Try This 18-Minute Ritual for Incredible Focus
We think of rituals as something for religious observances and major life occurrences--something you do in church or on the day you get married. But research shows that not all rituals have to be big, formal, and public to be effective.
An action as small, private and seemingly silly as drawing negative feelings on a piece of paper, sprinkling it with salt, and tearing it to pieces significantly reduced feelings of anger and upset in one study, for instance.
Keeping a salt shaker and art materials at your desk may be a bit much to ask the average entrepreneur, but plenty of serious-minded business experts have taken the research on the potency of private, secular rituals to heart in ways that business owners can easily put to use. Author and CEO coach Peter Bregman is among them.
In his latest book 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, Bregman recommends a simple three-part ritual you can add to your day to radically increase your focus in work and life. Blog Farnam Street helpfully boiled down the basic idea recently.
The first 5 minutes of the practice are devoted to getting your priorities in order each morning. Before you begin your work, take this time to have a look at your to-do list. What items, if you check them off your list, will make you feel successful? Add these to your daily tasks.
"Make sure that anything that's been on your list for three days gets a slot somewhere in your calendar or move it off the list," Bregman cautions.
You've now got your goals for the day all set, but our agendas have a way of wandering away from us, so plan to check in with yourself at regular intervals to see if you're on track and, if not, to course correct. Plan on this eating up around 8 minutes out of your day.
"Set your watch, phone, or computer to ring every hour and start the work that's listed on your calendar. When you hear the beep, take a deep breath, and ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively. Then look at your calendar and deliberately recommit to how you are going to use the next hour. Manage your day hour by hour. Don't let the hours manage you," writes Bregman.
Finally, at the close of every day turn off your gadgets and devote another 5 minutes to mentally reviewing the answers to these three questions:
- How did the day go? What success did I experience? What challenges did I endure?
- What did I learn today? About myself? About others? What do I plan to do--differently or the same--tomorrow?
- Whom did I interact with? Anyone I need to update? Thank? Ask a question of? Share feedback with?
Taken together these three steps add up to a not-overwhelming 18 minutes out of your workday. And not only is the time commitment doable, but this daily ritual requires nothing uncomfortable or wacky involving chanting, contortions, or table condiments. It's as simple as can be, but Bregman insists that if you commit to following these steps religiously, the effects can be quite profound.
"If you do the same thing in the same way over and over again, the outcome is predictable. In the case of 18 minutes, you'll get the right things done," he concludes.
Could adding this simple ritual to your routine improve your productivity?
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JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.