“If you believe your talent grows with persistence and effort, then you seek failure as an opportunity to improve. People with a growth mind-set feel smart when they’re learning, not when they’re flawless.”
— Peter Bregman
I take notes on everything I read, with my notes organized by book and by year.
My most important notes from each book get added to one single “master” document and I sell these notes in order to raise money for Doctors Without Borders, the international human rights and disaster relief organization.
I also write about self-discipline, fitness, and other topics related to self-development.
If you don’t have time to read 100+ books every year like I do, then I HIGHLY recommend that you check out Blinkist. Thousands of high-quality non-fiction book summaries all in one place; you really can’t go wrong. Check them out.
If you think about something all day every day, then you just have to write about it. That’s how I feel about books and literature, so here are some of my best notes and meditations on the book, “18 Minutes”, by Peter Bregman. Enjoy!
FROM AMAZON: Based upon his weekly Harvard Business Review columns (which is one of the most popular columns on HBR.com, receiving hundreds of thousands of unique page views a month), 18 MINUTES clearly shows how busy people can cut through all the daily clutter and distractions and find a way to focus on those key items which are truly the top priorities in our lives.
Bregman works from the premise that the best way to combat constant and distracting interruptions is to create productive distractions of one’s own. Based upon a series of short bite-sized chapters, his approach allows us to safely navigate through the constant chatter of emails, text messages, phone calls, and endless meetings that prevent us from focusing our time on those things that are truly important to us.
Mixing first-person insights along with unique case studies, Bregman sprinkles his charming book with pathways which help guide us — pathways that can get us on the right trail in 18 minutes or less.
As much as I denigrate the acquisitiveness of our culture and the mindless obsession with wealth-creation that have taken our minds hostage in the 21st century, business books contain many invaluable lessons that are easily transferable to our “real lives”.
I feel as if they’re often overlooked as sources of wisdom and Peter Bregman clearly knows a thing or two about a thing or two. And, to make things even better, I’m not convinced that he’s been infected with that aforementioned acquisitiveness that threatens to fatally distract us from the real business of living.
In fact, he’s quite right about productivity when he asserts that it’s impossible to get it all done and it’s dangerous to try.
I know this for a fact, and yet it’s something that I still struggle with daily. I cram too many commitments into my already crowded life, and I somehow, naively believe each day that today will be the day when I get everything done.
I need reminders like Bregman’s book to stop me in my frantic tracks and arrest my overactive productivity drive. There’s no way that I, as one person, can accomplish every single thing on my ever-growing to-do list, and it used to seriously undermine my happiness and ACTUAL productivity to even try. He’s 100% right about that one.
But there’s more.
The world changes faster than we tend to notice, says Bregman, and I find increasingly that that’s true as well. I think it’s harmful to try to keep up with every little change in the world as well, but at least realizing that we are often wrong to assume things remain as they once were is a crucial step to coming to terms with that change.
Never before has it been so important to say “No”. Never before has it been more important to prioritize, obsess over fewer things, and get active in our own rescue.
“No” is becoming my favorite word, and it’s my default response when pressed upon by outside demands. The burden of responsibility is on others to convince me that my time should be spent on what they are trying to get me to do. Productivity is at stake!
No one else can make these decisions for us, and we must make the mindful choice to jealously guard our time. It’s often hilarious to the point of absurdity how we guard our possessions more than we guard our time. As if we can replace the latter more easily than the former.
MINDFULNESS AND PRODUCTIVITY
A brief pause will help you make a smarter next move. Bregman is clear on this point. 18 Minutes is all about taking pauses, and resisting the urge to go with the easiest available choice.
A brief pause allows us to make a more informed decision about how we spend our one and only life. Just like listening to the silence between the notes can give you a better appreciation of a piece of music, the pauses within your day can help you live more of the life you have imagined for yourself.
What if you are obsessed with one particular area of your life? Should you focus on it to the exclusion of all others? Does mindfulness extend here as well?
Obsessions are one of the greatest tell-tale signs of success, and while you should definitely take brief pauses in order to better evaluate the direction of your obsession and moderate your progress, obsessions can often be critical to success.
After reading hundreds and hundreds of books, not just on productivity, I’ve learned that there is rarely one single answer. Everything is a paradox and life resists easy answers.
Obsessions happen in the moment; you will be someone else in the future. You might lose interest in your obsession over time as new attractions and responsibilities surface in your life. You may change your direction completely in the years to come.
But an important insight is to realize that if you pay attention to what’s happening now, the future will take care of itself.
The focus here should be on doing fewer things. There’s no greater waste of time than doing something well that doesn’t need to be done at all. Productivity is an art.
Radically eliminate the fat from your daily schedule and the things that matter, your obsessions, will take shape and develop. Doing work that matters is much harder than doing work that doesn’t, and it’s false heroism to take on tasks and chores that someone else can do better or more efficiently than you can. If your time is better served working on something else, you owe it to your obsession to work on that other thing instead.
“Categorize your to-do list with respect to your priorities, and try to notice trends in which one priority is lagging behind the others, or you’re doing too much that doesn’t fit in with your priorities at all.”
— Peter Bregman
—Have a few moderate days, one hard day and a few days off
—If you really want to get something done, decide when and where you’re going to do it
—If it’s been on your to-do list for more than three days, do it immediately, schedule it, or let it go
—Almost anything that can be done in 60 minutes can be done in 45
Like all good business professionals, Peter Bregman is rarely caught without his trusty calendar. While they serve more as fetters to some, Bregman uses his schedule to liberate his time and strengthen his productivity; and you can do the same.
Our suggestion: Work from your calendar and only return to your to-do list to remind yourself of the details of the task at hand.
Anything that you want to complete during the day has to be scheduled. You need to put it down for a particular time and a particular place and then you have to go to your “appointment” with yourself and get it done.
Leave time for spontaneity and aimlessness, but return to your schedule if you want to make sure that something gets done.
Schedule a time to second-guess yourself instead of doing it randomly; schedule important tasks, schedule half-hours to rush through mindless tasks that you for whatever reason can’t assign to someone else; schedule breaks. Basically, anything you want to fit into your day has to be fit into your calendar. If it’s not scheduled, then it doesn’t get done.
Put transition time into your schedule as well! Do not, do not, do not forget this. It can take time to set up and tear down between tasks and appointments, and if you don’t prepare for this, you’re going to get caught off guard.
Again, this is something that terrorized me for years before I finally got a handle on it. Transportation takes time, opening your laptop and getting set up takes time, etc.
Recognize that it can also be productive time also, in that your commute can be a good time to read or listen to audiobooks, and the time spent waiting for your laptop to turn on is perfectly conducive to restorative, mindful breaths.
MENTAL HACKS FOR PRODUCTIVITY
“The more you look to be wrong, the more likely you’ll be right.”
If we’re going to reverse the negative momentum, we need an interruption. Tony Robbins teaches this, and many others do as well. What’s more, they’re right. It’s too easy to keep doing what we’ve always done, even when it’s no longer working for us.
We’ve covered that already.
An interruption can be a brief pause, a mindful breath, an alarm on your phone…it could even be a mid-sized disaster that causes you to re-evaluate everything you’ve been doing thus far.
“You don’t need to be motivated for long; just long enough to get started.”
Another hack relates to motivation and self-discipline. Peter says: If you can get yourself started, you don’t need much discipline to continue. This is true.
You can almost literally summon one single second of super-human motivation to get started, begin an activity in that single second, and the mere act of starting along the path can be the only thing you need to do to continue and drive productivity.
Personally, just standing up can be the one second of super-human motivation that I need to get started. Once I’m standing, focused on the one thing that I have to do, I’m already in the process of moving towards that one thing. From writing, to going to the gym, to shaving, once I’m standing, focused on what I have to do, I’m far more likely to keep going in the direction I need to go. It’s stupidly, mind-numbingly simple, and it works.
When you want to do something, focus. When you don’t want to do something, distract. That’s another mind-numbingly simple thing that works.
Distraction and focus are the same: to focus on X you need to distract yourself from Y. If you want to write a paragraph of a book instead of watching TV, the act of focusing on writing is often all you need to distract yourself from the allure of television. Get started for one second on writing your book, and suddenly you have a built-in distraction preventing you from wasting away in front of the TV.
YOUR NEW IDENTITY
You are re-inventing yourself. It is a complete overhaul of the way you’ve been doing things in the past, for the express purpose of arriving at the ideal result in the future.
Change is notoriously difficult, and that’s why you need to make the transition from contemplating a change to living it as quickly as possible. Don’t give yourself time to back out.
And perhaps most importantly: Assert your differences and make a major point of standing out.
There are simply too many smart, hard-working people out there all trying to excel by being the best at what everyone else is doing.
You are creating a life for yourself that’s different from any other life that’s ever been lived. No one else is able to die your own death for you, and no one has the right to decide how your one and only life should be lived.
Like What You're Reading? Want More?
That should terrify you, and should push you into action. It’s this tension between opposites that makes life so exciting, and it’s really true that there is no single answer to any of the questions we’ve been discussing here, like what to do with your days, or who you should ultimately become.
The field is wide open. We’re basically elephants being held back by the pieces of string we believe are stopping us. Our worst enemies are often ourselves, in that we don’t recognize our true power, and we don’t see that the barriers in our way are often illusory.
Take a step back, take mindful breaths, go back to your calendar, schedule your obsessions, and create an identity that’s worth assuming. An identity worthy of an individual human life.
All the best,
“18 Minutes”, by Peter Bregman: Complement it with “Four Seconds”, by Peter Bregman, “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”, by Ramit Sethi, “Peak”, by K. Anders Ericsson, “Be Obsessed or Be Average”, by Grant Cardone, Being Comfortable Is Actually Killing Your Spirit, and The Greatest Books of All Time.
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Matt Karamazov is a human rights activist, nightclub bouncer, and hardcore reader. He writes about books, self-discipline, and human rights at Godlike Discipline, and you can get his free ebook on how to radically improve your own levels of self-discipline. Between workouts, Matt is trying to read 1,000 books before he turns 30, and start a non-profit that allows volunteers to earn money just by tracking the hours they already spend volunteering. He would be straight-up honored if you would support the life-saving work of Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch. Here he is on a horse.