18 Minutes

In 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, Peter Bregman writes about focus, distraction, and getting things done. The title comes from his daily steps for focusing on this. Summarized:

  • 5 minutes: Start your day by planning what you’ll focus on
  • 8 minutes: At the start of every hour in an 8-hour work day, ask if you’re working on the right thing
  • 5 minutes: Review your day by figuring out what went well and what could be improved

I haven’t tried following it completely yet, but I did turn the MacOS notifications back on to announce the time. It’s helped me stay on track.

I liked the format of the book. Each chapter is built sort of like this:

  • Story as a metaphor to introduce a problem
  • How the problem applies to work-related things
  • Solutions to that problem at work
  • Applying the principles to that solution to the introductory story
  • Directive

I call the end directives, as in how Derek Sivers has a “Do this.” takeaway from all his reading. 18 Minutes explicitly has a box at the end of each chapter with one or two sentences explaining exactly how to take action. For example:

The first element is your strengths. Over the coming year, play the game that is perfectly suited to your strengths.

Nice and tidy. I need to go back and just look at all the directives again.

This is yet another productivity book. It references all the hit studies—kids eating marshmallows, good samaritans, monkeys and hoses, and more.

It’d be a great book to start with if you don’t read a lot of productivity books. Otherwise, you may have already read longer versions of each chapter.

The directive above is part of a chapter talking about four things to do to have a good year:

1. Leverage your strengths. 2. Embrace your weaknesses. 3. Assert your differences. 4. Pursue your passions.

In terms of this blog, I’ll run through these four things.

  • Leverage your strengths: I read a lot, I have a good hour each day to work on this, I can design, I can program. 
  • Embrace your weaknesses: I’m not great at drawing. I’ll need to learn to leverage this. What are the pros of this? I have a beginner’s mind, which is a great time to write about learning to draw. I can have more empathy with other people learning to draw than someone who’s been doing it for 20 years does. 
  • Assert your differences: I can’t be the best writer, I can’t be the best reader, I can’t be the best at drawing, so I’ll need to figure out how I’m different. This one isn’t as straightforward to me. I draw almost entirely on an iPad. That’s… not so original but it’s something to work with.
  • Pursue your passions: What do I do with my free time? Productivity books have become a guilty pleasure. Which can’t make me sound lamer. It means I give my friends a lot of unsolicited advice. Which goes over about as well as you might think. It could be good for this blog, though.

Look at the activities you do alone and figure out if you can (and want to) do them in a way that includes other people. For example, join a garden club. Or a reading or meditation group. Or write something other people will read.

This might be my biggest takeaway from the book. Last year, I wrote 100 posts in 100 days (and am approaching 100 times that I’ve mentioned it in subsequent posts). When I think back to it, fun and enjoyable aren’t exactly the first words that come to mind. 

Grueling and rewarding, yes. I sense that if I wrote 25 posts in 100 days with a friend doing the same and reviewed our progress, that’d be at lot more fun. 

This year, I’ll share my writing more. I have a couple friends and we’re thinking about doing weekly or bi-weekly calls. I’ll look for other ways to turn solo activities into group activities.

Someday/maybe. This is a list I got from David Allen, who wrote the bestsellers Getting Things Done, and it’s where I put things to slowly die.

Nursing home for project ideas. It goes back to the principle that there’s not a finite amount of creativity. The more creativity you exercise in life, the more you’ll have. If a project isn’t enough to prioritize now, and you’re constantly thinking of new ideas, what are the chances that letting it sit in the someday/maybe list will make it more attractive a project than any of the new ideas you’ll think of?

The someday/maybe list is not a wine cellar where project ideas become more refined, it’s just a musty basement where dust layers up.

Distraction is, in fact, the same thing as focus. To distract yourself from X you need to focus on Y.

I’ve never thought of it this way. This is never more apparent than when you see a friend going through a breakup. It’s why we tell our friends (here’s that unsolicited advice again) to go to the gym, surround yourself with people, dive into your work. You need to distract yourself from your own thoughts by focusing on anything else. 

We’d probably be wise to apply that thinking more often. If you’re burning out on work, don’t look at seemingly unproductive things as distractions. Look at them as ways to focus on recovery. 

I roll my eyes when people suggest giving up TV entirely to be more productive. If you’re watching hours and hours every night, ok yeah maybe give that up. But it’s become one of the best places to see creativity. It’s a good way to turn your brain off.

I was watching the WWE Network for an hour a day during some of my most productive months. (To look smart in a meeting just wait for a statistic to be dropped then say well is that correlation or causation?) Correlation or causation? Watching pro wrestling let me turn my brain off to a notch most people don’t have on their dials. It was like the difference between restarting your browser and re-installing your OS for a fresh start. 

To be successful, watch some wrestling!

Or don’t. But check out 18 Minutes, because Bregman’s got better ideas than I do.