books: 18 Minutes by Peter Bregman

Peter Bregman is a management consultant (Bregman Partners) and writer on the HBR Blog Network (and elsewhere). Reading him there is what led me to pick up his time management book, 18 Minutes, published in 2011 and currently #11 on Amazon’s Best Sellers in Time Management list (which is really more like #7 seeing how Getting Things Done in multiple versions is always reigning champion).


Chapters (46 total) are short and sweet (4-5 pages), with principles summarized at the end. His writing style is easy to read, and he uses a personal experience to introduce each chapter, concluding with its application. If you read many business or productivity books you will recognize some of the studies he references in each chapter (Outliers, for example). Even without reading his description it feels like a collection of blog posts, making it overwhelming, albeit organized (I would suggest reading a chapter per day). The book is divided into 4 parts:

  1. Pause (Hover Above Your World)
  2. What Is This Year About? (Find Your Focus)
  3. What Is This Day About? (Get the Right Things Done)
  4. What Is This Moment About? (Mastering Distraction)


The time management breakdown begins in Part 2 with your goals (focus areas) for the year. This is the lens through which all decisions are viewed and determine how to manage your day in Part 3. Part 4 discusses how to handle distractions, focusing on moments.

While David Allen organizes tasks on the to-do list by how/where they are completed (phone, office, etc.), Peter Bregman uses the focus areas as the to-do list, effectively creating a filter that only allows items directing you toward long-term goals, as well as revealing areas that need attention. The 18 minutes are based on 3 steps: analyzing this list and moving tasks to your calendar in the morning (5 minutes), setting a timer to beep throughout the day to refocus (8 minutes – one per hour), and reviewing your list at the end of the day (5 minutes).


It’s a novel approach – as he points out, the majority of time management books focus on getting everything done, even though most of us have to-do lists that would make Seth Godin cringe. He compares it to a buffet – pick a few areas and say no to everything else. I find the idea of an hourly alarm particularly brilliant (I used to do this, and I don’t know why I stopped – it’s a fantastic tool). I’m back in action with Chime O’Clock for the iPhone, which works great (extra cool if you also happen to be a fan of Portal).

Chapter 43 (Getting Over Perfectionism) was a windmill-kick-to-the-face kind of chapter to an insane perfectionist like myself. He reminds us that “the world doesn’t reward perfection. It rewards productivity.” Don’t allow perfectionism to cause procrastination and don’t keep trying to make that once-exciting side project perfect – just get it going. Great advice to artists everywhere (where was this book when I was agonizing over my logo for the third month in a row)?


RECOMMENDED. Even if you don’t absorb everything, the tips you do pick up will be invaluable if put into practice. And if you’ve never sat down and analyzed your strengths, weaknesses and how they relate to your work or long-term goals it’s definitely worth the read.

Do you have any special tricks for staying focused and handling distractions? Enlighten us, O Wise One. Maybe you’ve already read this book? Feel free to add to this review in the comments below.


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Sarah Schumacher

As the founder of cyclone press, Sarah has 15+ years of experience providing branding, design, business and technical expertise to startups and small businesses. After personally building ~100 websites, she's become an evangelist for utilizing technology/automation to build systems and processes to run businesses more effectively. She’s also a mixed media artist and writer who reads; obsessed with books, the intersection of ideas, and how they apply to your latest startup idea.

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