Peter Bregman is a strategic adviser to CEOs and a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review. In his book, “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done” he describes a ritual which he uses every workday in order to make sure that he makes the best use of his time.
As you can guess from the title of the book, this ritual, or productivity plan, takes 18 minutes a day to complete.
Before you can apply Bregman’s 18 minute plan you need to take a preparatory step: each year you need to establish five areas of focus. Then, each day, you do the following:
- Take 5 minutes at the beginning of each day to plan your day.
- Stop once an hour during the eight hours that you spend working and take a minute to refocus.
- At the end of each work day take 5 minutes to review.
There’s more on Bregman’s 18 minute plan below.
Set Five Areas of Focus
Bregman indicates emphatically that you can’t do it all. If you keep telling yourself, “I just don’t have the time to do everything that I want to do”, Bregman would agree with you. However, you do have the time to do those things that are most important to you.
Therefore, before you can apply the 18 minute plan, you need to identify the things that are most important to you. You do this by setting five areas of focus at the beginning of the year. What’s an area of focus? In Bregman’s own words, “an area of focus establishes activities you want to spend your time doing”.
For example, here are the five areas of focus which Bregman set for himself last year:
- Do Great Work With Current Clients
- Seek Out New Business Opportunities
- Speak and Write About My Ideas
- Start a Leadership School
- Nurture Myself and My Family
Once you have your five areas of focus, you’re ready to apply the 18 minute plan.
Take Five Minutes to Plan Your Day
At the beginning of each day you’re going to take five minutes to plan your day. First, take a look at your five areas of focus. Ask yourself: What can I realistically accomplish today in my areas of focus? This will allow you to generate a list a of tasks, or a to do list, for the day.
Second, transfer the tasks from your to do list to your calendar. Transferring tasks to your calendar will allow you to achieve two things:
- You’ll be creating a “when” and “where” for each item on your to do list, which will ensure that you get them done.
- You’ll be creating a boundary: a to do list can go on and on forever, but when you put things in a calendar, you have to limit yourself to the amount of time that you have available. If your entire to do list does not fit in your calendar for the day, then cross off the items with the least priority.
In essence, what you’re doing during the five minutes of planning is structuring your day in a way that guarantees that you’ll be working on those things that are most important to you.
Take Eight Minutes to Refocus Throughout the Day
Set an alarm–it can be on your computer, your iPhone, and so on–to go off once an hour during the eight hours that you spend working. When the alarm rings, take a deep breath and ask yourself these two questions:
- Am I doing what I most need to be doing right now?
- Am I being who I most want to be right now?
Those two questions will interrupt what you’re doing so that you can make sure that you’re working on the right things. Are you still following your calendar, or did you get distracted? If you lost focus, simply recommit to making better use of the next hour.
Take Five Minutes to Review Your Day
At the end of your workday take five minutes to review your day. Ask yourself questions like the following:
- How did my day go?
- Where did I succeed?
- What challenges did I face?
- What did I learn?
- What’s working?
- What’s not working?
- What changes do I need to make?
These five minutes of review at the end of each day will make sure that you stay on track.
When you get to the end of each day, to the end of each year, and–ultimately–to the end of your life, you want to be able to say that you used your time well. You didn’t do it all, but you did those things which were most important to you. That is, you lived your best life. The 18 minute plan, or daily ritual, explained above is a great tool for achieving that objective.
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