Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky
Both forces—the Busy Bandwagon and the Infinity Pools—are powerful because they’ve become our defaults.
Four Lessons from the Design Sprint Laboratory The first thing we learned was that something magic happens when you start the day with one high-priority goal.
that we got more done when we banned devices.
the importance of energy for focused work and clear thinking.
Experimenting allowed us to improve the process,
Instead, change comes from resetting defaults, creating barriers, and beginning to design the way you spend your time.
Make Time Is Just Four Steps, Repeated Every Day
The first step is choosing a single highlight to prioritize in your day. Next, you’ll employ specific tactics to stay laser-focused on that highlight—we’ll offer a menu of tricks to beat distraction in an always-connected world. Throughout the day, you’ll build energy so you can stay in control of your time and attention. Finally, you’ll reflect on the day with a few simple notes.
Highlight: Start Each Day by Choosing a Focal Point The first step in Make Time is deciding what you want to make time for. Every day, you’ll choose a single activity to prioritize and protect in your calendar.
Laser: Beat Distraction to Make Time for Your Highlight
Energize: Use the Body to Recharge the Brain
Reflect: Adjust and Improve Your System Finally, before going to bed, you’ll take a few notes.
We do not remember days, we remember moments. —CESARE PAVESE
We believe that focusing on these in-between activities—in the space between goals and tasks—is the key to slowing down, bringing satisfaction to your daily life, and helping you make time.
Your Highlight gives each day a focal point. Research shows that the way you experience your days is not determined primarily by what happens to you. In fact, you create your own reality by choosing what you pay attention to.1 This might seem obvious, but we think it’s a big deal: You can design your time by choosing where you direct your attention. And your daily Highlight is the target of that attention.
So how should you decide? We use three different criteria to choose our Highlight. Urgency The first strategy is all about urgency: What’s the most pressing thing I have to do today?
Satisfaction The second Highlight strategy is to think about satisfaction: At the end of the day, which Highlight will bring me the most satisfaction?
Joy The third strategy focuses on joy: When I reflect on today, what will bring me the most joy?
Trust Your Gut to Choose the Best Highlight Which strategy should you use on any particular day? We think the best way to choose a Highlight is to trust your gut to decide whether an urgent, joyful, or satisfying Highlight is best for today.2 A good rule of thumb is to choose a Highlight that takes sixty to ninety minutes.
Choose Your Highlight 1. Write It Down 2. Groundhog It (or, “Do Yesterday Again”) 3. Stack Rank Your Life 4. Batch the Little Stuff 5. The Might-Do List 6. The Burner List 7. Run a Personal Sprint
1. Write It Down Yes, we know this sounds obvious, but there’s a special, almost magical power to writing down your plans: The things you write down are more likely to happen. If you want to make time for your Highlight, start by writing it down.
2. Groundhog It (or, “Do Yesterday Again”) Not sure what to choose for your Highlight? Just like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, you can do yesterday again. There are lots of great reasons to repeat your Highlight:
4. Batch the Little Stuff
You’re especially vulnerable to path-of-least-resistance thinking when you don’t plan. But when you take an important task off your Might-Do List, make it your daily Highlight, and put it on your calendar, you’ll know you made a thoughtful decision about how to spend your time, and you can pour your energy into the task at hand.
HIGHLIGHT TACTICS Make Time for Your Highlight 8. Schedule Your Highlight 9. Block Your Calendar 10. Bulldoze Your Calendar 11. Flake It Till You Make It 12. Just Say No 13. Design Your Day 14. Become a Morning Person 15. Nighttime Is Highlight Time 16. Quit When You’re Done
8. Schedule Your Highlight If you want to make time for your Highlight, start with the calendar. Like writing down your Highlight (#1), this tactic could hardly be simpler: Think about how much time you want for your Highlight. Think about when you want to do your Highlight. Put your Highlight on the calendar.
Use daily “do not schedule” blocks to make room for your Highlight.
10. Bulldoze Your Calendar If you can’t block your calendar, there’s another way to clear time for your Highlight: Bulldoze it. Imagine a tiny bulldozer driving through your calendar, pushing events around. The bulldozer might compress one meeting by fifteen minutes and another by thirty.
11. Flake It Till You Make It There will be days and weeks when you feel so busy and overscheduled that you can’t imagine how you’ll ever make time for your Highlight. When this happens, ask yourself what you can cancel.
12. Just Say No Blocking, bulldozing, and flaking are great ways to make time for your Highlight. But the best way to get out of low-priority obligations is never to accept them in the first place.
I used an approach recommended by Cal Newport in Deep Work: writing my schedule on a piece of blank paper, then replanning throughout the day as things change and evolve, like this: It worked. The constant redesigning gave me a handle on how I was spending my time, showed me when my best writing time was, and helped me establish a routine. Now, when I feel things are out of whack, I know what to do—it’s time to redesign my day.
LASER TACTICS Be the Boss of Your Phone 17. Try a Distraction-Free Phone 18. Log Out 19. Nix Notifications 20. Clear Your Homescreen 21. Wear a Wristwatch 22. Leave Devices Behind
Stay Out of Infinity Pools 23. Skip the Morning Check-In 24. Block Distraction Kryptonite 25. Ignore the News 26. Put Your Toys Away 27. Fly Without Wi-Fi 28. Put a Timer on the Internet 29. Cancel the Internet 30. Watch Out for Time Craters 31. Trade Fake Wins for Real Wins 32. Turn Distractions into Tools 33. Become a Fair-Weather Fan
Slow Your Inbox 34. Deal with Email at the End of the Day 35. Schedule Email Time 36. Empty Your Inbox Once a Week 37. Pretend Messages Are Letters 38. Be Slow to Respond 39. Reset Expectations 40. Set Up Send-Only Email 41. Vacation Off the Grid 42. Lock Yourself Out
Checking email less often measurably made time!
“I’m slow to respond because I need to prioritize some important projects, but if your message is urgent, send me a text.” This message can be conveyed in person, via email, or even as an autoresponse or signature.12 The wording is carefully designed. The justification “I need to prioritize some important projects” is eminently reasonable and sufficiently vague. The offer to respond to text messages provides an in-case-of-emergency plan, but because the threshold for texting or calling is higher than it is with chat and email, you’ll probably be interrupted much less often.
Make TV a “Sometimes Treat” 43. Don’t Watch the News 44. Put Your TV in the Corner 45. Ditch Your TV for a Projector 46. Go à la Carte Instead of All-You-Can-Eat 47. If You Love Something, Set It Free
Find Flow 48. Shut the Door 49. Invent a Deadline 50. Explode Your Highlight 51. Play a Laser Sound Track 52. Set a Visible Timer 53. Avoid the Lure of Fancy Tools 54. Start on Paper
Shifting your focus to something that your mind perceives as a doable, completable task will create a real increase in positive energy, direction, and motivation.
Play a Laser Sound Track If you’re struggling to get into Laser mode, try a cue. A cue is any trigger that causes you to act consciously or unconsciously. It’s the first step in the “habit loop” Charles Duhigg describes in The Power of Habit: First, a cue prompts your brain to start the loop. The cue triggers you to perform a routine behavior without thinking, on autopilot. Finally, you get a reward: some result that makes your brain feel good and encourages it to run the same routine again the next time you encounter the cue.
If you use the Time Timer when you’re getting into Laser mode, you’ll feel an instant, visceral sense of urgency in a totally good way. By showing you that time is elapsing, the Time Timer will get you to focus on the task at hand.
Stay in the Zone 55. Make a “Random Question” List 56. Notice One Breath 57. Be Bored 58. Be Stuck 59. Take a Day Off 60. Go All In
56. Notice One Breath Pay attention to the physical sensations of a single breath: Breathe in through your nose. Notice the air filling up your chest. Breathe out through your mouth. Notice your body softening.
57. Be Bored When you’re deprived of distraction, you may feel bored—but boredom is actually a good thing. Boredom gives your mind a chance to wander, and wandering often leads you to interesting places.
Stare at the blank screen, or switch to paper, or walk around, but keep your focus on the project at hand. Even when your conscious mind feels frustrated, some quiet part of your brain is processing and making progress. Eventually, you will get unstuck, and then you’ll be glad you didn’t give up.
Keep It Moving 61. Exercise Every Day (but Don’t Be a Hero) 62. Pound the Pavement 63. Inconvenience Yourself 64. Squeeze in a Super Short Workout
Eat Real Food 65. Eat Like a Hunter-Gatherer 66. Central Park Your Plate 67. Stay Hungry 68. Snack Like a Toddler 69. Go on the Dark
Optimize Caffeine 70. Wake Up Before You Caffeinate 71. Caffeinate Before You Crash 72. Take a Caffeine Nap 73. Maintain Altitude with Green Tea 74. Turbo Your Highlight 75. Learn Your Last Call 76. Disconnect Sugar
Go Off the Grid 77. Get Woodsy 78. Trick Yourself into Meditating 79. Leave Your Headphones at Home 80. Take Real Breaks
Make It Personal 81. Spend Time with Your Tribe 82. Eat Without Screens
Sleep in a Cave 83. Make Your Bedroom a Bed Room 84. Fake the Sunset 85. Sneak a Nap 86. Don’t Jet-Lag Yourself 87. Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
You might boil Make Time down to three hypotheses: The Highlight hypothesis If you set a single intention at the start of each day, we predict you’ll be more satisfied, joyful, and effective. The Laser hypothesis If you create barriers around the Busy Bandwagon and the Infinity Pools, we predict you’ll focus your attention like a laser beam. The Energize hypothesis If you live a little more like a prehistoric human, we predict you’ll enhance your mental and physical energy.
“QUICK START” GUIDE TO MAKE TIME There are a lot of tactics in this book. If you’re not sure where to begin, try this recipe: Highlight: Schedule Your Highlight (#8) A simple way to be proactive, give form to your day, and break the reaction cycle. Laser: Block Distraction Kryptonite (#24) Free yourself from one Infinity Pool, and see how your attention changes. Energize: Pound the Pavement (#62) A few minutes of walking each day provides a boost for the body and quiet for the mind. Reflect every evening for three days Don’t worry about committing to a lifetime of evening journaling (we’re not there yet, either). Just try the three tactics above and, for three days straight, take notes in the evening. See what you learn and take it from there. Also, check out maketimebook.com for tips and apps to help you start.
Deep Work by Cal Newport Packed with opinionated and often unusual strategies for doing focused work.
Mindset by Carol Dweck Habits are very powerful, but sometimes you need a mindset shift to change your behavior.
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan There’s no better guide to building energy by eating like a hunter-gatherer.