18 Minutes: A Book Review

"Time is the only element in the world that is irretrievable when lost.

Lose money and you can make more.

Lose a friend and you can patch up the relationship.

Lose a job and you can find another.

But lose time and it's gone forever."

So says a paragraph from Peter Bregman's volume of personal mastery and time management titled 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction and Get the Right Things Done. Author of a highly popular personal leadership column in Harvard Business Review, Bregman's book is liberally splashed with personal anecdotes to help you master the golden sands of time.

To embrace the principle of 18 Minutes, one should consider four basic steps.

1) Pause - Hover Above Your World

First, one should "slow the spin" and take a step back, freeing oneself from limiting beliefs, habits, feelings and activities. A brief pause allows one to re-orientate one's direction in life, recharge and rest to fuel one's mind and body, and to see the world as it is while coming to terms with who one truly is. It also allows one to tap deeply into resources that may have been forgotten, and to be open to the extraordinary potential of one's true being.

2) What is this Year About? - Finding Your Focus   

This next phase involves four key elements to narrow one's focus for the year ahead, namely:

a) Leverage your strengths - Play the game that is perfectly suited to your strengths. A classic example is how David beat Goliath by tapping on his speed, ability and aim to kill the 8 foot warrior using stones in a slingshot.

b) Embrace your weaknesses - Rather than avoid your quirks and eccentricities, you should find ways to make use of these "obsessions" such that they'll be an asset instead of a liability.

c) Assert your differences - Don't waste time trying to blend in. Instead, assert your unique points and capitalise on them as a competitive advantage.

d) Pursue your passion - You should also home in on what you love doing, perform activities that are so enjoyable that they feel effortless, and focus on things that have specific meaning to you.

Finally, you should channel your energies to just five impactful areas during the year. This segues nicely into the next part.

3) What is This Day About? - Getting the Right Things Done

The core component of the book suggests that one should plan for one's day by creating an "organising map" of to-do lists comprising the five key areas as well as another section called "The Other 5%" (nice to haves but less essential items).  Choosing what to ignore is just as important as choosing what to focus on.

With the organising map of 6 boxes in place, one should schedule one's priorities on the calendar for the day, making sure that things are not left on the to-do list for more than three days. The plan is summarised in the form of an 18 minute daily ritual which goes as follows:

Step 1 (5 minutes): Your Morning Minutes - Planning ahead in the morning before turning on one's computer by scheduling items in one's calendar.

Step 2 (1 minute every hour): Refocus - Setting a watch or phone to beep every hour as a reminder for one to take a deep breath and refocus on what one needs to do. This helps one to re-orientate throughout the day and to check to see that each hour is productively spent.

Step 3 (5 minutes): Your Evening Minutes - Reviewing at the end of the workday on how it went, what one learned about oneself, and whether there is anyone one needs to update and communicate with. 

4) What is This Moment About? - Mastering Distraction

This last section teaches us how to reduce distractions through three key ways:

a) Mastering Your Initiative: Creating an environment that compels you to do the things you want to do, using fun as a motivating factor, deploying fear and pleasure as catalysts of change, developing a good story about yourself, and choosing a "fantasy world" in your mind that supports you.

b) Mastering Your Boundaries: Resisting the temptation to say yes to others too often, being firm in saying "no" and meaning it, making good use of your transition time between activities, and scheduling specific times during vacations to take care of work related things (if at all).

c) Mastering Yourself: This final portion teaches us to use positive distractions to keep fear from disabling us, avoid multi-tasking (or switch tasking) due to its inefficiency, and embrace productivity doing things step by step rather than perfection. By getting things half right and involving others to complete them, the chances of success - and buy in - may be better.

Overall, 18 Minutes is a useful guide to those of us harangued by the endless list of chores that accompany modern day living. With its highly readable prose, the book helps us to reflect upon what's truly important in our lives and provides a practical way to reach our ultimate goal.

The challenge, of course, is having the discipline to apply what it preaches. This is especially difficult in an age of endless digital distractions.

Special thanks to Geraldine Kan for the review copy!

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