Peter Bregman loves buffets. He loves the variety they offer. He loves the opportunity he gets to taste many different dishes. And he loves the low cost of being able to eat so much.

But invariably Bregman leaves feeling uncomfortable and exhausted—full not just of food but also of regret. Many people experience this after eating at a buffet, and probably as many of us have felt the same when looking back on how we’ve used our time.

In his latest book, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, Bregman coins this “the buffet challenge” and shows how it’s related to that of managing our time.

Because there’s so much to do—so many interesting people, enjoyable activities, worthwhile causes, compelling opportunities—it’s hard to choose. So we don’t. We try to do it all.

The problem with most time management systems is that they don’t help solve the problem: They’re focused on how to get it all done in less time. But that’s a mistake. Just like tasting from a buffet is a mistake. Because we can’t possibly get it all done and not end up frantic, depleted, and overwhelmed.

The secret to surviving a buffet is to eat fewer things. And the secret to thriving in your life is the same: Do fewer things.

Bregman himself thinks it’s best to focus on roughly five broad areas. For example, you might want to devote time to growing your business, spending more time each day with loved ones, or achieving peak physical shape.

Whatever five areas you choose, however, Bregman thinks they all should have a certain characteristic. “They should be substantial things,” he says, “so when you spend your time on them, you’ll get to the end of the year and know it was time well spent.”

Without a doubt, being selective at a buffet can be difficult—and in life, even more so. However, Bregman is spot on when he observes that this is key to leaving a buffet feeling good—or looking back on your time and being full, not of regret, but of cherished memories of a life well lived.

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