What do you want to ignore?

catPeter Bregman’s recent book, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done offers many excellent suggestions for setting your priorities, managing your time, and creating a healthy work/life balance.

The title of his book refers to his suggested plan for integrating reflective planning into your workday: five minutes at the start and end of the day, and one minute each hour to check in with your goals and priorities and ask yourself if you’re actually doing what you want to be doing. Of course, that figure reveals his focus on people who work in a traditional business office environment, rather than academics and writers whose work hours rarely conforms to that eight-hour template. But many of his ideas and strategies can be usefully adapted to any kind of work and work setting.

One of his ideas that I’ve found very helpful is the to-ignore list. A to-ignore list clarifies in specific terms what it is that you do not want to spend your energy or attention on.

Bregman offers four questions to consider in drawing up your own to-ignore list:

What are you willing not to achieve?

What doesn’t make you happy?

What’s not important to you?

What gets in the way?

Most of us, as Bregman notes, have a list of tasks and projects we want to do, but we probably haven’t drawn up a specific list of what we plan not to do. He says:

But given how easily we get distracted and how many distractions we have these days, the second is more important than ever. The people who will continue to thrive in the future know the answers to these questions, and each time there’s a demand on their attention, they ask whether it will further their focus or dilute it.

The crucial part of Bregman’s model is that he suggests you look over this list at least once a week and possibly every day. Just as you refer to your to-do list to select activities for a particular day, referring to your to-ignore list can help keep you on track, especially if some of those items you want to minimize in your schedule tend to take over.

What’s on your to-ignore list? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed image from flickr user Gavin Clabaugh]

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