Finished May 9
18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction and Get the Right Things Done by Peter Bregman
This very helpful business book outlines a process that helps you manage your productivity. Because we are living is a world of constant change, it is easy to lose focus and get caught up in expectations that can limit you.
The first step Bregman has you take is to pause briefly. This pause serves to refuel, refocus towards what is important to you, and create an environment to aim yourself at your goals more accurately. During this pause you need to look around, and see things in a way that is open to the unexpected, that lets you take a step back and include yourself in that examination.
The next things you have to do is look at the upcoming year and find your focus. This isn't always easy, and to get you started he has you start with four elements, The first element is your strengths, and to do things suited to those strengths. The second element is your weaknesses, and to embrace them and act in a way that these are an asset rather than a liability. The third element is your differences, what you bring to the game that is different from what others bring. Don't try to blend in. The fourth element is your passion, which again sometimes we have to stop to figure out. Pursuing something you desire, focusing on wants instead of shoulds to the extent that pursuit of that will persist through those times you feel you aren't making progress. For our passions, hard work will feel easier. Bregman suggests around 5 areas of focus with 3 work-related and 2 personal, and to aim at spending 95% of your time on them. These should be things that will make the most difference in your life. One line I really liked from this section is "The time to judge your successes or failures is never."
There are a few things to watch out for when doing this and Bregman gives some pointers in how to deal with them when they arise. These are: fear of failure, paralysis, tunnel vision, and a rush to judgment. Life will get busy and obligations will appear to distract you from these areas of focus, and this leads us to the next step.
Here, Bregman has us focus on the day, taking one day at a time. It is important to have a plan for your day to keep moving in the right direction. This means making an organized list of tasks, focused in those five areas you identified. Choosing what to ignore is important in this. For those things that are important, setting a time and place to do those tasks will help you to get them done. As he says, when looking at a task you have four choices: do it now, schedule it, let it go, or put it on a waiting list. He suggests never leaving things on a to-do list for more than three days without doing one of these things with it. It is easy for things to fall through the cracks; calls that we don't return, emails we don't answer, not really listening to others. Bregman says that many of us live in a constant state of dissatisfaction where we feel ineffective, insufficient, and so disappoint ourselves. One way he suggests tackling this is interrupting yourself on an hourly basis to refocus. Another tactic he suggests is taking a few minutes at the end of the day thinking about what you learned and who you should connect with. He supplies a few questions to ask yourself at this time.
This is where the next step comes in, the one referred to in the book's title, 18 minutes. Here where those minutes are: for the first five minutes of your day, before turning on your computer, sit down with your to-do list and decide what will make the day successful, then schedule those things into your calendar. For one minute every hour, refocus. At the end of your day, take five minutes, shut off your computer and review the day.
By building each day's plan on your annual focus areas, making choices about where to spend your time and energy effectively, paying attention to those things daily to keep yourself on track, you will get the important things done. Bregman could have ended the book here, but he knows human nature and so he included a section on dealing with distractions. The first set of distractions are those around getting started. Dealing with these, Bregman calls this "mastering your initiative." You need to create the right environment that naturally compels you to do the things you want to get done. You only need a few seconds of motivation to get started on a task, and being aware of when you need to turn this motivation on is key. One insight here is that we are not motivated by money, we are motivated by fun and by fear. Fear can be a catalyst to change, but pleasure is what keeps you going. Choose both. Tell yourself a good story that inspires you to move in the right direction. Venturing into a fantasy world in your mind can provide support.
The second set of distractions is those brought to us by others. Dealing with these, Bregman calls "mastering your boundaries." He provides a set of three questions to ask yourself when faced with these. In addition, he counsels us to mean it when we say no, to not wait too long once something arises so that others are aware of our boundaries, and to allow a few moments of transition time when changing tasks. Mastering boundaries involves paying attention and he offers several pointers here. He also discusses the issues around disconnecting when away from work, giving some strategies.
The third set of distractions are those we create ourselves. Bregman calls dealing with these "mastering yourself." Again he provides several strategies: use intentional distractions as an asset; don't multitask, don't be a perfectionist, and define the situation,
As he concludes, your next step in one thing. Do it.