"Knowing what outcome you want will enable you to focus on what matters and escape the whirlwind of activity that too often leads nowhere fast."
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In 18 Minutes, Peter Bregman breaks down the keys to finding our focus, mastering distraction, and getting the right things done. Beginning with a mental and emotional reset and reevaluation of our priorities and passions, he guides us on a journey to a more rewarding and fulfilling use of our time.
The key is in asking ourselves three big questions:
1. What is this year about?
2. What is this day about?
3. What is this moment about?
As Bregman delves into ways to find our focus, he also outlines tools to create meaningful to-do and to-don’t lists, suggesting behaviors and mindsets that help us avoid distractions, increase our motivation, develop boundaries, and master ourselves. His suggestions offer a powerful framework for a life well lived.
The Big Idea
Finding Your Focus
"So often we scramble to get a lot accomplished in a day, and succeed – only to realize, in retrospect, that those things we accomplished won’t get us where we want to go. It’s not lack of effort. It’s lack of direction and focus."
Bregman spends a solid third of the book dissecting the ways we can make the most of our abilities to live fulfilling lives. Taking time to reset our internal compass and examine what truly meets our needs becomes the first priority to getting meaningful things done.
He identifies four areas where we can build “the foundation of [our] success and happiness: leveraging our strengths, embracing our weaknesses, asserting our differences, and pursuing our passions.” It is in the intersection of these four elements that we discover our life’s passion, and with it, the ability to focus on what matters.
He also highlights a handful of roadblocks to our success in pursuing our passion. Tunnel vision keeps us from seeing our goals clearly. Fear of failure keeps us safe but stagnant. Paralysis prevents us from making decisions. And rushing to judgment blinds us to opportunities.
Fortunately, he also outlines an 18 minute daily plan to guidepost our thoughts and actions. Identifying what will lead us toward our goals and what will distract us from them is important. Self-knowledge is intrinsic to our success.
"Spend a few minutes at the end of each day thinking about what you learned and with whom you should connect. These minutes are the key to making tomorrow even better than today."
Taking an intentional moment at the end of each day provides us a mental pause to review the day and think about what happened. Bregman outlines a set of questions to compare what actually happened with our focus, intentions, and goals: How did the day go? What did I learn today, about others and myself? What do I plan to do tomorrow, differently or the same? Whom did I interact with? Anyone I need to update, thank, ask a question, or share feedback? He emphasizes the necessity of maintaining and growing relationships and using the evening minutes to communicate with others, share feedback, ask questions, and simply connect.
The Ignore List
"Never before has it been so important to be grounded and intentional and to know what’s important. Never before has it been so important to say ‘no.’"
As important as it is to define and categorize what actions will move us toward our goals, it’s almost more important to ask ourselves what will keep us from getting there. Saying “no” is one of the most powerful tools to master distractions. It’s in determining those things which ARE distractions and consciously choosing not to do them that we free ourselves to do our most important work. We must ask ourselves: “What are you willing not to achieve? What doesn’t make you happy? What’s not important to you? What gets in the way?”
For me, changing the way I handle my to-do list has made a huge difference in my daily work. Writing down the areas of my life that I’m focused on this year provided much needed clarity, which, in turn, confirmed what actions will meet those goals, day-to-day. But what has revolutionized my focus has been the Ignore List. I use these distractions to procrastinate my important work. Deciding to avoid email and social media during my most valuable hours has made those hours productive. I’ve been leaving my desk feeling accomplished almost every day, which is refreshing and motivating.
What about you? Have you taken time to define your focus? How do you handle your to-do list to get more of the right things done? Have you created a to-don’t list? Has it made a difference?