18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done – Peter Bregman

Here’s my favorite part of the book:

How do you find your focus, master distraction, and get the right things done all in 18 minutes? Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners, a global management consultancy on teamwork, leadership, and workplace issues, states that it all begins with a 3-step, 18-minute routine. The first step is to spend 5 minutes planning your day by creating a “to-do” list first thing in the morning. Then in the second step, spend 1 minute after each hour reflecting on the past hour on how productive you were. In the third and final step, spend 5 minutes reflecting on the day by asking yourself a set of 3 questions on how your day went, what you learned, and who you connected with that day. Through this simple three step 18-minute routine, you’ll better keep track of your time and how much you’ve produced. This will then get you to use your time more effectively rather than squandering it.

If you’re looking for a book on productivity, then this is a good book for you. Just as he did in his previous book Four Minutes, Peter breaks down each concept in to short personal anecdotes and how he was able to employ the strategies he’s learned/developed to overcome them. What I enjoyed the most about his book was that despite there being 46 chapters, they’re all broken down in to straight forward quotes regarding the point he’s trying to get across at the end of each chapter. If you don’t want to read his story, just skip to the end where you can get his golden nugget of advice. Here are some of the points to the book:


1. Work in short bursts of hustle, rest, and repeat. My friend Hillary Small broke her foot and was confined to bed rest for several weeks. ‘The cast gave me a time-out card, which I never would have taken on my own,’ she told me, ‘and when I did slow down, I felt a deep sadness. I had nothing to distract me from the feeling that I had been living a life in which my needs were never a priority.’ So it was hard for her. But it also gave her renewed energy to focus on her priorities. When we rest, we emerge stronger. There’s a method of long-distance running that’s becoming popular called the Run-Walk method; every few minutes of running is followed by a minute of walking. What’s interesting is that people aren’t just using this method to train, they’re using it to race. And what’s even more interesting is that they’re beating their old run-the-entire-distance times. Because slowing down, even for a few minutes here and there and even in the middle of a race, enables you to run faster and with better form. And, as a side benefit reported by Run-Walkers, it’s a lot more fun. Life, too, is a lot more fun when it’s interspersed with some resting. A short walk in the middle of your race. A pause. A breath. A moment to take stock. To realign your form. Your focus. Your purpose. I’m not talking about a stop as much as a ritual of self-imposed brief and strategic interruptions. A series of pauses to ask yourself a few important questions, to listen to the answers that arise, and to open yourself to making some changes—maybe big ones, maybe small ones—that will help you run strongly. That will ensure you’re running the right race. And running it the right way. That will position you to win. Faster, better, more fun? The only downside being time to think? You don’t have to believe in God to realize that slowing down is a good idea.


2. Leverage your strengths, embrace your weaknesses, assert your differences, and pursue your passions. I was on my way to Princeton University, where I was a student more than twenty years ago, to give a speech about life after college. As I traveled to the campus, I remembered a single question that haunted my last few months of schooling: Now what? I had no good answer. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have a plan. Which, as it turns out, might have been a pretty good plan after all. Mark Zuckerberg and his college roommates were computer science students without any real plan. They started Facebook because it was fun, used their talents, and was a novel way for Harvard students and alumni to stay in touch. Zuckerberg never anticipated it would host more than four hundred million members. And he had no clear idea where the money would come from. But he kept at it until, in 2007, Facebook let outside developers create applications for it, and game developers started buying ads on Facebook to keep attracting players. Hardly Zuckerberg’s strategy in 2004. Similarly, when Larry Page and Sergey Brin, money. But that didn’t stop them from starting. It wasn’t until 2002 and 2003 that AdWords and AdSense became the company’s moneymaking platform. So what makes people like Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin so successful? Some of it is opportunity. Some of it is persistence. And some is sheer luck. But there’s another set of ingredients that encourages opportunity, persistence, and luck. I call them the four elements. The four behaviors around which you should shape your next year: Leverage your strengths. Embrace your weaknesses. Assert your differences. Pursue your passions. Zuckerberg, Page, and Brin loved technology and were great with it. None of them operated alone—they partnered with people to complement their weaknesses. And in style as well as substance, they offered unique approaches that differentiated them and their companies from anything else out there.


3. Play the game you know you can win in. Losing sucks so why not just dominate what you’re good at? How can a few pirates in small boats capture and hold huge tanker ships hostage? How can a few scattered people in caves halfway across the world instill fear in the hearts of millions of citizens in the largest, most powerful countries in the world? How can a single independent contractor beat out a thirty-thousand-person consulting firm to win a multimillion-dollar contract? In A Separate Peace , John Knowles’s coming-of-age novel, Phineas invents the game Blitzball, in which everyone chases a single ball carrier, who must outrun every other competitor. As it happens, Phineas always wins because the rules of the game—a game he invented—favor his particular skills. That’s the secret of the successful underdog. Play the game you know you can win, even if it means inventing it yourself. Entrepreneurs intuitively understand this; they start their own companies for exactly this reason. I know a tremendous number of extremely successful people who could never get a job in a corporation because they never went to college. So they started their own companies: companies they designed to play to their unique strengths. They invented a game they could win, and then they played it. In his book Moneyball , Michael Lewis explains how the Oakland A’s, with $41 million in salaries, consistently beat teams with more than $100 to settle for second- or third-tier people who were less expensive. Which basically guaranteed that the richest teams had the best players and won. But the Oakland A’s studied the game and reinvented the rules. They realized that the number of times a player got on a base (on-base percentage) combined with the number of bases a player got each time he came to bat (slugging percentage) was a better predictor of success. And since no other teams were looking at those particular criteria, the players who excelled in those areas were relatively cheap to sign. Hiring those people was a game the Oakland A’s could win. Large consulting firms spend tens of thousands of dollars on glossy proposals to clients. But is that what wins the game? Perhaps what really wins is client ownership over the project, and if you sit with the client and design the project with her, your one-page proposal (that she, in effect, co-wrote with you) will beat their hundred pages every time—at a fraction of the cost. That’s a game an independent contractor can win. Malcolm Gladwell, in his New Yorker article ‘How David Beats Goliath,’ talks about the moment that David shed his armor. He knew he couldn’t win a game of strength against strength. But he also knew he was faster, more agile, and had better aim. So he picked up five stones, dashed out of the pack, and won the battle. He broke the rules and reinvented the game.


4. What you do in your spare time is a huge overlooked indicator of your success. On January 15, 2009, Captain C. B. Sullenberger made an emergency landing of his fifty-ton passenger aircraft, softly gliding it onto the Hudson River in New York City, saving the lives of all 155 people on board. Miraculous? Or predictable? What do we know about Captain Sullenberger? Before the landing that exposed his particular brilliance, could you have predicted he would have the skill, the presence, the leadership to become the star that he is today? Earlier in my career, I spent four years working in a management consulting company creating models to use in hiring people. Our clients, a star performer. Here was our process: We interviewed both star and average performers in a client company and identified the characteristics that distinguished the stars from the rest. Then we helped the company interview people and hire the ones who fit the model. Sounds reasonable. But it’s not. It’s tremendously expensive and time consuming. It requires intensive interviews that demand a great deal of skill; it’s only as effective as the person doing the interviewing and hiring. And even if you have the money, time, and skill, you end up hiring past stars, not future ones. Some would argue that the only thing that predicts success in a job is actual success in that job. That’s why financial services firms hire close to ten times the number of analysts they need and then, a year or two later, keep the ones who succeed and let the others go. Of course, that’s even more expensive and time consuming than our modeling process. There is a much cheaper, easier way to place a person—you or anyone—in a position to succeed. Ask one question: What do you do in your spare time? In Captain Sullenberger’s case, the first clue that he would become Captain Sullenberger the hero is that, in his teens, when most of his friends were getting their driver’s licenses, he got his pilot’s license. What did he do for fun? He flew glider planes, which is basically what he did when he landed in the Hudson River with no engines. Extracurricular activities? He was an accident investigator for the Air Line Pilots Association and worked with federal aviation officials to improve training and methods for evacuating aircraft in emergencies.


5. Don’t just take on a job for the sake of the cash but rather do a job that excites you. The best motivation comes within. “If you don’t have a job, then your hardest job is to manage your fear. Because here’s the kicker: It won’t take longer to find a job even though you’re spending less time looking. It’ll take you less time. Pursuing things you love doing with people you enjoy will better position you to get a job—and much better position you to get a job at the intersection of the four elements. Other people will notice your commitment, passion, skill, and personality, and they’ll want to either hire you or help you get hired. Also, actively pursuing other activities while looking for a job will make you more qualified for a job—because you’ll end up a more interesting person. When you finally get that job interview, you’ll be able to recount all the many things you’ve been doing (and will probably have a good time relating them) instead of saying that the only thing you’ve been doing for the past three years is looking (unsuccessfully so far) for a job. I just heard the story of a woman who decided to do work she didn’t enjoy for a few years in order to make a lot of money. Three years later, the company went bankrupt. That could happen to anyone. Bad luck. But here’s what she said that I found the most depressing: ‘It’s as though I didn’t work for the last three years—it’s all gone. And what’s worse, I worked like a dog and hated it. I just wasted three years of my life.’ Don’t waste your time, your year. Spend it in a way that excites you. That teaches you new things. That introduces you to new people who see you at your natural, most excited, most powerful best. Use and develop your strengths. Use and even develop your weaknesses. Express your differences. And pursue the things you love. There’s no better way to spend your year. Your year will be best spent doing work that you enjoy so much, it feels effortless. You’ll always work tirelessly at your passions—hard work will feel easier.


6. Live your life that’s true to you and no one else’s. You don’t want to look back on your life thinking that you lived a life for someone else. Each year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts an American Time Use Survey, asking thousands of Americans to document how they spend every minute of every day. According to the data, most of us spend a total of almost 20 hours of each day sleeping (8.68 hours/day), working (7.78 hours/day), and watching television (3.45 hours/day). I know: Shocking, right? I mean, who sleeps that much? It’s hard to look at the data and not think about where you fit in. Do you watch more or less television? Do you work   longer or shorter hours? It’s a useful and interesting exercise to examine how we spend each minute of the day. To know where we’re devoting our wisdom, our action, our life’s energy. And yet where we spend our time tells us only so much. More important, and completely subjective, is what those activities mean to us. I recently happened upon a short article, ‘Top Five Regrets of the Dying’ by Bronnie Ware, who spent many years nursing people who had gone home to die. Their most common regret? ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.’ Their second most common? ‘I wish I didn’t work so hard.’ There are two ways to address these regrets. One, work less hard and spend your time living a life true to yourself. Or two, work just as hard—harder even—on things that matter to you. On things that represent a life lived true to you. Something you consider to be important. Meaningful. Because if you put those two regrets together, you realize that what people really regret isn’t simply working so hard, it’s working so hard on things that simply don’t matter to them. If our work feels like it matters to us, if it represents a life true to us , then we would die without the main regrets that haunt the dying. We would live more fully. That doesn’t mean you should sell all your belongings and feed the poor in a foreign country. Well, if that’s true to you, go ahead. But the whole point is that your life needs to be true to you , not what others expect of you. Maybe that’s feeding the poor. Maybe it’s cooking dinner for your family. So the question is: What matters to you?


By Ryan Timothy Lee


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