Peter Bregman is a strategy consultant who advises some of North America’s top CEO’s and writes widely-read blog for the Harvard Business Review.

Last month he published his second book, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, which is packed with smart, practical advice for boosting individual performance. (Buy it at Amazon, BN.comIndie Bound, or 8CR.)

Because I thought PinkBlog readers would dig what he had to say, I asked him to share a tip from the book — something quick and actionable that could help us on a Monday morning.

Here’s Peter:

I start every day with a plan. Each morning I look at my to do list and ask myself  ’what will make this a successful day? Then I transfer the right tasks from my list onto my calendar and get to work.

But it’s rare that I stick to every minute of my plan. Emails come in, phones ring, texts beep, and my own penchant for distraction sneaks up on me. It doesn’t take me long to wander off from my schedule. And sometimes, like in a recent angry exchange with my phone company representative, I’ll wander off from myself too.

It used to be that I’d end each day disappointed, wondering why it wasn’t the success I had envisioned.

But that changed when I started setting hourly beeps.

Each hour when my watch, computer, or phone beeps, I stop whatever I’m doing, take a deep breath, and ask myself two questions:

1. Am I doing what I most need to be doing right now?

2. Am I being who I most want to be right now?

At first it seemed counterintuitive to interrupt myself each hour. Aren’t interruptions precisely what we’re trying to avoid? But these one-minute-an-hour interruptions are productive interruptions. They bring us back to doing what, and being who, will make this a successful day.

This isn’t all about staying on plan. Sometimes the beep will ring and I’ll realize that, while I’ve strayed from my calendar, whatever it is I’m working on is what I most need to be doing. In those situations I simply shift items on my calendar so my most important priorities still get done and I make intentional choices about what I will leave undone.

For me, a once-an-hour reminder, one deep breath, and a couple of questions, has made the difference between ending my day frustrated and ending it fulfilled.

16 Responses to “The power of an hourly beep”

  1. How poignant!

    I just wrote a post about the importance of taking some time (between tasks) to be quiet, still, or silent. This hourly beep is a great way to do this!

    With Gratitude,

    Jeremiah

  2. Terry Heick says:

    Sounds like an excellent way to incrementally adjust your work. I’ll let you know after a few days how it works for me.

  3. I’ve been using a similar technique for a while now. I call it a ’45-minute hour’. I wrote about it here:

    http://endlesslyrestless.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/the-45-minute-hour/

    Whatever works for each of us, we need to find a way to renew/refresh our energy and focus at points during the day.

  4. Brandy says:

    This is great! I had a baby six weeks ago and I’m starting back to work next week. I work at home – and I homeschool my nine year old, too. Between her and the new babe, I know my day will be filled with all kinds of beautiful distractions. I’m going to try this and use it as a reminder to breathe, focus, create intention and enjoy my days, my writing, my projects, and my kids.

  5. Cath S says:

    I believe Jack Bauer used a similar technique and he got a LOT done…. Now can you set your alarm to sound like the “24″ timer? “Bom BOM…. Bom BOM…”

  6. I find it very helpful to use a concentration timer to help me write. I usually set it for 40 minutes with a bell every five minutes. That way if my concentration drifts, it helps me re-focus on what I was doing. I built a free online version: http://articulatemarketing.com/free-tools/.

  7. Tammy Redmon says:

    Thank you for sharing Dan.
    The two powerful questions are a great gift today. They have the potential to take one squarely to the core of who they are being in that moment.

    This is a perfect motivator and organizing action step for this Monday.
    Thank you!

  8. Kelly Dwyer says:

    I’ve also found an online tool which I find very useful, in a very Zen kind of way: http://www.fungie.info/bell/# I personally like the big bell and I set it to random to remind myself to breathe. It has the option of setting it for a specific time as well which can be useful in this example.

  9. Dave Freeman says:

    Great idea. I think we all need that mental confirmation that we’re headed down the path that leads to where we want to go.

    It’s also extremely helpful for me to sit down weekly and review my life’s goals. That way I know my weekly goals are aligned as well. Is it Stephen Covey who always says “schedule your priorities instead of prioritising your schedule”?

    Good stuff.

  10. Ben Knight says:

    Theory is when you have ideas; ideology is when ideas have you. -The Situationists

  11. Rupal says:

    Hi Dan,
    I am a big fan of your book drive and was turned onto it by a mentor at work. In your honor, and to spread the word, i have created an open forum on facebook called the Type I Movement. This forum was created for Type I’s to share their ideas, best practices and how they are putting to use what they have learned. It’s in beginning stages, and i am hoping to have fans collaborate here from around the world. Each day i post a new excerpt to keep the book fresh in the minds of readers. I hope that more fans, and type’s I will unite here, so we can all upgrade this 2.0 world to a 3.0!

  12. I love tips like this that help people get back on track when Shiny Object Syndrome kicks in!

  13. Thanks for this helpful article that speaks about implementing our schedules more than just making it and keeping in our closed notebooks or marked calendars at which we don’t look amidst hundreds of distractions.

  14. Eric Cardon says:

    I like any kind of hourly checkup. I’ve been aiming for hourly breaks of 5-10 mins… primarily when I’m in front of the computer. When I get back to my desk I take that minute of introspection about my current work.

  15. Randy says:

    Absolutely brilliant and I’m going to get a new phone and have it email with that every hour.

  16. Great Idea, it is like awakening to “yet to be completed tasks” and sometime it becomes like “stitch in time saves you nine”.

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