Review: 18 Minutes

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance or other book of interest. Also available is a complete list of the hundreds of book reviews that have appeared on The Simple Dollar over the years.

18 MinutesIf you’ve read The Simple Dollar for a while, you know that I’m a big believer in the maxim that time is money. I’m quite passionate about time management, because I see it as a way to maximize what I earn from the time I spend working so that I can spend more of my time doing other things that I’m passionate about, like spending time with my family or reading engaging books.

In fact, one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read was David Allen’s classic time management book Getting Things Done. It drastically altered how I managed my time and made it possible for me to hold down a full time job and build The Simple Dollar at the same time while also maintaining a home life with a good marriage and two very young children.

Since then, I’ve read a lot of good time management books. For the most part, they’ve simply supplemented the GTD system that I already use with specific tactics or made me re-evaluate some life choices in a philosophical way.

This book, 18 Minutes by Peter Bregman, comes very highly regarded from multiple readers of The Simple Dollar who recommended it to me (I get about ten book recommendation emails a week). Bregman writes a column for the Harvard Business Review on managing yourself, of which a significant focus is time management.

The focus of this book is on eliminating distraction, finding focus, and making good choices about what to do with your time. His approach is a bit different in that he talks about making proactive distractions for yourself, so that when you’re distracted from the task at hand, you stumble right into something else that’s useful.

So many of us with busy lives are so caught up in the overabundance of things that we have on our to-do list that we never bother to stop for a moment and ask ourselves why we’re doing thse things. Often, we’re filling our day with things that are, in the big scheme of things, pretty unimportant, and those unimportant things are crowding out the genuinely important ones.

Bregman’s advice is to simply “pause” for a bit and get things in perspective. A “pause,” in Bregman’s book, is a time where you simply look at the things you’re doing and order them in terms of how important they are to you in your overall life. Where do we want to be going in a general sense? What kind of person do we want to be?

Recognize that all of the choices we make have costs and they have benefits. A choice to work late might mean less sleep or less time building a deep relationship with our spouse or our wife. What’s the right choice? It can be a challenging question, but without pausing sometimes, we don’t have the time to give it the thought it needs to be sure we’re coming up with the right answer.

What Is This Year About?
One big part in determining what’s important is thinking about the things you want to achieve over the medium term and the long term. Where do you want to be a year from now? Five years from now? Which of the things on your plate is most likely to help you get to that place?

So much of what we do on a daily basis has little impact on our lives from that perspective, and thus it’s worthwhile to actively lower the importance of such things. The things that are actually important are the things that have long term impact on our lives and we should strive to focus on those as much as possible.

What Is This Day About?
This, of course, brings us to today. Once we understand what big things we want from life, it’s easier to prioritize the things that need to be done today. In other words, if we have a long checklist of things to take care of, which of those actually has a significant positive impact toward our long term ideas?

One way to effectively do this is to simply surround yourself with things that all have a positive impact toward our long term goals. Load your office down with things you’d like to make progress on over the long term, and do the same with your home.

Thus, when you are distracted, something that Bregman more or less describes as inevitable, the things you’re distracted by are also things that relate to a long-term goal. For example, if one of your big goals is improving your fitness, put a resistance band near your desk. That way, when you’re distracted, you’ll see that band and do some stretches, filling your time with something goal-oriented instead of something useless.

Is 18 Minutes Worth Reading?
The entire focus of this book seems to be dealing with our overcrowded lives, where our day-to-day activities don’t match up with the things we want out of our lives. I found that it offered a lot of good, sensible advice, but the specific implementations seem to be extremely varied in that you’re going to find some that work for you and a lot that do not, and the ones that work for you are going to be different than the ones that work for someone else.

For me, I felt like I got quite a lot out of this book. The ideas in it made me reorganize my office in a more “goal-oriented” fashion, as described above, as that was the most powerful idea that came from this book for me. If I can get one “home run” idea from a book, then it was a worthwhile read for me, and I think there are a lot of “home run” ideas in this book for people struggling with time management.

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