"18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distractions and Get the Right Things Done" by Peter Bregman


When starting out on a new journey, it may feel overwhelming and almost too large to tackle. Certain questions pop up in your head such as, “Where do I even begin?” or “Am I supposed to be doing this?” or how about “Maybe I can start this next week when I have time”. There will always be something stopping us from getting to where we want to go. There may never be a perfect time to change the course of your career or take on a new language, or decide that you need more training, or in need of a mentor. Getting organised is important if you want to ensure that your time is maximised and used well. You don’t want to spend four years engaged in the wrong degree and later realise that you have no interest in it, just like how you don’t want to spend a full day reading a dull policy paper when you could have picked up a half hour podcast that tackled the same issue.

AUTHOR: Peter Bregman

AUTHOR: Peter Bregman

There are always smarter way to do things, so before you start to explore the world of international relations with your ambitious action plan written up, ask yourself if you are organised. Do you know what you need to get done first? Do you know what your next steps are in order to progress your goals? Do you know how to pull yourself out of feeling burnt out, stressed out, overworked, and unproductive on days when you would rather watch the full series of “House of Cards” on Netflix?

If any of these sound familiar to you, we would like to recommend the book “18 Minutes” by Peter Bregman. This book is recommended as further reading to support Chapter 1 “Skills for a Changing World” of the Diplomatic Planner. So what is the book about? The subtitle says it all: “Find your focus, master distractions and get the right things done” and it is a good first book to read before you start to plan for more serious training time. “

18 Minutes” is a helpful guide that helps to identify the kind of work that is right for you, to help you stay on track and hit your personal targets for whatever goals you have set yourself. The premise of the book relies on you having just 18 minutes to get focused and organised. So what we would recommend is setting yourself this time either first thing in the morning or last thing before you get to bed, and get yourself prepared for your new day. These segments are already carved out for you in the weekly planner segment of the Diplomatic Planner.

With the right plan and some focused attention, you can be your most productive self. But you need to find some pause and be OK with making mistakes along the way. Just because you have a plan, doesn’t mean things will always go perfectly. To find your focus, you need to reflect on what needs to get done and find the best and most fruitful course of action. Pausing allows you to think of new ways, leading to new possibilities which is important whether you are a student juggling a double major or an Ambassador running an under-resourced embassy. Without this break, you will constantly be on auto-pilot, acting out how things are supposed to be which leads to mistakes and missed opportunities.

Next, the author suggests that you find out what is right for you by leveraging your strengths and embracing your weaknesses. In the first chapter of the Diplomatic Planner, you are provided with the opportunity to really assess and analyse your core strengths and weaknesses. Having weaknesses is not a bad thing. In fact, knowing what you are not good at or dislike doing means you will be able to say “no” to opportunities that may not be a good fit for you. Embrace your strengths as well as your weaknesses to find your focus so that you are working on the right things. This will help to give you some direction.

Naturally, it is easier to take action when there are fewer options to choose from. If you narrow your options, you can be more strategic about how to dedicate your time and energy. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish in a day, week, year or lifetime. Again, use the Diplomatic Planner to help you narrow down your options and prioritise your most important tasks for the week and month ahead.

Bregman also looks into the concept of competitive advantage which have been implemented into the Diplomatic Planner. Have you ever considered what makes you different and unique as a disadvantage? Don’t - because it is a competitive advantage to be different from everyone else. Something you might enjoy doing may be someone else’s idea of a nightmare. Learn to leverage what you are good at and what you are enjoy. This is very different from what you are interested in. For example, you might be interested in medieval history but you might not enjoy working in this area because your skill sets are limited.

With that said and done, how do you put your plan into action and what is the 18-minute ritual? Throughout his book, Bregman stresses on the importance of spending your time wisely. You need to have a system in place to keep you focused and on track. First, put aside five minutes in the morning to go over your plan for the day. Include an “ignore list” just to get some fluffy ideas out of your mind, such as ‘must do laundry’. The list you put together in those five minutes are the tasks you are aiming to complete today. The next step to the planning ritual is to give yourself a one-minute pause every hour during the day. You may refer to this as ‘water breaks’ to hydrate and disengage for a quick breath. These mini breaks will help you to reflect on your progress without feeling overwhelmed by the final destination. The final step is to take five minutes at the end of the day to review what you did that day. Think about what worked or didn’t work well for you. Learn from mistakes and celebrate small victories. Even if you managed to get just one thing ticked off your list, that is better than nothing.

In addition to how to better plan your days, Bregman goes into detail about how to prevent distractions such as the constant need to look at your social media feed. Defeating distraction isn’t easy but changing how you operate will help you stay on track. But if you need a positive distraction, pick up this book and see how you can start your journey with the right mindset and strategies.

“18 Minutes” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development toolkit for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register