Peter Bregman interview: Focus, Fear, Marketing, and Leadership

Over this past weekend I was blessed to present alongside an awesome lineup of speakers at TEDx MillRiver in Connecticut. One of my fellow presenters was Peter Bregman, author extraordinaire as well as leadership, productivity, and communication expert.  His latest book 18 Minutes can be found in the featured section of any Barnes & Noble or any other major bookstore.

After both our presentations were over I sat down with him to ask a few questions regarding career and life, two topics which I knew he’d have some great insight on.  He did not disappoint. Check out the Q&A below:

Q: In terms of our personal life, is there a golden ratio that maybe we can follow for “I want these many projects to be career, these many personal development, and these many fun etc?”

I’ve thought a lot about this, and for the most part, at least in my life, I do not see a distinction. Personal development IS organizational development. When I develop myself as a person, I become a more effective, more communicative, stronger person and I become  a more effective, more communicative, stronger leader. Essentially, developing myself creatively, developing myself personally, IS developing the business because a business is only as strong and capable as the people in the business are. So for me there is very little distinction between the two.

Q: You have a chapter in your book called “Paralysis,” and it’s something many entrepreneurs or creatives deal with when facing a new project.  Do you have a rule of thumb to determine how much preparation/thought should be done before just diving into a new project?  At times my big fear is of making a huge mistake off the bat that kills my chances of success and crushes my spirit to continue.

I’m a big proponent of just getting to work and figuring the details out later. As long as you don’t invest too much money upfront, there are few mistakes that you can’t recover from. A much more dangerous mistake is never getting started in the first place for fear of not being ready. Most of the real learning happens in the midst of the action – so I wouldn’t wait very long to jump right in.

Q: Can you give us a quick overview of your 18 minute plan?

The biggest myth in time management is that you can get it all done. There are all these books out there that say that if you only organize your work better, if you create a different kind of list, that you can get it all done.  And I fundamentally disagree with that. I don’t think that you can get it all done,  I think there’s way too much to do, that there’s way too many great, cool, attractive interesting things that you want to do, and that ultimately you have to make tradeoffs. You have to make strategic decisions about what you want to do and about what you don’t want to do.

Rather than let the most important things fall through the cracks – and it’s always the most important things that end up falling through the cracks if you try to do everything since those are the things that require thought, are challenging, and take more time to accomplish – you need to make specific strategic decisions about what you’re going to ignore – what you’re not going to do – in order to create space to do the things that ARE important. You have to push the less important things through the cracks.

Q: Do you think that following a philosophy like this can be limiting and can cause you to lose out on good opportunities because you’re following this too strictly?

I would say that following a process like this ensures that you follow through on your most important priorities. If you think:  “I’m never going to get off twitter, I’m never going to get off Facebook, I’m never going to get off LinkedIn. I’m just going to watch the flow all the time so that there’s nothing that I ever miss,” well, that’s the behavior of someone who ends up stagnating because they’re so worried they’re going to miss an opportunity that they end up not following through on any opportunities out of fear of foregoing other ones.

The main lesson is that you have to make bets in this life, and you have to say “I’m going to follow through on x opportunity, which means saying no to y and z opportunity. And I’m going to make a bet that x opportunity is going to be the right opportunity for me. And you know what, if it’s not, I can always go back and see if y and z opportunity works.”

Q: Relating to the workplace, how can managers and leaders get their tribe to buy into this 18 minute plan without having it backfire? How can we guarantee accountability?

One of the things that I talk about in 18 minutes is a six box to-do list – taking the 5 most important areas on which you want to focus for the year, and creating a to-do list based on those 5 things. One of the things managers can do is to make sure that both management and employees are on the same page about their top 5 things they’ll be focusing on for the year. It’s the best way of saying: “all of my to-dos are going to fit in one of these 5 boxes otherwise they go into this 6th box called The other 5 percent and I shouldn’t be spending more than 5 percent of my time on those.

95% of my time should be spent on the things that I consider to be most important, and if a manager and employee can agree on what those things are, and they absolutely SHOULD agree on what those things are, then the manager can actually manage the work that all of the employees are doing much more strategically .

Q: For us marketers, is there a way to incorporate your philosophy into our discipline, something that will help us make the right business choices and grow our customer base?

Yes, for sure. When you’re marketing you have to make a million tradeoffs, you have to make decisions as to where you’re going to spend your dollars. You should take a stand. Decide which market you want to pursue – and how you want to pursue it – and then commit to that for some period of time. Focus obsessively to make sure that your actions are following through.  Once you’ve done that for some period of time you’ll have a sense as to whether it’s making an impact and then you can go on to the next step. But you don’t want to spread yourself so thin that you’re not actually really making an impact.


  1. He makes a good point about there not being a distinction between your “personal” life and your “career” life, especially if you work for yourself. It’s all about synergy

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