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

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This is the third day in a row where I’ve started no less than three activities within 10 minutes and made little progress on any of them.  I am distracted,  I am frustrated and I am falling behind.

That’s the moment that I glance at my nightstand and see the book 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done buried under a pile of books.  “A-ha!” I think, “This is exactly what I need to get back on track!”

As I rifle through the book, it becomes clear to me that I’ve gotten trapped in the detailed tasks that make up my day instead of keeping my eye on the overall goals that I’ve set out to accomplish through the year.  I quickly realize that I have been the thief of my own time and the main obstacle to not achieving what I’d set out to do.

If that sounds like you, then read on, my friend, and let’s see how we can transform our daily to-do list monster in 18 minutes.

18 Minutes is a brand new book written by Harvard Business Review’s most popular online columnist, Peter Bregman (@peterbregman). It offers a plan for getting the right things done in business and in life.

There are four primary sections to the book:

Section 1 – Pause – The examples in this section will prepare you for the rest of the book.  You will get into a mind-set that will help you to see the possibilities of getting the most out of your time.

Section 2 – What is this year about? I’m a big fan of Chris Brogan’s “three words for the year” exercise where you pick three words that will symbolize your priorities and efforts in the new year.  This is very much the same idea.  In 18 Minutes, Bregman shows you four elements around which you should focus your efforts over the year:

  1. Leverage your strengths
  2. Embrace your weaknesses
  3. Assert your difference
  4. Pursue your passion

Part 3 – What is this day about? – this is where you learn how to translate what your year is about into a daily 18-minute plan.  This isn’t really a new concept.  The Franklin Planner folks had this figured out, as do most people who are on a mission to achieve something.

I have a friend who likes to say that most people know more about what they want on a pastrami sandwich than what they want out of life.  Bregman is saying the same thing.  Figuring out what your year is about is huge, but keeping that goal in focus day in and day out is even more challenging for most people.

In this section, Bregman delves deeper into how to combine those four elements of who you are into a more powerful, more fully self-expressed version of you.  He relates a wonderfully telling story of how he repeatedly fell during a mountain biking trip because he found himself slowing down at a rock instead of plowing over it.  I could immediately see his point and thought of how I become sidetracked by certain events in the day because I didn’t plan ahead and acknowledge potential obstacles and how I would handle them.

There is a terrific list outline in this section that you can use immediately.  Just use those four or five things that your year is about as list categories; then put your tasks underneath.  Bregman also recommends creating a category called “The other 5%- Mine.”

When I saw this, I had an epiphany!  I’ve been using Google Tasks to keep track of my to-do lists and had created lists by Clients.  Now I see that I can create my lists by these four categories.

In fact, if you read my review on Karmic Management, you’ll find Bregman’s system works just as well with the 6 time lists mentioned there.

An interesting benefit you’ll get from this arrangement of your lists is the ability to quickly see which categories have an abundance of tasks and which ones are a little thin.  This is a terrific visual barometer that you can use to see if your day is the way you’d like it to be.  If it isn’t, you can quickly make a change.

Part 4- What is this moment about? I’m sure you see a pattern unfolding in this book.  Focus on who you are, what your year, day and moments are about, and keep your tasks focused in those areas–then you will certainly get where you want to go.

This section is all about being present moment by moment and noticing when you are about to get distracted.  Bregman discusses tactics for managing distractions – those shiny objects that clutter our day, those siren songs that ultimately steal us away from our mission in life.

18 Minutes: advice that’s easy to adopt

Granted, my current situation motivated me to read 18 Minutes out of frustration.  But I found the book to be engaging and Bregman to be a likable narrator.  He didn’t come off as better or holier than thou.  In fact, quite the opposite.

In the Mastering Distractions section he talks about going on an bike ride in the pouring rain because that was his exercise time and if his focus was on exercise, this was the only time he could do it.  He shares his constant inner voice trying to convince him that he should retreat to the warmth and comfort of his apartment, and then he tells us how he stepped out into the rain and even then was thinking bout turning back, but only five minutes into the ride, the rain that seemed like an irritant turned refreshing.

I was inspired more by his “weakness” than his determination in this story.  It showed me that I get to choose how the day goes and those choices determine how my life goes.  That was a powerful moment for me.

Integrity about who you are in the world trumps distractions

Chapter 33 is titled “Am I the Kind of Person Who…” This is an incredibly powerful chapter  because it brings to light that who we are in the world drives what we do, what we focus on and ultimately what we achieve.

Create a good story about yourself, and the actions you take throughout the day will flow easily and naturally.

Things I loved about 18 Minutes

18 Minutes is really well written.  Bregman is so engaging, real and open that his time-saving and life-managing techniques are like that spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.  He uses personal stories, many of which are somewhat self-deprecating, to show you that he’s struggled with the principles he is writing about.

After giving it more thought I realize that 18 Minutes has the magic combination of qualities I like in a book:

  • Fun to read
  • Short
  • Practical
  • Immediately implementable

Who will benefit most from reading 18 Minutes?

If you’re a type A personality who wants to squeeze the most out of your day, this is a book that will feed your fire.  And if you find yourself ending each day tired and feeling like you didn’t get to where you wanted be, then reading this book will help you pinpoint the time  takers that leaves your days and spirit unfulfilled.

This book is an ideal holiday gift for business owners who don’t want to make New Year’s resolutions because they know that nothing ever happens as planned.

If you’re dedicated to living your life and running your business in a way that makes a difference n the world, then this is a terrific, easy and fulfilling read.

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Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."

5 Reactions
  1. This post has so much inspiration that I can just imagine how much the book must deliver! I also see my mission in these words but there’s always more! And since my mission happens to be ” to make everything I touch better” I’m taking it up a notch!

  2. Ivana,

    I have to order this book at once! It will be a great holiday day gift for myself. I wrote about this issue in my post, Two Months Until Xmas. This book could be the missing piece to the puzzle of my productivity method called F.I.X IT! 🙂

    I will print out this post, reread it and then order the book. Thanks for a great book review! 🙂

  3. Ivana,

    Looks like the perfect book for me – thanks for the review.

    Part 3 and organizing y day is the most important for me. There are too many days when I feel at the end of them…I didn’t achieve anything!


  4. Now, if I could only finish reading the book in 18 minutes… 🙂 Great review, I really need to read this.

    • Eric, I’ve had that feeling a number of times with business books — wanting to suck up the knowledge, but wanting it faster! I guess that’s why some people buy book summaries…. 🙂