2 books that helped me stay fresh, find focus, and manage distractions

The Power Of Full Engagement

After writing 2 Australian books in the BACK FROM THE BRINK series, I began the ambitious project of seeking to secure an American publisher to do a US version. Many people in the Australian book industry didn’t think it could be done. In addition to interviews contained in the Australian books, I also sought to understand what worked best for 4064 people to improve their mental health.

After establishing a partnership with the Chicago based Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, I then signed with a New York literary agent and prepared a book proposal. After much persistence, I was delighted to secure a book contract with New Harbinger Publications – America’s largest self-help and psychology publisher.

Suddenly after extensive preparation and planning, I now had to actually write the book, in spite of all the conference presentations, workshops, and other work I do.

There are a number of good time management books out there such as 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey and 80/20 by Richard Koch, but I wanted to share 2 books that were outstanding in sharing key messages that enabled me to finish writing the book relatively quickly, and handle distractions along the way.

The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

Avoiding work stress

This excellent book discusses the importance of managing energy and not time, and encourages enhancing physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy. The most important thing I got out of it however, was this:

We are much better able to experience high achievement by alternating between periods of activity and periods of rest. This work/rest approach has been applied to Olympic athletes since the 1960’s, but for some reason there is a western myth that we can be productive working 12 hours straight in the office, and not experience impaired productivity from work stress.  Whilst executives are trying to lead change management, this becomes even more critical.

Tony Schwartz argues convincingly using published research, that the best way to optimize performance is to work in pulses. Focus on one thing for 45 minutes, take a break for 15 minutes doing something different, then 45 minutes focus, then do something to refresh the brain.

For the last 4 weeks I decided to apply this, and I got up at 5am every day and worked in 2 x 45 minute bursts with a break in between. I then went for a 45 minute walk and did 2 further 45 minute session. I found it was an incredibly effective way to produce some of my best work.

18 minutes: Find your focus, master distractions, and get the right things done by Peter Bregman 

If Loehr and Schwartz’s book tell you how to work, Peter Bregman’s book tells you what to work on. In essence, he claims that most of us take on far too much, and as a result our efforts are very fragmented which often leads to disappointing results and frustration.

He recommends at the start of any one year, that we should decide on 3-5 major projects we are going to complete by December 31. Once those 3-5 projects have been decided, he advocates that 80% of each day should be spent progressing some of these, with remaining 20% of time spent on administration and other distractions. He further believes that the most demanding task should be done when you are freshest – depending on whether you are a morning person or a night person.

At the start of the day, he recommends that 5 minutes be spent (before computer is turned on – this was really hard to do initially), to plan which of the 3-5 projects you are going to be working on, how much time is allocated to each, and then to actually schedule it in your diary in 45 minute chunks. I guess what he is talking about is an 80/20 approach but he adds some helpful elements about how to do it.

He then recommends recapping at the end of each hour to assess whether you are on track (8 times per day) and then to debrief at the end of the day for 5 minutes to consider what to be grateful for, what went well, and what could be improved. (5 minute planning at start, 8x 1 minute review, 5 minute wrap up = 18 minutes)

Having decided which 5 things I am going to focus on in 2013, I have tried this planning approach for the last month, and have been delighted by the changes to my output.

The first book helped me to optimize my energy and mood and the second helped focus on what to work on.

What have you found to most effective for finding your focus, mastering distractions, and staying fresh?

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