Authors: Peter Bregman
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To my wife, Eleanor,
and my children, Isabelle, Sophia, and Daniel.
You inspire me to write.
arrived at work on the first day of her new job as the head of learning and development at a mid-size investment bank, she turned on her computer, logged in with the password they had given her, opened up her email program, and gasped.
She had been on the job less than a minute and there were already 385 messages in her inbox. It would take days to work through them, and by that time there would be hundreds more.
We start every day knowing we’re not going to get it all done. And we look back on the years and wonder where they went and why we haven’t accomplished what we had hoped.
Time is the only element in the world that is irretrievable
when it’s lost. Lose money and you can make more. Lose a friend and you can patch up the relationship. Lose a job and you can find another. But lose time and it’s gone forever.
I have a friend, a rabbi named Hayyim Angel, who carries reading material with him whenever he goes to a meeting. Why? “Because,” he told me, “according to the Talmud [the Jewish book of law], if someone comes late to a meeting they are committing the sin of stealing—stealing the time of the person who had to wait for them. And it’s the worst kind of stealing because what was taken can never be returned. I don’t want to cause anyone to sin. So I always make sure, if I have to wait for someone, they’re never in a position of stealing my time.”
And yet we steal time from ourselves constantly. Consider the following three stories…
Bill hadn’t questioned the meeting his secretary had placed on his calendar. But now that he was in it—and bored—he wished he had. Bill pulled out his BlackBerry and began to read through his email. He was completely absorbed in his handheld when suddenly he heard Leticia, his boss, say his name. He looked up as Leticia continued, “What do you think we should do?” Bill had no idea what Leticia was referring to.
Where did that moment go?
Rajit sat down with his laptop at nine o’clock on Wednesday morning knowing he had one thing he needed to do: write the proposal for a new client he was pitching in two days. But three phone calls, fifteen emails, two trips to the
bathroom, thirty minutes buying plane tickets for a family vacation, and four impromptu conversations with employees later, he hadn’t yet started it. And now his assistant just IM’d to remind him he had a lunch appointment in fifteen minutes.
Where did the day go?
Marie walked into our twenty-fifth high school reunion and I was instantly reminded of her seventeen-year-old self. We sat down to talk, and she was all the things I remembered—beautiful, smart, talented, courageous, honest—with one exception. Her spark was gone. “I’m not unhappy,” she told me. “I love my husband and children; my work is fine. In fact, my whole life is fine. But that’s all it is: fine. I haven’t really done anything. Every year I have plans but, well, stuff gets in the way.” She feels the unexpressed potential inside her. She has things she wants to do. But somehow she doesn’t make them happen.
Where did those years go?
According to Newton’s first law of motion, an object will continue moving at a constant velocity until an outside force acts upon it. What’s true for objects is also true for people.
Either we keep moving along a path that isn’t quite right but we fail to knock ourselves off it, or we intentionally choose the right path but keep getting knocked off it.
If we are to look back and feel good about what we’ve done—over a year, a day, or a moment—we need to break these patterns. To interrupt our inertia, everyday
distractions, and gut responses. We need to intervene in our own lives.
Yet even if we know that, it’s hard to do. It’s not that Marie doesn’t want a family. She does. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just that her role in her family has overwhelmed everything else in her life, so she looks back at the end of the year and asks herself where it went and why she’s not thrilled. Still, she’s not sure what to do differently next year.
Rajit had planned to write his proposal. But a number of forces lured him off his trajectory. Perhaps they were important distractions. But at the end of the day his proposal remained unwritten.
And Bill certainly hadn’t intended to lose himself in his handheld; the email wasn’t even that important. But his distraction became his focus and in the moment when his opinion was critical, all he could do was look up—at his boss—blankly.
provides a solution to these struggles and frustrations. It’s a comprehensive approach to managing a year, a day, and a moment so that our lives move forward in a way that keeps us focused on, and doing, the things we decide are most important. An important first step in reclaiming our lives.
, you’ll set the foundation that will enable you to take the insights from the book and translate them into action. In this part, I’ll share some habits and mind-sets that will position you to see possibilities beyond those you might otherwise notice. This part will help you focus
on the right things, translate those things into a daily plan, follow through with that plan, and master the inevitable distractions that threaten to undermine your efforts.
What Is This Year About?,
you’ll be guided to organize your life around the things that matter to you, make you happy, use your gifts, and move you toward your goals. In this part, I’ll share four elements around which you should focus your efforts over the year. We’ll look at some of the ways people tend to derail themselves from maintaining a clear focus, and I’ll offer some strategies to avoid those derailers. In the final chapter of this section, you’ll pull it all together to create your annual focus: the five areas where you want to spend the majority of your time over the next year.
What Is This Day About?,
you’ll learn how to translate your annual focus into an 18-minute daily plan, ensuring that the
things get done, concretely structuring your day so it’s productive, satisfying, and a measurable step toward fulfilling your focus for the year.
What Is This Moment About?,
you’ll learn how to master distraction—sometimes by using it, sometimes by avoiding it. Here you’ll learn how to get yourself motivated, how to follow through even when it’s tempting to give up, and how to protect yourself and your time by creating the right kind of boundaries. This section is divided into three subsections—
Mastering Your Initiative, Mastering Your Boundaries,
and is full of simple tricks, tips, and rules to help you stay on track.
Finally, the conclusion,
, sets you on your
way by sharing a foolproof method for gaining the critical momentum to move you in the direction you want to go.
There are many time management books out there that try to teach you how to get it
done. But that’s a mistake. Because it’s impossible to get it
done. And it’s dangerous to try. You’ll lose focus on what’s important.
This book will help you make smart, thoughtful decisions about what’s worth doing and what’s not. And it will offer you some simple tools and skills to follow through on those decisions so you spend your time doing the things that matter while avoiding the things that don’t. This book is also about enjoying the process. Managing your life shouldn’t feel like a chore. And neither should reading a book about managing your life.
Standing in my apartment in New York City, I recently tapped the Google Earth app on my iPhone. Google Earth offers satellite maps of the entire world. When you first open the application, you see the whole earth, spinning in space, as though your cell phone screen were the window of a spaceship hovering above the earth’s atmosphere. Then, slowly, it homes in on your location, and you feel like you’re landing as the image becomes more clear and detailed. First you see your country, then your state, then your city, and eventually you are looking at the exact street where you’re standing.
This time, though, when I tapped on the app, it opened in Savannah, Georgia, which must have been the last place I used it. So I tapped on the little circle in the bottom left
button—and Google Earth sent me back up into the air, shifted me to New York, and then landed me back on my street. Once there, it took a few seconds to settle in and focus.
button for your life. It will guide you to your most effective self. It will offer you a clear view of yourself and your surroundings, and then provide you with a map to help you get where you want to go. It’s the app that can help you reclaim your life. Not simply based on where you’ve been or where others want you to be, but based on where you are now and where
want to go.
will home in on who you are and how you can best use your talents to achieve the things that will make you happy, productive, and successful. And if you are a little—or even a lot—out of focus, don’t worry:
will bring you back in.
I wrote this book so Molly, Bill, Rajit, Marie—and you—could look back at the end of each moment, each day, each year—and, when the time comes, life itself—and be able to say: “I used my time well.”
started my business in 1998, out of a one-bedroom, fifth-floor walk-up apartment. My dream was to build a multimillion-dollar global management consulting firm filled with consultants, trainers, and coaches who would help people lead, manage, work, and live more successfully. A big dream.
Meanwhile, I had no clients and my company’s only physical asset was a single computer. I survived on my savings for the first six months as I tried to build the business with little success. I didn’t have enough work to sustain myself, let alone a team of consultants.
Then I won a large contract with a well-known investment bank. This was my big break, the project I could use to build my business. I needed to quickly assemble a team—six consultants at first and then, if all went according to plan, fifty more. I remember sitting in my two-hundred-square-foot living room/dining room/kitchen with Eleanor,
my girlfriend, filled with the excitement of possibility and the trepidation of the test; could I pull this off?
I brought in an initial team who did a tremendous job meeting the client’s expectations. Then, as the project expanded, so did the team. From New York to Chicago, San Francisco, Paris, London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. And as the team expanded, so did my client base.
I had built my dream company in an unimaginably short period of time. It was everything I had hoped for, everything I had planned for.
That first year, I ended up making more money than I had in the previous three combined. The second year, I doubled that, and by the third year, I began to fantasize about retiring within the decade.
And yet, in the midst of all this success, I realized there was one thing I hadn’t planned for: my happiness.
Somehow, I was missing that feeling of
I’m doing the right things with the right people in the right way to make the most of who I am
. At the time, I didn’t know why and I was too busy to figure it out. Plus, everything seemed to be working just fine; why mess with success? So I kept doing what I was doing.
Then everything crashed; the dotcom revolution, the financial services industry, the demand for consulting, and, with it, my business.
By that time, Eleanor and I were married, Isabelle had been born, and we were in a tough spot. Bills were accumulating and my income was rapidly shrinking. I was
stressed, but I also had a strange and quiet sense of relief. Now I began to fantasize, not of retiring, but of doing something else completely. Of reclaiming my life.
So I took acting classes, considered applying to medical school, actually applied to rabbinical school, started a phantom investment fund (with play money to see if I liked it, and if I was good at it), and continued to consult on my own. I was searching.
I slowed down my activity, reversed my forward momentum, paused before making choices, took more time off, and let my mind wander. I began to look more carefully at myself—at the world around me—and I began to notice hidden sides of me that felt unused, sub-optimized. I began to feel a growing power within me. A sense of untapped potential.
I wasn’t yet sure what that potential was, but I was absolutely certain that it was worth cultivating. So I kept experimenting, kept noticing.
I had, in effect, pressed my
button. And when I did, I was thrown into the sky and offered a bird’s-eye view of my world.
What I saw—what the pausing and the noticing and the recognizing enabled me to see—was that while I had gotten off track, I wasn’t far off, and there was a safe way back down. I saw the path that would help me reclaim my life and allow me to bring my whole self into my work and my life. To spend my time on the things that mattered to me, the things I was good at, the things I enjoyed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Because now, in
, you’re about to be thrown into the air. You need that bird’s-eye view. And to get it, you need to tap the
button, and then pause, as you let yourself fly high and hover above your world, preparing to land exactly where you want to be.