Over the holiday break, I read 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done by Peter Bregman who blogs at at the HBR. This book is a gem. Each chapter starts with a personal story that illustrates a concept related to managing unproductive distractions. What’s refreshing and different about this book is that it isn’t about trying to get everything done efficiently. Instead he guides you on how to focus on what matters and ignore the rest. He offers both daily techniques that help you reach longer-term goals.
He suggests setting year-long goals. His strategy for that is how to survive a buffet. There are so many good choices with a buffet that you end up stuffing yourself and over-eating. The way to avoid that discomfort is to limit yourself to putting five items on your plate. That forces you to be strategic about what you pick. The same discipline applies to setting an annual goals. He identify 5 things to focus on for the year.
Bregman also suggests picking an overall theme for year. I love Bregman’s idea. The theme he selected for the year really resonated with me: Slow Down. Bregman talks about benefits of this theme:
My thought was that if I focused only on slowing down, everything else would improve. And, so far, it has. And what I thought would be a downside has actually been a positive: Slowing down has meant that I can’t get as much done. Which has forced me to make strategic choices about what to spend my time on and what to ignore. I’m more thoughtful, less scattered, and enjoying my work more fully. Counter-intuitively, I’m more productive.
That’s what I need. So, I’m going to make that my theme, too. This past year of writing the book “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit” with KD Paine and editor Bill Paarlberg, I got a taste of slowing down. Writing a book required a much deeper level of focus and paying attention. I want to sustain that focus throughout the year and apply to what I do — from content curation to blogging to facilitating trainings and developing curriculum. Be more of a focusing lens versus a fire hydrant.
Here’s some areas that I want go slow with:
- Teaching and Learning: These terms are really one – you need both to be a good instructor or trainer. My goal is to learn how to design the best learning opportunities for nonprofits to embrace networked ways of working, measurement, or strategic social media. This will be a big focus of work at Packard in the coming year and what I want to blog more about. Learning is also important – both what the learners are learning and also my own learning. I’m not a happy camper unless I’m learning something and for me learning is about reflection – which includes blogging and establishing rituals like the 18 minute process that Bregman shares in his book (see below.) To be successful in either teaching or learning, you have to slow down.
- Measurement and Content Curation: These are two focus areas that I want incorporate into my social media training. They are content areas but also skills. I’ve been immersed in writing about measurement and testing instructional frameworks this year. Now, I want to refine those in more workshops and peer group learning opportunities. I’m also interested in content curation and have been practicing it and teaching it, but want to take that to the next level.
- Networked NGO: I’ll be combing the two above in all my training work during 2012. I will be designing and facilitating capacity building programs in the Middle East, Africa, and India. I want to learn as much about how networked ways of working are used outside the US context.
Having a focus helps you say no to activities that fall into “all the rest” bucket. Saying no is a muscle that needs to be exercised daily. This year I’m incorporating a couple of techniques. First, I’m going to create an ignore list in addition to my to do list. Second, I’ve always kept gratitude journals, but now I’m also to keep a “no thanks” journal or record what I’ve said no to.
But keeping your focus day in and day out for an entire year can be a real challenge. Bregman has a method for that. It is the 18 minutes in the title of his book. The 18 minutes refers to the importance of creating a daily habit of reflection and focus on what you want to accomplish, knowing that you won’t get everything done. Here how it works:
Step 1: Morning Minutes (5 minutes)
Before your turn on your computer, plan ahead for the day. Decide what will make the day successful and that will further your focus for the year. Put that on your calendar and don’t take more than three days to do it.
Step 2: One of Reflection for Each Hour (8 minutes)
He suggests setting a watch or timer to remind you each hour. When you hear the beep, reflect and ask yourself if you’ve been productive in the last hour. This is similar to the pomodoro technique
Step 3: Evening Minutes (5 minutes)
Shut off the computer and review how your day went. What did you accomplish? What could be improved? What I have learned?
It’s a simple, powerful technique to help you select your daily focus deliberately and wisely and remind yourself of this focus throughout the day. But your daily ritual needs to support an annual or yearly theme. This is the time of year to ask and answer: What is the year about? It is the time of year to create good daily habits so you achieve it.
What’s your year about? What new habits will you create so you have the focus to reach your goals?