Make Time - Book Summary & Highlights

Make Time - How to Focus on What Matters Every Day

By Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

Rating: 9/10

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Distractions Kill Productivity

Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky coined the term "Infinity Pools".  These are the applications, television programs and other sources of entertainment that provide an endless amount of content.  Things like social media and the 24-hour news networks.  It's not enough to get you using their platforms; application developers aim to suck you in and keep you using them for as long as possible.

This is where the rabbit hole begins.  Maybe you get distracted by a phone notification or a headline on the news.  The distraction itself kills your productivity, as it pulls you out of your current state of flow, and often results in an endless amount of time spent navigating through the infinity pools.

The good news is that you have control over all of this!  You can control where you focus your attention and how you react to distractions.  Instead of reacting in a way that kills productivity, you can reprogram yourself to react in a way that adds hours to your day.

How to Make Time

The idea of making time refers to putting a process in place where you can direct your focus and control your attention.  This is broken into four area; highlight, laser, energy and reflect.  Since what works from some may not work for others, the authors have provided many different options for each of these topics.  We will review some of those here, and you can find a complete list in the book's table of contents.

Before getting too far ahead, it is important to keep in mind that the end goal of this process is not perfection.  Taking small steps on a routine basis will lead to good habits that will result in years of free time added to your life.

Highlight

Without direction it is impossible to focus.  We need to tell our brain where we want it to focus. This is what highlight is all about.  Each morning, review your day and choose one item that will be the highlight of the day.  Write it somewhere so you don't forget it and keep coming back to it throughout the day.

This doesn't mean the highlight is the only thing you work on during the day.  You have other tasks that must get done, and things pop up throughout the day that require your attention and focus.  The point of having a highlight is to keep coming back to that one item you set out to accomplish; to keep redirecting your focus as needed.

How to Choose a Highlight

Your highlight doesn't need to be the most important item on your to-do list. Furthermore, the way you choose your highlight may vary from day to day.  To help you decide on a highlight, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What needs to get done? (urgency)
  2. What do I want to get done? (satisfaction)
  3. What do I like to do? (joy)

Try to keep highlights to something that can be accomplished in 60-90 minutes.  Anything less than that and there won't be enough time to get in the zone and accomplish the task.  Anything more and your focus will start to dwindle.

Over time, choosing your highlight makes focusing on your priority a habit.  It allows you to spend your time and energy on what matters, and prevents you from reacting to the various distractions thrown your way.

How to Make Time for Your Highlight

One of the easiest ways to make time for your highlight is to block off time on your calendar.  If your highlight is related to work, block an hour of time as "Do Not Schedule".  Schedule a re-occurring meeting to keep the time the same every day and to reinforce the habit.  The same can be done for a personal highlight.  Put it on your personal calendar so you don't forget it and others can't double-book you.

That last part is important.  You need to take your highlight seriously.  You cannot let people double-book you.  Sure, there may be times where that is out of your control, but make those the exception, not the rule.

Another tactic is one simple word: No.  We tend to want to please other people.  This makes it difficult for us to say no.  By taking on too much, our own priorities are pushed aside.  When saying no, be nice and be honest.  For example, "Unfortunately, I won't be able to assist you on Project X.  However, try reaching out to Person Y, they may be able to provide additional insight."

The most effective tactic I found for making time was to become a morning person.  I hated the idea at first as I've always been a night owl.  Waking up early, a couple hours before my wife and kids get up, has given me 100% distraction-free time to start my day and work on my highlight.  I'm currently sipping my morning coffee with the dog sleeping on the floor next to me, and the rest of the family sound asleep, typing this summary.  It's the only time of the day there is absolute silence.

Laser

As discussed, our human brains have not been able to evolve as fast as technology.  Using this to their advantage, companies spend millions of dollars researching the best ways to keep you using their products for as long as possible.

According to Broadband Search, in 2019, the average person spent 144 minutes per day on social networks.  That number increased over an hour a day (62%) since 2012!  According to a Nielsen report, US adults watched television an average of five hours and four minutes.  Between social media and tv, seven hours and twenty-eight minutes of our day is consumed.  That is roughly one third of our lives.  Assuming eight hours of sleep and another eight hours of work, our entire day is fully consumed with these tasks alone.

The good news is that once we are aware of how much time these infinity pools drain from our day, and the cues that distract us to them, we can change our habits.  We can make it harder to react to the distractions when the appear.

How to Get Laser Focus

One tactic in the book stood out to me amongst the others.  So much so, that I wrote an entire article on how implementing it added four hours to my day!  A distraction-free phone eliminates the cues that create the distractions in the first place.

The idea is simple.  Go through your phone and delete all the applications that pull you into those infinity pools.  Remove all the games, social media and news applications.  For any application you keep on your phone, go into the notification settings and turn all notifications off.  You can even go so far as to remove email and web browsing if that is where you spend most of your time.  Dumb down your smart phone!

Now, when you do reach for your phone, you end up staring at a blank homepage with nothing for you to interact with.  No infinity pools to suck the life out of you.  The only thing you can do is put the phone back down.  (You will grab your phone and do this routine countless times the first day.  After a couple days you break the habit and realize you don't need the phone attached to your hip at all times.)

Another tactic to stop you from grabbing your phone every five seconds is simply to wear a watch.  How many times do you grab your phone just to check the time (usually right after putting the phone down)?  Wearing a watch eliminates the temptation to fall into an infinity pool when you unlock your phone just to see what time it is.

The next tactic may be just as difficult as slowing down social media; reducing television consumption is another way to add hours back to each day.  Especially if you are pulled into the twenty-four hour news cycles which are scientifically programmed to keep you watching longer.

Another tip that resonated with me was "be slow to respond".  How often do we jump on an email the second it lands in our inbox?  By nature, we want to please others.  Therefore, we go out of our way to respond to people as soon as possible.

But what about YOUR priorities?  By responding too quickly to every email, the message you are sending the other person (and yourself) is that their priorities are higher than you priorities.  Sure, there will be times where that is the case, like an urgent email from your boss.  But reflect back on your day to see how many of those emails interrupted something you were working on; that you could have ignored until you finished the task at hand.

Energize

Going back to our ancient ancestors, we evolved to be hunter-gatherers.  We evolved having both our bodies and our brains in constant motion, looking for the next meal and how to survive.  Today, we find ourselves locked in a cubicle and tapping our phones all day long.  This sedentary lifestyle  drains the energy from our internal batteries.  And when you are tired, you are more likely to be distracted.

If you want to energize your mind, you need to take care of your body.  Both our bodies and our brains are at peak performance when we are in motion.

How to Energize our Bodies and Brains

The first two tactics are not difficult to guess.  Daily exercising and eating healthy have countless benefits for our overall health and well-being.  Just a ten minute walk a day can provide you that mental boost you need to keep focused.

The book also goes into detail on the role of caffeine in keeping us energized.  It was interesting to learn about the chemical reactions (adenosine) that take place when you get tired and when caffeine is introduced.  Science had never been my strong suit so I won't go over those details.  However, it turns out that if you wait to have coffee until you are tired, it's already too late.  You want to caffeinate yourself before you get that drowsy feeling.

Sleep also plays a pivotal role in our overall health.  By removing the television from our bedroom and keeping our phones in other rooms (or at least out of arm's length), we eliminate the distractions that keep us up at night.

You also don't want to give yourself jet-lag.  By sleeping in on the weekends, your internal clock gets confused, just as if you crossed time zones.  Try to get up on the weekends at the same time you get up during the week.

Reflect

The final area of how to make time is to reflect.  You can learn to fine tune your days by measuring them.  The easiest way I've found to accomplish this is through a daily journal.

The journal does not need to be overly complex, or take a long time to complete.  I personally have my daily tracker in Notion and will provide a link to future articles on this when they are available.  However, you can use pen and paper just as easily as the computer.

Instructions for a Simple Daily Journal

  1. In the morning, decide what your highlight will be and write it down
  2. At the end of the day, reflect on the progress you made towards that highlight.  Track:
  3. If you made time for your highlight.
  4. Your level of focus for the day.
  5. Your energy level for the day.
  6. If you are experimenting with different tactics, which did you try and did it work?
  7. What new tactic do you want to try (or retry the same tactic) tomorrow?

It's that easy.  Documenting this on a daily basis gives you a way to measure your progress over time, and keeps you focused on accomplishing your daily highlight.

I've adopted a daily tracking routine that captures my daily highlight, and I make it a point to write down one thing I'm grateful for each day to get my mindset on the right track.  At the end of the day, I reflect about my highlight and my other accomplishments for the day and list out my "wins".  I rate myself on the amount of work, including my highlight, that I was able to accomplish on schedule, and if my focus was where it should have been.  Finally, I think of one thing I can improve upon.

I would also suggest a weekly reflection where you go back through your daily notes to determine your noteworthy highlights of the week, think about any lows or struggles you faced, as well as what you learned that week.  You will start to spot trends and/or outliers on your energy levels and focus.  As this becomes a daily habit, these insights can help you to further sharpen these skills, and direct your energy where it matters most.

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