Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

Make Time rides the wave of “anti-productivity” productivity philosophy. As in, the “find your flow; it’s about the system, not the tool; control your tech urges; sleep and eat well” philosophy that has become increasingly popular as of late. And that’s generally good thing! Those are great principles to live by.

Unfortunately, the book is jam-packed with ideas that it merely glosses over. There’s a lot of “what” with not enough “why”. That being said, it’s a great reference for folks who already agree with the premise of the book and are looking for different tactics to try.

Introduction

The authors found that despite their best efforts, they were constantly distracted. Technology and constant-connectedness had seeped into every part of their lives.

The authors’ goal: switch your default state from distracted to focused.

Four lessons from Design Sprints

Four lessons from design sprints were the basis of Make Time.

  1. Start each day with a high-priority goal.
  2. You get more done when you ban devices.
  3. Being energized allows for focused work and clear thinking. Energy as a function of being active, eating well, and taking frequent short breaks.
  4. Experimenting allows you to improve faster.

Busy Bandwagon: our culture of constant busyness. “You must fill every minute with productivity!”

Infinity Pools: apps and other sources of endless content. “If you can pull to refresh, it’s an Infinity Pool.”

The Make Time philosophy: change shouldn’t require a ton of willpower. Instead, change defaults, create barriers, and be deliberate about how you spend your time.

How Make Time Works

Four steps, repeatedly daily: (1) highlight priorities, (2) stay laser focused by (3) being energized, and (4) reflect on your day.

Highlighting: pick one thing that is “protected” for the day. This is the whatever-it-takes goal for your day. All other demands are secondary.

Laser: adjust your technology so you can avoid distractions like social media and email without becoming a hermit.

Energize: take care of your body so you can be energized and focused. This is comprised of: exercise, food, sleep, quiet, and face-to-face time.

Reflect: take notes on how the day went, then adjust your tactics for highlighting, lasering, and energizing moving forward.

Miscellaneous Takeaways

Not comprehensive notes — these are just what stood out to me.

“This book includes dozens of tactics for putting Make Time into practice. Some tactics will work for you, but some won’t (and some may just sound nuts). It’s like a cookbook. You wouldn’t try all the recipes at once, and you don’t need to do all the tactics at once, either. Instead, you’ll pick, test, and repeat.”

Perfection is a distraction–another thing to distract from your priorities. Focus on developing a workable and flexible set of habits.

Adopt an “everyday mindset”. Your tactics should be things you can incorporate into your everyday. This way they meld into your day and become second-nature.

Highlight

Long-term goals are useful for setting a direction, but don’t necessarily create meaning on the day-to-day.

Completing as many tasks as possible is the opposite issue: get small hits of happiness from each completion, but still no meaning.

Think less about checking off as many to-dos as possible or reaching inbox zero; instead focus on completing something meaningful each day.

Image credit: Make Time

“Begin each day by thinking about what you hope will be the bright spot. If, at the end of the day, someone asks you, “What was the highlight of your day?” what do you want your answer to be? When you look back on your day, what activity or accomplishment or moment do you want to savor? That’s your Highlight.”

Three strategies for picking a highlight: your most urgent task, what will give you most satisfaction, or what will give you the most joy.

Write down your highlight. A simple ritual. Things you write down are more likely to happen.

To-do lists are both good and bad. Good: no need to keep everything in your head. Bad: they mix easy tasks with hard-but-important ones, making it tempting to do easy stuff instead of hard stuff.

Might Do list: a to-do list of things that maybe you’ll get to. Add whatever you like. No obligation to clear it. Each day, check it out and see if anything on it should be your Highlight.

Burner list. Three parts: your front burner, which is your top priority. Your back burner, which is your second priority. And your kitchen sink, which is anything else.

The key part of the Burner list: every few days, “burn” the list. This allows you to reset without the burden of carrying around small tasks from list to list.

Put your highlight on your calendar. Committing time makes it likelier to happen.

Block parts of your calendar. Just block several hours of Do Not Schedule time. This is for you. If someone tries to schedule in that time period, say no. If you don’t take it seriously, others won’t either.

Iterate on how you plan your day. Make a proposed plan in your calendar for how you’ll spend your time. Then track how you liked that plan and how you actually spent your time. See how they differ and update the plan.

Image credit: Make Time

Want to become a morning person? Use light as an assist. Humans are hardwired to wake up in response to light. (Aside: I’ve been using a Wake Light alarm clock for a couple of years now which has been amazing for this.)

Be honest with yourself about how much sleep you need and fashion your bedtime around that.

“Adjust your environment to wind down and signal “bed-time” to your body. I begin by lowering the lights. I close the curtains in the bedroom, remove the decorative pillows from the bed, and pull back the covers.”

Don’t work until you’re exhausted. In fact, stop before you’re exhausted, so you (a) aren’t running on empty and (b) can be energized the next day.

“In our design sprints, we found that if we ended each workday before people were exhausted, the week’s productivity increased dramatically. Even shortening the day by thirty minutes made a big difference.”

Laser

“Tech companies make money when you use their products. They won’t offer you small doses voluntarily; they’ll offer you a fire hose. And if these Infinity Pools are hard to resist today, they’ll be harder to resist tomorrow.”

Create barriers to distraction. Make it less convenient to check Facebook or watch TV.

Sustained attention is more productive and rewarding than split attention.

Image credit: Make Time

Set up a distraction free phone. Delete social apps. Delete other infinity pools, like games, news apps, and YouTube. Delete email. Remove the web browser. Turn off almost all notifications.

Log out. This adds another barrier between you and Twitter, Facebook, or whatever it is that you’re easily distracted by.

Not in the book, but another good idea: remove TouchID / FaceID and add an actual password. This adds another layer between you and distraction.

Skip the morning check-in.

“When you wake up in the morning, whether you slept for five hours or ten, you’ve had a nice long break from the Busy Bandwagon and the Infinity Pools. This is a golden moment. The day is fresh, your brain is rested, and you have no reason to feel distracted yet. No news items to stress about, no work emails to stew over. Savor it. Don’t reach for email, Twitter, Facebook, or the news right away. It’s very tempting to do a check-in first thing in the morning and get the latest updates; after all, something in the world always changes overnight. But as soon as you fire up that screen, you start a tug-of-war of attention between the present moment and everything out there on the Internet. Put it off. The longer you postpone the morning check-in—until 9 a.m., 10 a.m., or even after lunch—the longer you preserve that feeling of rested calm and the easier it is to get into Laser mode.”

Identify your distraction kryptonite. How? If, after spending a few minutes on it, you regret it — it’s kryptonite.

Delete social apps. Log out of the websites. And if necessary, delete the account.

Don’t read the news.

At the end of each day, close everything out on your computer. Next time you open it… it’s calm, empty, and peaceful. All you need to do is start for that day.

Fly without Wi-Fi. A great time to read, write, journal, meditate — to disconnect. Enforced focus.

Dial-up internet was slow and you had to pay by the hour. But there was an upside: you had to be intentional about your internet usage. Emulate this now by disconnecting from wi-fi, or turning on airplane mode, or going so far as to turn off your internet entirely for your focus hours.

Beast mode:

“A reader named Chryssa sent us an extreme tactic for getting into Laser mode: She doesn’t have home Internet service at all. That’s right—no Internet. Yeah. Wow.”

My favorite takeaway from the book: Time Craters.

A time crater is small distraction that has a massive impact. Much like how a real crater can be ~30x the size of the asteroid itself, small distractions can have massive secondary effects. Example: you post a tweet; you check a few times to see how your tweet is doing; you read a few tweets because you’re in twitter; and so on.

“It’s not just Infinity Pools that create time craters. There’s also recovery time. A “quick” fifteen-minute burrito lunch might cost an extra three hours of food coma. A late night watching TV might cost you an hour of sleeping in and a whole day of low energy. And there’s anticipation. When you don’t start your Highlight because you’ve got a meeting coming up in thirty minutes, that’s a time crater, too.”

Trade fake wins for real wins. Fake win: a popular Twitter or Instagram post. Real win: completing your Highlight!

“I used to spend way too much time browsing Twitter until I decided to think of it as a tool. I decided I wanted to use Twitter to spread the word about my work and respond to questions from readers.”

Be slow to reply to emails. Reset expectations. Change your default from responding ASAP to responding as slowly you can get away with. People will either get used to it. Or you can be explicit about it and set up a vacation responder or write a note in your email signature: “I’m slow to respond because I need to prioritize some important projects, but if your message is urgent, please send me a text.”

Abandon your TV. At minimum, don’t watch the news. Better: re-arrange your living room so the TV isn’t the centerpiece. Best: get rid of your TV, replacing it with a project or with nothing at all.

When working, close your door and wear headphones.

“Headphones and closed doors signal to everyone else that you shouldn’t be interrupted, and they send a signal to you, too. You’re telling yourself, “Everything I need to pay attention to is right here.” You’re telling yourself it’s time for Laser mode.”

Use a Time Timer for setting artificial deadlines.

“The Time Timer is a special clock designed for children. You set an interval from one to sixty minutes, and a red disk slowly disappears as time elapses. When it gets to zero, the timer beeps. It’s very simple. It’s pure genius—it makes time visible.”

Avoid “fauxductivity” activities like trying new organizational tools and apps. Keep it simple and focus on the work.

Start your work on paper. It’s less intimidating, more flexible, and impermanent. A great starting point for your work and ideas.

Getting in the zone is tough. Staying in the zone is also a challenge. One tactic: make a “Random Question” list of things that pop in your mind that could distract you. Punt it to later.

Energize

You are more than a brain. Your body is more than a transport mechanism for your head. Take care of your body and you’ll feel better, sleep better, be more focused, be more productive, and be happier.

“Choosing a Highlight and getting into Laser mode are the core of Make Time. But the secret sauce is Energize. Our thesis is simple: If you have energy, it’s easier to maintain your focus and priorities and avoid reacting to distractions and demands. With a full battery, you have the power to be present, think clearly, and spend your time on what matters, not default to what’s right in front of you.”

There’s a lot to be learned from pre-historic humans. They were active, ate a variety of foods, fasted, and their days were interspersed with brief bouts of intense effort.

“Today’s world is not a utopia planned out by geniuses. It’s been shaped very accidentally by technologies that have stuck over the last few centuries, decades, and years. We’re built for one world, but we live in another.”

Act like a caveman to build energy: keep moving, eat real food, optimize caffeine, go off the grid, be social, sleep well.

Exercise every day. It doesn’t need to be for long — it can be beneficial even if its as short as 20 minutes.

Walk when you can. Avoid cars or bus or Uber. Walking is great for your health. And bonus: it’s a great time to meditate, daydream, or think through things.

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” — Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

Fast. It’s good for you (cardiovascular fitness, longevity, muscle development) and it clears your mind and keeps your brain sharp. No need to fast for days on end; just try going 12-16 hours between meals.

Limit your coffee intake so you don’t crash and can sleep well at night. No coffee after 2:30 PM.

“When caffeine shows up, the brain says, “Hey good-lookin’!” and the caffeine binds to the receptors where the adenosine is supposed to go. The adenosine is left to just float around, and as a result, the brain doesn’t get the sleepy signal. What’s interesting in this (at least to us) is that caffeine doesn’t technically give you an energy boost; instead, it blocks you from having an energy dip caused by adenosine-induced sleepiness. But once the caffeine wears off, all that adenosine is still hanging around, ready to pounce. If you don’t recaffeinate, you crash.”

Another way to energize: take breaks frequently, but without a screen handy. Gaze out of a window, go for a walk, talk to somebody — but don’t go on your phone. Give your mind a break.

Spend time with “energy givers” — people who give you energy when you hang out with them.

“Keep a list of “energy givers” in my phone’s notes app: people who put a bounce in my step every time I see them. Yes, this is bizarre (and maybe a little creepy), but it helps me remember that taking the extra time to have coffee or lunch with one of these friends actually gives me more time in the day because I’m so energized afterward.”

“Fake a sunset” to sleep well. Turn on night mode on your devices with screens. Dim the lights at night. Sleep in a dark room or use a sleep mask.

And to wake up more easily in the morning, fake a sunrise with a ”dawn simulating” alarm clock, often called wake lights.

Reflect

Complete some kind of written reflection at the end of the day to see how it went. Tune your daily tactics for picking a highlight, laser tactic, and energize tactic, and based on how it works for you, make changes day to day.

Image credit: Make Time