Saturday, July 8, 2017

Book Review: '18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done' by Peter Bregman



Do you need a FIND ME button for your life? Look no further.

I have been following Peter Bregman’s HBR blog posts for several years and consider him one of the most thoughtful and most eloquent of commentators on the contemporary business world. You can thus understand my eagerness as I began to read this book.

Others have their own reasons for admiring this book. Here are three of mine. First, Bregman is a diehard pragmatist with an insatiable curiosity to understand what works, what doesn’t, and why so he that can then share what he considers most important with those who read his columns and now this book. He suggests (and I agree) that “we steal time from ourselves constantly” and I know I do that every day. He offers practical advice that I began to follow as I proceeded through the narrative. All of his advice makes sense but it will work only if I give it a fighting chance. For example, slow down the pace at which I proceed from one task (completed or not) to another (completed or not). I now sprint for 12-15 minutes, then stop for 3-5 minutes and listen to selections from my favorite classical music from CDs such as The Only Classical CD You’ll Ever Need and Pachelbel Canon and Other Baroque Hits, selections that have a calming effect. Bregman also suggests starting over in the sense that, if I could, would I commit to [fill in the blank] again? Reconstructing one ill-advised decision helps to avoid making another.

I also appreciate Bregman’s heavy emphasis on improving the process by which to ask questions. Only then, when answering them, can priorities be determined, goals and deadlines set, and non-essentials eliminated. For example, what is really important in each domain of my life (i.e. personal, domestic, career, and community)? What must be done within the next hour? What must be done by noon? By day’s end? By week’s end? Realizing how difficult it is to master that process, Bregman devotes several chapters to helping his reader sharpen critically important skills. Specifically: Part Two (Chapters 8-20) Fine Your Focus, Part Three (Chapters 21-28) Get the Right Things Done, and Part IV (Chapters 29-40) Mastering Distraction [by Mastering Your Initiative and Mastering Your Boundaries]. Here are a few of the chapter titles that caught my eye: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do (#8), Bird by Bird (Deciding What to Do, #22), Wrong Floor (Deciding What Not to Do, #23), and An 18-Minute Plan for Managing (Creating a Daily ritual, #28).  FYI, the material is organized within 45 brief but substantial chapters.


Finally, I admire how skillfully Bregman establishes and then sustains a direct rapport with his reader. This is one of o0blky very few books that, after I’ve read it, I have the feeling that it was written especially for me. Bregman has developed what Hemingway once characterized as a “built-in, shock-proof crap detector.” (Alas, it did not always recognize it in his work.) So many self-help books fire aphorisms and admonitions at the reader that resemble arrows at Agincourt. Bregman apparently views himself as the reader’s personal coach, sharing what he has learned from his own struggles with external distractions, multi-tasking, indecision, haste, anxiety, and frustration. For many people, this could well be the most important (non-religious) book they ever read.


Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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