In Peter Bregman’s book 18 Minutes he shares many amazing tips on how to focus your day, year, and life so that you accomplish what you really want to accomplish. In the introduction of Part 4 he mentions something that many of us find to be a major reason we do not accomplish our goals: procrastination. Most of the time, when I procrastinate, it’s not because I don’t want to do something. I usually genuinely enjoy whatever it is I need to do, even cleaning the house, but sometimes, getting started is just so difficult. Part 4 of this book is designed to help us move past this and actually get things done.
I love the story of the lion in Chapter 29. I don’t want to give the story away, though, because it’s the entire summation of the chapter. I just want you to read it! I will tell you this chapter’s final thought:
Create an environment that naturally compels you to do the things you want to do.
Here are some handy ways I have created an environment that compels me to do the things I want to do:
- Cleaning – I have rags and cleaning materials under every sink in my house. No need to go hunt those down when it’s time. Yesterday I noticed my bathroom was looking a little neglected (for a reason I’ll tell you about later this week) and instead of having to chase down cleaner and rags, I had them on hand. If I had had to leave the bathroom to get materials, I wouldn’t have returned. (I credit FlyLady for the idea.)
- Limit trash in the van – I have a cereal container that I keep in my van that we use as our trash can. It’s made by Rubbermaid so it’s not supposed to leak and so far, so good. This particular trick has come in handy when someone has a sticky sucker stick or the wrapper from an ice cream cone that has gotten soggy. Those things can be placed safely into the cereal container, and then, when I get home, I can dump the contents into a trash can, rinse out the container, and then run it through the dishwasher, getting it completely clean with very little effort. (We rarely eat in the car, so this kind of mess doesn’t happen often, but at least we’re prepared.)
- Writing – I love to write but I don’t want to do it in a messy room. I keep my desk much more organized now than I did in Germany. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s because the room is a dedicated office, and I have found a place for everything. Maybe because I’ve thrown out so much stuff that now everything fits! Who knows. But keeping my desk space clean promotes writing time.
- Cooking – In order to enjoy cooking, it’s best for me to have a clean kitchen to start with. I don’t enjoy cooking for the sake of cooking, but if I have a clean kitchen and a sink full of hot, soapy water so I can wash some dishes as I cook, then I’m much more likely to whip up a hot meal. If I feel the need to get in there and clean first, I’m not very motivated to cook.
I think those four suggestions give you the idea. Think of some things you want to get done. Some of these things are for your “me” time, like writing is for me. Others are just things that must get done. Regardless of the task, find ways to create an environment that compels you to get those tasks done.
I’ve mentioned before that we need to have boundaries set around our calendars. We need to be able to determine when we say yes to a request for our time/attention and when we need to say no. In chapter 35 Bregman writes:
We need a way to quickly and confidently identify and reduce our extraneous commitments, to know for sure whether we should deal with something or avoid it, and to manage our own desire to be available always. I propose a little test that every commitment should pass before you agree to it. When someone comes to you with a request, ask yourself three questions.
- Am I the right person?
- Is this the right time?
- Do I have enough information?
If the request fails the test – if the answer to any of these questions is no – then don’t do it. Pass it on to someone else (the right person), schedule it for another time (the right time), or wait until you have the information you need (either you or someone else needs to get it).
Resist the temptation to say yes too often. (Emphasis added).
Chapter 36 discusses “saying no convincingly.” Many of us struggle with saying no. I remember as Matt was going through Chaplain Officer Basic Combat Training, a Senior Spouse held a workshop for all the new Chaplain Spouses. She warned us of a trend she had seen in previous groups of Chaplain Spouses: an inability to say no to any request made of them. She taught us how to say no politely. She nodded her head in a yes motion, but then spoke the word “No.” It looks so nice and pretty, and it’s very effective. The point is that we can say no to someone’s request on our time, and we do not owe them an explanation as to why we are not doing it. We can simply say “no.” (I think the nodding yes part throws the “Asker” off and therefore they don’t press for a “why.” I’m kidding… I think.)
Chapter 37 discusses how to know when you should say something to someone who is doing something inappropriate. Bregman’s example was a boss who had a marketing director constantly showing up for work late. When should the boss confront his employee, especially considering that the employee is excellent in all other areas. Another example was when a person makes a joke about his consulting rates. He gives the circumstances under which he feels it’s time to approach the person about their behavior. He writes, “Don’t wait too long to bring something up. People can only respect boundaries they know are there.”
Chapter 38 provides a useful tip, one that I feel everyone should be taught in high school: how to increase transition time! Here’s an example… you know it takes 25 minutes to get to church. Service starts at 9:15. Theoretically you could leave for church at 8:50 and get there on time. So the night before you plan to get up at 7:50 knowing it takes you an hour to get ready to walk out the door. Problem is, there are five other people in the house. Sure, you only have to help one of those five people get ready, but you must remind yourself that one of them is inevitably going to forget to brush his hair (Bailey). Another one of them is going to run back into the house (three times) to get things he “needs.” One is going to be gathering the Bibles, Slimfasts (and a straw for me), looking for the lost diaper bag, and filling up a sippy cup of milk. You, on the other hand, will be calmly and patiently getting ready. Remember? It only takes you an hour to get from bed to car. Only problem is, by the time you’re ready to get in the car, you walk down the stairs into the chaos described above. As soon as your husband finally pulls the car out of the garage and presses the button, you all realize that the garage door will not go down. You will remember a red EJECT pull-tab hanging from the garage motor. You will jump out of the car, pull said EJECT button, and manually close the door, pleased that you solved that problem with only about a 30 second delay. And you will, I repeat, you WILL leave the house without your purse, wallet, or any identification to get you back on post. You will realize this before you actually leave post but way too late to turn around for it because then you really will be late for church.
How does one solve this problem?!? It’s very simple. ADD IN MORE TRANSITION TIME! Go backwards.
- What time does service start? 9:15
- What time do you want to be pulling up to church so that you can sign the kids in, drop them off, go to the bathroom (which happens to have Bath and Body Works Soap and Lotions… and mints), and get seated before the 5-minute countdown? 9:00
- How long does it take you to get there? 25 minutes with no traffic.
- What time do you need to leave so that, even if there is traffic, you’re not late? 8:25-8:30
- What time do you need to start telling the boys to “get in the car?” 8:15
- What time do you need to be ready so you can start telling them that? 8:00
- How long does it take you to get ready? 1 hour
- What time do you need to be up? 7:00 (not 7:50… ahem. And this is all theoretical, of course.)
Do you see the difference? It’s much better to add in time to the transitions of a day, knowing that there are going to be setbacks and things that happen to cause delay, than to get frustrated and rushed.
I’ve said multiple times how much great information is in this book. I just flipped through the next several chapters and considered summing them for you, as I have the previous three. BUT, there’s one reason I’m not going to. This post is already over 1,500 words and good blogposts are supposed to stay between 300-500 words. I’m way over that, probably on every post I’ve ever written. Another reason I’m not is because I think this book is one worth reading cover to cover. I encourage you to do so.
If you read this book, email me and let me know it. I’m excited to share the amazing things I find, and I’d like to see what you think about it! (And while I won’t share the summary of Chapter 42 with you, the title is awesome! “Would You Smoke Pot While You’re Working?” I had to put this in here… I’m curious how many hits on the blog I’ll get from people googling “smoke pot.”
If I don’t stop now I’ll hit 2,000 words. The overall takeaway from this book is to pause, look at your life and where you want to be. Determine what the year should be about, figure out how to focus your year, and then plan your days so that the sum of 365 of them equals a year well spent. During those days, pay attention to how you’re spending each moment, whether you’re overbooked, saying yes to too many things, or distracted and not focusing on meeting your goals. (Final word count: 1,844)
For more posts in this series: