommend that you apply it as well when you find yourself flitting between things – I see one definition for “flitting” is “To move quickly from one condition or location to another.” Maybe you call it multitasking or even better, switch-tasking. Every time we switch from one thing to the other, there is a productivity cost attached.

A simple trick helped me. I set a timer for 20 minutes and kept working on just one thing until the timer went off. I got up, went outside for a few minutes and then returned to the same task (and trick) until it was completed. Then rewarded myself with a short break and continued. It works!

Maybe this is something you can try as well when next you are faced with many tasks, all to be done “at the same time”. They can’t. Take them one at a time until done.


“You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once,” Gary Keller





I was watching the six Nations rugby match between England and Italy, and at one stage, there was quite a discussion going on between England players and referee Romain Poite about

About rucking and wanted him to explain what they must to under certain circumstances.

I loved his response: “I am the referee, I am not the coach.”

Role clarification is important!

Next time when somebody asks you to do something that is not in your area of expertise or responsibility, say, “no”. That’s not your job. You “are the referee, not the coach”. Fulfil your role, and nobody else’s.

One of my individual coaching clients said she could just not say “no” to people, even if they were asking her to do things that were clearly not part of her key performance areas. “Why?” I asked. “I want people to like me”, was her reply. Nothing wrong with being liked, but at what cost?

Stick to your role, protect your boundaries, and “be the referee, not the coach”.

Have a fun week with the whistle!


“You should only do what only you can do. Delegate or outsource the rest.”



Lessons of life




On Sunday, we celebrated my brother’s birthday.

A good amount of planning went into the event which was a first in their new home in Somerset Oaks. There was the usual back and forth about who brings what but eventually it was all done. We had a lovely day!

I was also given a few lessons which I think can be applied to any project.

Don’t be a “scope creeper”.  I ended up taking more items than planned and that caused uncertainty about what is “something to nibble before we begin” and “the real starter”.  Nothing serious but the lesson for smooth execution: Stick to what you were asked to do!

Have one person with delegated authority in charge.  A good example of the paradox of high performance – slow down to speed up.  Take some time up front to appoint the “project manager”. Don’t rush this phase – then let him/her run things. Too many cooks spoil the broth!  

I wish you an uncomplicated week with no scope creep and smooth execution.


“There is no such thing as scope creep, only scope gallop,” Cornelius Fitchner.





When last did a day work out exactly (I mean exactly) as planned? Life changes and we need to be flexible enough to adapt and change as well.

This weekend I had an opportunity to practice both flexibility and rigidity.

Richard and I planned to meet for breakfast for a discussion around membership sites. It never worked out that way, because his wife, Senomi, suggested we go the Avontuur Estate instead for a relaxing morning and have something to eat there.


In the space of 30 seconds the entire day took on a different complexion and instead of being indoors, we could enjoy the countryside – and a good breakfast too. That’s the value of being flexible.

We had our conversations as planned, but I think the quality of the thinking was just so much better in an open space. Maybe open space creates open minds!

On Sunday, on the other hand, I was required to be more “disciplined” during an indoors “photo- shoot”. I learned a lot about “light shaping” – truly amazing. But in this context, I could not just do what I wanted when I wanted to, but had to follow the instructions of the photographer, who had an “end in mind” with the pictures.

Different approaches work for different circumstances and different desired outcomes.

At times, you can be free and flexible – be aware of what’s happening, and adapt.

At other times, especially when somebody who knows what she/he is talking about is directing you, it’s best to “toe the line” to achieve the best results.

On a practical note: When planning your month/week/day, make sure that you proactively block out “open space” for nothing in particular. This gives you the freedom to adapt and make the most of unexpected opportunities. This means that you must (yes, must) not allow back-to-back meetings in your calendar. Block at least thirty minutes between meetings.

Enjoy a flexible week!


“The measure of a person’s strength is not his muscular power or strength, but it is his flexibility and adaptability,”  Debasish Mridha





I shared “The $25 000 idea’ with you. I want to highlight something today.

Charles Schwab, president of Bethlehem Steel, told efficiency expert Ivy Lee that was needed in his company was NOT MORE KNOWING but A LOT MORE DOING. He said, “We know what we should be doing. Now if you can show us a better way of getting it done, I’ll listen to you and pay you anything within reason you ask.”

It breaks my heart when I do a productivity improvement workshop with a client (company or individual) and after a few weeks I hear that they are not getting any benefit from it. To paraphrase Charles Schwab, “They know what to do but they must not be doing it. I know people get huge benefit by implementing their new knowledge and skills after one of our workshops.”

You can attend a million courses, watch a million videos, read a million books and gain all the knowledge of “how to play tennis” but if you don’t get on the court and PRACTICE what you have learned, it was a waste of time and money.

The same with any training/workshop you attend. Actions speak louder than words. DOING speaks louder than KNOWING.

I therefore want to commend the Bloemfontein office of SMEC South Africa for DOING. Their management team meets every Monday, and following the workshops I did with them, they now have a standing “Productivity” agenda item. Every week a different member of the team gets the opportunity to visit colleagues, learn what is still holding them back, and what successes they are enjoying. At the meeting, they have a time slot to share this, and their own “productivity tips and tricks” with the rest of the team. Well done – I am proud of you!

For all of us: Keep on learning! Keep on doing!


“To learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know,”  Stephen R. Covey





I won’t bore you with a long story about my hip joint that needs replacement, except to share something practical I have learned from it with you.

At times, it’s rather painful to move around, so I have become more aware of where I am, and ask the question “While I am here, is there anything else I can do, or is there anything here I can take with me?” Apart from saving me a few back-and-forths, it has made me more aware of what I am doing.

This thinking of “where am I now, and what can I do here?” is one of the foundational principles to organise the things you have to/want to do. Rather than having one long “To-Do” list with anything from making a phone call to speaking to Jo Soap on it, organise your action reminders by, “where will I be when I do this?”

This means separate lists for phone calls, things to do at home, a shopping list, emails to send, things to do when next you are online etc. It’s like using “buckets” for the various lists. And when you are focussed on making phone calls, you work inside that bucket without being distracted by things you cannot do anything about anyway, because you are not in the right context.

In your electronic self-management system, you can allocate categories to tasks and then look at what needs to be done by category.

If you prefer to work with a paper system, it can be as simple yet powerful as having a single sheet of paper with different sections/categories (as in the picture) for different kind of activities (Thanks for this, Joan!).

Or maybe you like using something like the Bullet Journal – The Analog System For The Digital Age.

Whatever system you use (and remember that the word SYSTEM is an acronym for something that Saves You Stress Time Effort Money), keep it simple and manageable by organising similar actions together. You will feel less overwhelmed, be more organised and in control, and live lighter.

Try it, and let me know how it goes.





I spent the weekend with my brothers and sisters at Vleesbaai – it is not often that we can all be there at the same time in the place that holds so many memories for us. We had a lot of fun and it is therefore no surprise that my “normal” weekend routine was severely disrupted. To the degree that I never got around to putting pen to paper!

Monday went by, with half the day spent on the road.

Tuesday was a big “catch up” day – and still I did not write.

Then I thought that I might as well leave it – who will notice?

Have you ever had this experience of not doing something at the time you should have done it? I am not talking about procrastination, which is something we choose to do, but when some things just keep “slipping”?

Apart from not keeping your commitment to yourself and maybe others, feelings of guilt show up – not a positive space to be in!

And all of this could have been avoided by just taking the action when you should have.

In your family, or at work, save yourself the stress of things left undone. Close your “open loops” or they will stay in your memory, just like Prof Zeigarnik found and explained in “On Finished and Unfinished Tasks.”

If you want increased productivity and peace of mind, finish things you start. Uncompleted tasks linger in your mind and will only “leave” when done. Don’t “multitask” because all this means is that you are switching from one task to the next without completing any of them, and you will keep having intrusive thoughts about the unfinished tasks.

Minimise distractions and interruptions, because they all have the same effect. People often tell me that they cannot do anything about distractions and interruptions. Is this true, or do we allow it?

Remember that “what you allow, will remain” – if you allow people to interrupt you, that is what will remain. Be firm with managing your boundaries. Say “no”. You will be more productive and less stressed.

The Author

Gerrit Cloete helps executives. managers and their teams to save up to 40 minutes per day, have less stress, be more organised, find information fast, work with more focus on outcomes and action while being more relaxed.

Cut down on the number of meetings while increasing the value of meetings.

Stay on top of developments and trends in the productivity industry and share what we learn with our clients.

Implement a process that supports retention of new knowledge and skills attained at our workshops rather than doing “seagull training” where the trainer flies in, makes a lot of noise, drops a lot of stuff and fly off – never to be seen again.

Support our clients in leveraging the IT investment they have already made by using Outlook (and other platforms) as business productivity tools and not just for email and meeting management like most other people in most other companies do.

Partner with clients over a longer period of time to implement a sustainable programme of increasing productivity as a change management programme.

Go through the Stars!

Productivity made easy by telling stories from real life. Looking at nature, things that happens every day this book highlights productivity challenges and how we can apply it every day to improve our work and life. It uses the lessons from birds, bees, children and what we see and experience to illustrate greatness.

  • Author: VDS Brink
  • Published: 2017-04-24 16:35:12
  • Words: 4883
Go through the Stars! Go through the Stars!