Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day
By Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
Make Time isn’t a book about productivity. It’s a guide for reclaiming your time and your life. It’s about making time for what truly matters to you by choosing a daily “highlight” to focus on, protecting your attention to work on it, and building the energy to complete it. As a result, you can break the default mode of busyness and become more intentional about how you live your life.
Instead of offering a one-size-fits-all prescription, this book offers an intentionally flexible framework along with 87 different tactics that you can use to customize the framework to your specific needs. The authors encourage you to experiment with different combinations of tactics, assess the results, and dial in (iterate) an approach that works best for you.
Drawing on their product design and development backgrounds (they both worked at Google on products such as Gmail, YouTube, and Meet), Knapp and Zeratsky approach the premise of the book — how to focus on what matters every day — from an agile product development point of view. This approach puts the user and their needs at the center of the development process.
As partners at GV (Google Ventures), they co-created the Design Sprint, which helps start-up teams work together more effectively to bring their products to market. They’ve run over 150 of these sprints. This led to the New York Times best-selling book, Sprint, which they co-authored.
Make Time is based in part on four lessons they learned from running the Design Sprints:
- Something magic happens when you start the day with one high-priority goal.
- 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.
In the authors’ words: “We translated lessons from the Design Sprint into a simple framework for everyday life. It’s called Make Time, and it helps busy professionals reclaim their time, energy, and attention so they can actually make time for the work that matters every day. Make Time [is] a rallying cry for a new class of professionals who are rethinking the defaults of constant busyness and distraction.”
This summary reflects my takeaways from a book I found useful and recommend to others. Reading a summary isn’t a substitute for reading the book. There’s much more than I can cover here. Plus, this is my interpretation. If these ideas resonate with you, I encourage you to get a copy from your favorite bookseller. Here are the Amazon links: eBook | Audiobook | Print
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes should be attributed to the book’s authors.
I recommend reading The Make Time Manifesto, which outlines ten principles that shaped the book.
Two powerful forces are competing for every minute of your time: First, the Busy Bandwagon, which refers to our culture of constant busyness with its “overflowing inboxes, crammed calendars, and never-ending to-do lists.” The second is the Infinity Pools, the apps and other sources of content that are constantly replenished.
Most of our time is spent by default. And the Busy Bandwagon and the Infinity Pools have become our defaults. Willpower isn’t the answer in the face of this.
Doing more doesn’t give you more time for what’s important; it just makes you feel busier and more stressed. Make Time is about putting an end to the blur, slowing down, and enjoying the moments you want to remember instead of rushing through them to get to the next thing on your list.
You can control your attention, even if you don’t completely control your schedule.
The Make Time approach has four daily steps:
- Highlight: Choose a focal point that will be the Highlight of your day. Pick one thing that will be the priority for your day and block off time in your calendar. Your Highlight won’t be the only thing you do in a day, but it will be your top priority. (Focus your attention.)
- Laser: Make time for your Highlight by taking control of distractions. Using specific tactics, stay laser-focused on your Highlight. Change your tech so that you can find your laser mode. (Protect your focus.)
- Energize: Use your body to recharge. Develop energy throughout the day to maintain control over your time and attention. To achieve focus, your brain requires energy. Charge your battery by working out, eating, sleeping, being quiet, and spending time with people. (Use self-care to maintain energy.)
- Reflect: Make adjustments and improvements to your system. Make a few brief notes as you reflect on the day. (Track and build on what works. )
Distracted has become our default state. Distraction is like a giant disco ball in the path of your laser beam: Light goes everywhere except in the direction of the target.
Make Time Tactics: Select, Test, and Repeat
To get started, select a tactic to try for each of the four steps. (The book contains 87 tactics for putting Make Time into action. Some will work for you, while others will not. Experiment with those that look most promising.)
Adopt an “everyday” mindset. The most effective tactics are those that fit into your schedule. They’re not something you must force yourself to do; they should fit you, even if they are challenging or a stretch. And, in most cases, they will be activities you enjoy.
STEP 1 – Highlight: Start each day by choosing a focal point (Focus your attention)
Highlights give each day focus. You design your day by how you direct your attention. Your daily Highlight is the target of your attention. Pick a Highlight that lasts between sixty and ninety minutes.
Key question: “What’s going to be the Highlight of my day?” The answer ensures that you spend time on the things that matter to you. And you don’t spend your day bouncing off other people’s priorities with little to show for it in the way of satisfaction or joy at the end of the day.
Your daily Highlight frees you from the Infinity Pool and Busy Bandwagon pull. In its place, you’ll discover a third path – being intentional and mindful. Selecting a Highlight will put you into a positive, proactive mindset.
Three ways to pick your Highlight:
- Urgency – What is the most important thing I need to do today?
- Satisfaction – Which Highlight will give me the most satisfaction?
- Joy – What will bring me the most joy when I reflect on today?
Trust your gut when you choose your Highlight. (The book includes 16 tactics to help you choose and make time for your Highlight.)
The Highlight hypothesis — If you set a single intention at the start of each day, you’ll be more satisfied, joyful, and effective.
STEP 2 – Laser: Beat distraction to make time for your Highlight (Protect your focus)
In laser mode, you focus on the task at hand like a laser beam illuminating a target. You are immersed in the present and in the zone.
Focus is like compound interest. The longer you focus, the more engaging and satisfying your Highlight becomes.
The best way to defeat distraction is to make it harder to react. You don’t have to rely on willpower when distractions are difficult to access.
Consider creating a distraction-free phone:
- Delete all social media apps and games.
- Delete all other infinity pools. (Apps that endlessly refresh content, such as news and streaming media.)
- Remove the email app or at least log out.
- Remove the web browser or at least log out.
Removing infinity pool apps and other distractions from your phone may be “the simplest, most powerful change you can make to reclaim your time and attention.” The additional friction of needing to log back in will give you pause and disrupt this habitual behavior. (The book has 44 laser tactics.)
The Laser hypothesis — If you create barriers around the Busy Bandwagon and the Infinity Pools, you’ll focus your attention like a laser beam.
STEP 3 – Energize: Use the body to recharge the brain (Use self-care to maintain energy)
Your brain can’t do its job if you don’t care for your body. Making yourself more energetic every day provides energy and brainpower you can devote to your Highlight.
Our modern way of life dates from the Industrial Revolution, but we still have hunter-gatherer brains and bodies. We can boost our energy levels by taking cues from how our brains and bodies evolved – through movement, the food we eat, spending more time in nature and face-to-face with friends, and finally, how we sleep. (There are 27 energize tactics in the book.)
The Energize hypothesis — Living a little more like a prehistoric human will enhance your mental and physical energy.
STEP 4 – Reflect: Adjust and improve your system (Track and build on what works)
Each day, reflect on how much time is devoted to your Highlight and how well you focused on it. Note your energy level and anything related to that. Review the tactics you used; note what worked and what didn’t. Make a list of the tactics you’ll try next.
Take notes to track your results. Fine-tune your process using the scientific method:
- Observe what is happening.
- Guess the reason(s) why things are occurring as they are.
- Experiment to verify your hypothesis.
- Analyze the outcomes to determine whether you were correct.
If you’re intentional about your decisions yet forgiving when things don’t go according to plan, you can change your life. You have to start sometime. Why not today?— From the Make Time blog
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