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

Recently, I read a stellar book on finding daily focus in 18 minutes. I read a fair share of business books (mostly around working more productively), and you can always check out my Working Smart list in Goodreads to see my other recommendations. Following is not exactly a summary, but rather it represents my main takeaways.

Overall, Bregman provides the following work/life advice, which does help find focus with your time:

  • Leverage your strengths.
  • Embrace your weaknesses.
  • Assert your differences.
  • Pursue your passions.

Considering these different paths help you stand out in the workplace. If you aren’t doing these things, you’re probably not as happy or you’re doing something wrong.

Working with People

“When you shorten transition time, you create a boundary that helps you and others adjust to a new reality.” From going through a couple of reorganizations at the Alumni Association, I wholeheartedly agree. Often there is so much preparation for a transition that it ends up making the whole process seem longer and more painful. Jumping into cold water is always better than easing your way in.

“I’ve noticed something three times and I want to discuss it with you…Don’t wait too long to bring something up. People can only respect boundaries they know are there.” Coaching and feedback in the workplace is very important to creating strong, growing relationships. I think this is a nice approach without having to list out specific instances. It says that you’ve waited and allowed time for mistakes.

“Why won’t this work for you? That’s a good point. So how can you change it to make it work?” We all do things differently on the job. I’m completely process-oriented, and in alumni relations, there are a lot of fuzzier people people. We should feel comfortable doing things in our own way, and part of letting people work happy is to agree upon a similar outcome, evening if getting there means taking different paths.


“You need to be motivated for only a few seconds. Know when you’re vulnerable and you’ll know when you need to turn it on.” This was my favorite takeaway from the book. You don’t have to be motivated 8 hours a day, but a minute of motivation can launch you into a task or project that ends up carrying you forward. We’ve got to recognize our slumps and figure out what gets us in the mode.

  • Do it immediately.
  • Schedule it.
  • Let it go.
  • Someday/maybe.

You’ve probably seen these different routes for tasks if you’ve ever look at David Allen’s Get Things Done model. My favorite one is to let it go. We really don’t do that often and especially during busy times, it’s necessary triage.

“The right kind of interruption can help you master your time and yourself. Keep yourself focused and steady by interrupting yourself hourly.” I like the idea of thinking about distraction as a way to counter distraction. I’m not sure that it works for me exactly, but Bregman suggests stopping every hour to see if you’re actually accomplishing what you need to accomplish or if you’re totally off track.

  • Am I the right person?
  • Is this the right time?
  • Do I have enough information?
  • If any of these is a no – then don’t do it.
We get requests from all directions. Using the above criteria can sometimes help you delegate work or let the requestor know it’s not the right time or you need more information. Sometimes we take on more than we really can or we really should.

“Create an environment that naturally compels you to do the things you want to do.”I do this with a ridiculous amount of photos and inspirational materials in my cube, but also having file folders in reach and a number of calendars at my fingertips helps put me in the right mindset.

Benchmarking and the Long Term

Bregman asserts that anyone can do anything as long as three conditions exist:

  • You want to achieve it.
  • You believe you can achieve it.
  • You enjoy trying to achieve it.

The key part of this statement is that you enjoy trying. It’s all about the motivation, and if that is missing, it’s really difficult to move forward on your goals.

The author takes a wide view and suggests we all set a few business and personal goals that are very broad to frame the way we spend out time. Here are his that he focuses on in the book:

  • Do great work with current clients
  • Attract future clients
  • Write and speak about my ideas
  • Be present with family and friends
  • Have fun and take care of myself

I’m drawn to their simplicity. Even having these posted somewhere to look at daily help trigger you to consider whether or not you’re spending any time on long-term goal achievement. This is the concrete part of the 18 minutes, where Bregman actually diagrams out how to spend those 18 minutes each day, allocating some time to examine how you’re faring in the long-term bucket. I love his personal goal about being present and especially in this technologically distracting time, it resonates with me. A small piece of advice that he took as well, was around vacations. If you know you have to be dialed into work while you’re supposed to be getting R&R, set aside a specific 15-30 minutes to be undisturbed and checking e-mail. This allows you to compartmentalize that work time so you can enjoy the rest of your day work and worry free.

In a more specific way, he has you ask questions to review the end of your work day. A colleague does a plus/delta review after meetings that’s a bit similar – being reflective about what happened and how that compared to your expectations.

  • What is this day about?
  • How did the day go? What success did I experience? What challenges did I endure?
  • What did I learn today? About myself? About others? What do I plan to do – differently or the same – tomorrow?
  • Whom did I interact with? Anyone I need to update? Thank? Ask a question of? Share feedback with?

Only have 10 minutes?

If you only have 10 minutes a day to organize yourself, check out this Lifehack post on Getting Your Head Together in 10 Minutes a Day.  My favorte item (and not just because of my good friend with the same name) is to think in “victor” language and not victim language. Taking on the day knowing you have control over your attitude and many of the outcomes makes a huge difference.

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