The Best Ideas from the book 18 Minutes

Posted 01/13/15 by James and filed under:

I recently finished reading: 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done by Peter Bregman.  Overall it is a great book, with lots of excellent ideas. 

Peter has a very successful consulting practice and works with executives of many fortune 500 companies.  I found many of his ideas to work well not just for executives but for knowledge workers and entrepreneurs. 

A few ideas really resonated with me and also have some implications to working with GTDNext

The best ideas in Peter Bregman’s 18 minutes (according to me)

Complete next actions within 3 days. The Three Day Rule

Peter makes a strong case for completing actions within 3 days.  In a Harvard Business Review article he outlines the process he uses in detail.   The basic gist of the process is that he decides what he is going to do today, and transfers those items to a calendar.  He then looks at his remaining actions and categorizes them into four different lists. 

  1. Do it Immediately
  2. Schedule It
  3. Let it go
  4. Add it to someday/maybe list

This is a great practice and goes along very well with GTD practices and the built in capabilities of GTDNext.  I like the emphasis he places on getting things things done within 3 days and I find that all too often item get placed on our next action list and then languish for one reason or another. Creating a personal rule that all next action items must be done in 3 days is a great habit to develop.

I don’t personally believe in adding every action to your calendar.  Instead I think it is better to add times where you will work on specific projects or areas of focus. 

From a GTDNext perspective, this idea is easy to implement in GTDNext. To help with this, GTDNext already keeps track of when each item is added to GTDNext.  The date it was added (and completed) is displayed in the Action Details panel.

Because you can track both next actions and future actions, I would  make sure to apply this rule only to next actions.  Items that are active, but not yet next actions are often not intended to be acted upon right away and don’t make sense to apply this rule to.

The second item I like from Peter’s book is the 18 minute ritual.

The 18 minute Daily Ritual to improve your Productivity

The idea that prompted the title for the book is basically to do a daily mini-review of your task list at the start of the day and at the end.  Followed by a check-in on your plan for the day at the top of each hour. It’s really that simple, and if you do it consistently is very powerful. Here is how it works in detail. (I’ve modified the instructions to match how you would do this in GTDNext.  Peter uses a combination of paper and calendar.)

Start of the day:  (5 minutes)

Spend five minutes reviewing your next action list. Determine the actions that you need/want to do today.  Mark them as focus items.  Switch to your focus list and start working.  If you switch between focus areas a lot during the day, I personally recommend that you also take some time to block out particular hours by area of focus on your calendar.

Top of Each Hour: (1 minute x 8 times)

Switch back to GTDNext and review your focus list.  Mark items complete, drag and drop items into the order you will do them

End of Day: (5 minutes)

Spend the last few minutes of your day, getting organized for tomorrow.  Review your calendar, determine follow-up actions and  conversations you need to have.  Fire off a meeting invite or two, or an email to as a result of the review. 

That’s it! 18 minutes a day and you will be much more productive.  I think some of the more advanced GTD practitioners probably do something like this already, maybe unconsciously. That is great, but spending the time to make it a habit and consciously think about doing it will make it much more powerful then applying the principles sub-consciously. The power and the challenge here is to turn this into a ritual or habit that you do everyday. 

  • Folke

    Just like you, James, I do not really believe in putting tasks on the calendar (unless they are agreed appointments etc). Actually, I almost never block out time for areas or projects either (I usually know it in my bones if some area/project has slipped).

    Peter Bregman’s idea about getting things done in 3 days seems totally alien to me. I see no problem at all with having low-urgency, low-importance stuff on my list for ages. I actually see this as the very basis for being able to batch things up and deal with them efficiently. I will deal with the low-importance, low-urgency stuff when I HAPPEN to be in the right location with the right tools, the right people, the right energy etc, but I will definitely not FORCE a context switch (say drive 20 miles) for any such little thing. Forced context switching is something I tend to do when a more important and urgent action requires it, and then I normally try to use that opportunity to do other less critical things in that context at the same time. That’s batching.

    What’s so magical about three days? Why a fixed time limit at all? I simply do not understand.

    But I think it is useful to be able to see how long a tasks has been sitting there. Good on you to have the creation date! For subsequent tasks I’d recommend you set this date afresh automatically when a task comes out of hiding and onto the Next or Waiting list, because that’s the date that counts. The task has been possible to get done, yet been left unattended, since that date.

    • RE: The three days.

      I’m not positive of his intent, but in reading the book it felt like he thought that when too many tasks build up that it becomes difficult for executives to make decisive choices.

      To me this is really just a filtering issue. Peter has make the choice to create a filter based on number of days on list. I’m not sure I’d do it this way, as I think the existing GTD filters work just fine for me.

      However, I think it’s very difficult to predict every possible filter people will think is useful in their personal workflow.