We start every day knowing we’re not going to get it all done or fit it all in. How we spend our time is really a function of priorities. That’s why Peter Bregman argues in 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done that we need to plan ahead, “create a to-do list and an ignore list, and use our calendars.”
“The hardest attention to focus,” he writes, “is our own.”
The Ritual of Managing Our Day
We need ritual to manage our days, “clear enough to keep us focused on our priorities. Efficient enough not to get in the way.”
Bregman argues that ritual should take 18 minutes a day: Your Morning Minutes, Refocus, and Your Evening Minutes.
Step 1 (5 Minutes) : Your Morning Minutes
Echoing Tim Ferriss Bregman recommends planning ahead. Ferriss prefers the night before, Bregman prefers the morning.
Before you turn on your computer, sit down with your to-do list and “decide what will make this day highly successful.”
Take the items off your to-do list (a picture of Bregman’s to-do list is below) and schedule them into your day.
“Make sure,” he writes, “that anything that’s been on your list for three days gets a slot somewhere in your calendar or move it off the list.”
Step 2 (1 Minute Every Hour): Refocus
Some interruptions help us course correct.
Set your watch, phone, or computer to ring every hour and start the work that’s listed on your calendar. When you hear the beep, take a deep breath and ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively. Then look at your calendar and deliberately recommit to how you are going to use the next hour. Manage your day hour by hour. Don’t let the hours manage you.
Step 3 (5 Minutes): Your Evening Minutes
“At the end of your day,” Bregman writes, “shut off your computer and review how the day went.”
Ask yourself three sets of questions:
- 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?
The key to this is the ritual and its predictability.
If you do the same thing in the same way over and over again, the outcome is predictable. In the case of 18 minutes, you’ll get the right things done.
Bregman speaks worldwide on how we can lead, work, and live more powerfully. 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done is an easy to read book that will add a few tools to your toolbox.
This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.
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