18 Minutes to Higher Productivity

18 MinutesA few weeks ago I read “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done” by Peter Bregman. 18 Minutes is a business self-help entertaining book based on his blog and weekly Harvard Business Review columns. The book suggests a process for prioritizing your day in 18 minutes over a nine-hour workday.

As I was reading the book, I was struck by a number of quotes that resonated with my own philosophy:

Bregman’s advice: “The world doesn’t reward perfection; it rewards productivity.”
My version: Good enough is good enough

Bregman’s advice: “Don’t settle for imperfection. Shoot for it.”
My version: Failure is the new black

Bregman’s advice: “Don’t be paralyzed by an uncertain future. Just keep moving.”
My version:  Change is the only constant

All of this is great advice but the core of the book is how to better manage your time and avoid things that are not productive. Bregman provides an approach that can be easily implemented. When someone comes to you with a request, ask three simple questions before you commit:

  1. Am I the right person?
  2. Is this the right time?
  3. Do I have enough information?

Unless the answer to all three questions is yes, you should say no to the request.

I’ve tried out the approach and it’s an incredibly useful way to prioritize meeting requests and the flood of email. At first, saying no more often felt like I wasn’t being as helpful as I could be. But I realized that the most helpful thing I could do was to prioritize my time on the highest impact activities.

As a result, I created a slightly modified approach:

  1. If I’m not the right person, I pass the request on to someone who is.
  2. If this isn’t the right time, I schedule it for when it will be.
  3. And, if I don’t have enough information, I ask someone to track down more details.

It’s not a perfect system but, as Bregman points out, it helps “resist the temptation to say yes too often.” I’m less susceptible to the tyranny of the urgent and more likely to focus on what’s important.

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