All too often, we seem to live our days on auto-pilot. The hours, days, and months fly by, and we look back and wonder what we accomplished. Worse, we might be living our days in reaction mode, responding to the loudest noises in an attempt to gain some sanity and get work done. Of course, that never happens, as your agenda rarely is the same as those who want and need your time and resources.
Peter Bregman aims to help you get off that treadmill with his book 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done. This isn't yet another "system" to follow to have a place for all things and to keep all things in their place. Instead, it's a framework for developing a habit of taking 18 minutes throughout the day to plan out what you need to do, regroup on an hourly basis, and then review the results. It made a lot of sense to me, and he solidified something I've been vaguely trying to do on my own.
Each chapter is small, only about three to five pages. It's not hard to read his story or illustration that makes his point, understand how that idea links into the larger whole of your life, and decide what step or steps you need to take to make it happen. As you will see in the table of contents listed at the end of this review, the book is structured into four parts. The first part is a call to slow down, step off the highway, and start thinking about where you're going. In parts two, three, and four, he drills further down into the actions and decisions that are needed to move you forward both at the day and life level. By thinking what your year is about, then your day, then this particular moment, all your actions and decisions start to work towards a common goal to accomplish something significant, something beyond just keeping your head above water. The 18 minute habit is key to this process. You start the day by setting the tasks you want and need to accomplish (and then you schedule them). Throughout the day on an hourly basis, you take one minute to step back, take a deep breath, and refocus on what you've done and what you're going to do in the next hour. Finally, you end the day with a review of how everything went, what you learned, and whether there's any loose ends that need to be tied up before you mentally shut off for the night. This ritual, once you do it often enough, becomes habit and leads you to take concrete steps throughout the day to control your direction (instead of the direction controlling you).
I liked 18 Minutes for a number of reasons. Bregman is realistic in that he knows you probably won't be able to stick to a complicated system that requires a complete change in the way you do things. You can start where you are with 18 Minutes, incorporating one or two items that resonate with you. Once those are ingrained, work on a few more, all the while remembering to start the day with a plan, regroup throughout the day, and end the day with a review to learn what worked and what didn't. For me, the immediate "to do" is to start the one minute regrouping action. Instead of going from fire to fire, I'll start stepping back for one minute an hour to consciously reset and regroup so I can start the next hour with renewed focus.
18 Minutes is well worth reading. Go ahead and put it down on your daily task list... schedule it in. :) If you've read productivity books before, you've likely seen a number of these tips and such. But seeing them woven together in this structure makes much more sense than just tossing out random tips, hoping one or two will stick.
Contents: Part One - Pause - Hover Above Your World: Slowing the Spin - Reducing Your Forward Momentum; The Girl Who Stopped Alligator Man - The Incredible Power of a Brief Pause; The Day Andy Left Work Early - Stopping in Order to Speed Up; Frostbite in the Spring - Seeing the World as It Is, Not as You Expect It to Be; Multiple Personalities Are Not a Disorder - Expanding Your View of Yourself; Why We're Fascinated with Susan Boyle - Recognizing Your Own Potential; You Don't Have to Like Him - Where Do You Want to Land?; Part Two - What Is This Year About? - Find Your Focus: What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do - Choosing Your Next Move at the Intersection; Reinvent the Game - Element One - Leverage Your Strengths; I'll Just Take the Shrimp - Element Two - Embrace Your Weakness; Headed Seats - Element Three - Assert Your Differences; The Pilot Who Saved 155 Passengers - Element Four Pursue Your Passion (Desire); Anyone Can Learn to Do a Handstand - Element Four - Pursue Your Passion (Persistence); A Recipe for Finding the Right Word - Element Four - Pursue Your Passion (Ease); What Matters to You? - Element Four - Pursue Your Passion (Meaning); I'm the Parent I HAve to Be - Avoiding Tunnel Vision; I've Missed More Than Nine Thousand Shots - Avoiding Surrender After Failure; When the Future Is Uncertain - Avoiding Paralysis; Maybe - Avoiding the Rush to Judgement; What Is This Year About? - Creating Your Annual Focus Part Three - What Is This Day About? - Get the Right Things Done: Dude, What Happened - Planning Ahead; Bird by Bird - Deciding What to Do; Wrong Floor - Deciding What Not to Do; When Tomorrow? - Using Your Calendar; The Three-Day Rule - Getting Things Off Your To-Do List; Who Are You? - The Power of a Beep; It's Amazing What You Find When You Look - Evening Minutes - Reviewing and Learning; An 18-Minute Plan for Managing Your Day - Creating a Daily Ritual Part Four - What Is This Moment About? - Mastering Distraction: Mastering Your Initiative: Move the Table - Avoiding the Need for Motivation; Never Quit a Diet While Reading the Dessert Menu - We Need Less Motivation Than We Think; The Nintendo Wii Solution - Having Fun; The One-Two Punch - Getting Started and Keeping It Going; Am I the Kind of Person Who... - Telling the Right Story About Yourself; The Hornets Stung My Mind - Getting Out of Your Own Way Mastering Your Boundaries: The Time Suck of Collaboration - Saying Yes Appropriately; But Daddy... - Saying No Convincingly; The Third Time - Knowing When to Say Something; We're Not Let Yet - Increating Transition Time; I Don't Want to Go to Ski Class - Decreasing Transition Time; We'll Regress. We'll Forget You. We'll Replace You - Managing the Tension of Relaxation Mastering Yourself: Does Obama Wear a Pearl Necklace? - Creating Productive Distractions; Whould You Smoke Pot While You're Working? - Avoiding Switch-Tasking; It's Not the Skills We Actually Have That Matter - Getting Over Perfectionism; Why Won't This Work for You? - The Value of Getting Things Half Right; Don't Use a Basketball on a Football Field - Staying Flexible Conclusion - Now What?: You Don't Have Ten Gold Behaviors - Choosing Your One Thing Acknowledgments; Index; About the Author