Highlights from Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

Cover of Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day

Highlights from this book

  • Being more productive didn’t mean I was doing the most important work; it only meant I was reacting to other people’s priorities faster.

  • Something magic happens when you start the day with one high-priority goal.

  • …change comes from resetting defaults, creating barriers, and beginning to design the way you spend your time.

  • Every day, you’ll choose a single activity to prioritize and protect in your calendar…Your Highlight might be something you don’t necessarily have to do but want to do, like playing with your kids or reading a book…Asking yourself “What’s going to be the highlight of my day?” ensures that you spend time on the things that matter to you and don’t lose the entire day reacting to other people’s priorities.

  • None of us can be perfect eaters, perfectly productive, perfectly mindful, and perfectly rested all the time. We can’t do the fifty-seven things bloggers tell us we’re supposed to do before 5 a.m. And even if we could, we shouldn’t. Perfection is a distraction—another shiny object taking your attention away from your real priorities.

  • We want you to 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?

  • 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.

  • The first strategy is all about urgency: What’s the most pressing thing I have to do today?…look for projects that are time-sensitive, important, and medium-size (in other words, they don’t take ten minutes but don’t take ten hours, either).

  • At the end of the day, which Highlight will bring me the most satisfaction?

  • Look for activities that are not urgent. Instead, consider projects you’ve been meaning to get around to but haven’t quite found the time. Maybe you have a particular skill you want to put to use, or maybe it’s a pet project that you want to develop before sharing it with the world. These projects are super vulnerable to procrastination, because although they’re important, they are not time-sensitive, and that makes them easy to postpone. Use your Highlight to break the “someday” cycle.

  • When I reflect on today, what will bring me the most joy?

  • You only waste time if you’re not intentional about how you spend it.

  • A good rule of thumb is to choose a Highlight that takes sixty to ninety minutes. If you spend less than sixty minutes, you might not have time to get in the zone, but after ninety minutes of focused attention, most people need a break.

  • It’s never too late in the day to choose (or change) your Highlight. Recently, I had a really lousy day. In the morning, I’d planned to make my Highlight editing 100 pages of the Make Time manuscript. But all day long I was randomized by everything from a plumbing problem to a pounding headache to unexpected dinner guests. In the afternoon, I realized I could change my Highlight—and my attitude. I decided to scrap my editing goal for the day and instead focus on enjoying the dinner with friends. When I made that choice, my whole day turned around. I could let go and enjoy.

  • Make writing down your Highlight a simple daily ritual. You can do it at any time, but the evening (before bed) and the morning work best for most people.

  • There are lots of great reasons to repeat your Highlight: If you didn’t get to your Highlight, it’s probably still important. Repeat for a second chance. If you started your Highlight but didn’t finish it or if your Highlight was part of a bigger project, today is the perfect day to make progress or start a personal sprint (#7). Repeat to build momentum.

  • Make a list of the big things that matter in your life. Choose the one most important thing. Consider what’s most meaningful to you, not what is most urgent. Once you’ve chosen the most important thing…choose the second, third, fourth, and fifth most important things. Rewrite the list in order of priority. Draw a circle around number one. If you want to make progress on your number one priority, you’ll need to make it your focus wheenver possible. Drawing the circle reinforces this prioritization…

  • Bundle up the small tasks and use batch processing to get them all done in one Highlight session. In other words, make a batch of small things your big thing. For example, one day this week, JZ’s Highlight will be “catch up on email” or “return phone calls”.

  • Whenever you begin a project, your brain is like a computer starting up, loading relevant information, rules, and processes into your working memory. This “boot up” takes time, and you have to redo it to a certain extent every time you pick up the project. This is why, in our design sprints, teams work on the same project for five days in a row. Information stays in people’s working memory from one day to the next…

  • [Sprints aren’t] just for teams; you can run a “personal sprint” yourself. Whether you’re painting the living room, learning to juggle, or preparing a report for a new client, you’ll do better work and make faster progress if you keep at it for consecutive days.

  • I’ve seen this effect with my writing. The first day after a long break is hard. I may not write much of anything, and I get frustrated and cranky. The second day is still slow, but I feel I’m starting to boot up. By the third day and fourth day, I’m in the zone—and I do whatever I can to keep the momentum.

  • The best way to get out of low-priority obligations is never to accept them in the first place.

  • Could you squeeze in a new project but worry about giving it the proper attention? “Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to do a great job on this.”

  • Invited to an activity or event that you know you won’t enjoy? “Thanks for the invitation, but I’m not really into softball.”

  • Our friend Kristen Brillantes uses what she calls the Sour Patch Kid method when she says no. Just like the candy, Kristen’s answers are sour at first but sweet at the end. For example: “Unfortunately, my team won’t be able to participate. But you might ask Team X; they’d be perfect for this kind of event.” The key, says Kristen, is to make sure the sweet ending is authentic, not an empty add-on…Something as simple as a “Thank you for thinking of me; this sounds really fun” goes a long way.

  • To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.

    — Mary Oliver
  • You don’t need to follow the daily news. True breaking news will find you, and the rest isn’t urgent or just doesn’t matter…we suggest reading the news weekly. Anything less frequent is likely to make you feel like you’re at sea, unmoored from human civilization. Anything more frequent and you’ll feel fogged in, able to focus only on what’s in front of you.

  • Small distractions create much larger holes in our day. We call these holes “time craters,” and they work like this: Jake posts a tweet. (90 seconds) Over the next two hours, Jake returns to Twitter four times to see how his tweet is doing. Each time, he skims the newsfeed. Twice he reads an article somebody shared. (26 minutes) Jake’s tweet gets a few retweets, which feels good, so he begins mentally composing his next tweet. (Two minutes here, three minutes there, and so on) Jake posts another tweet, and the cycle begins all over again.

  • A late night watching TV might cost you an hour of sleeping in and a whole day of low energy.

  • Fake wins get in the way of focusing on what you really want to do.

  • A 2014 study by the University of British Columbia found that when people checked their email just three times a day (instead of as often as they wanted), they reported remarkably lower stress.

  • Maybe more surprising, checking less often made the participants better at email. During the week when they checked three times a day, people answered roughly the same number of messages, but they did so 20 percent faster. Checking email less often measurably made time!

  • Instead of checking your email first thing in the morning and then getting sucked in and reacting to other people’s priorities, deal with email at the end of the day. That way, you can use your prime hours for your Highlight and other important work. You’ll probably have a little less energy at the end of the day, but that is actually a good thing when it comes to email: You’ll be less tempted to overcommit by saying yes to every incoming request and less likely to bang out a multipage manifesto when a simple reply would do.

  • To help establish a new end-of-day email routine, try putting it on your calendar. Yes, we want you to literally add “email time” to your calendar.

  • A lot of email stress comes from thinking you need to constantly check and immediately respond to every new message. But you’re better off treating email like old-fashioned paper letters—you know, the kind with envelopes and stamps. Snail mail gets delivered only once a day. Most letters sit on your desk for a while before you do anything about them. And for 99 percent of communications, that works just fine. Try slowing down and seeing your email as what it really is: just a fancy, dressed-up, high-tech version of regular old mail.

  • Above all, taking control of your inbox requires a mental shift from “as fast as possible” to “as slow as you can get away with.” Respond slowly to emails, chats, texts, and other messages. Let hours, days, and sometimes weeks go by before you get back to people. This may sound like a jerk move. It’s not…They have questions about their priorities—not yours—when it’s convenient for them—not you. Every time you check your e mail or another message service, you’re basically saying, “Does any random person need my time right now?” And if you respond right away, you’re sending another signal both to them and to yourself: “I’ll stop whatever I’m doing to put other people’s priorities ahead of mine no matter who they are or what they want.”

  • As Jake with his fiction-writing projects, if you’re constantly exposed to other people’s ideas, it can be tough to think up your own.

  • Instead of reacting to every twitch, write your questions on a piece of paper (How much do wool socks cost on Amazon? Any Facebook updates?) Then you can stay in Laser mode, secure in the knowledge that those pressing topics have been captured for future research.

  • You know the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest…the antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.

    — Brother David Steindl-Rast
  • Daily habits are easier to keep than sometimes habits.

  • To put it in technical terms, walking is really, really darned good for you. Reports from Harvard and the Mayo Clinic (among others) show that walking helps you lose weight, avoid heart disease, reduce the risk of cancer, lower blood pressure, strengthen bones, and improve your mood through the release of painkilling endorphins.

  • When cortisol is high, caffeine doesn’t do much for you (except for temporarily relieving your caffeine addiction symptoms). For most folks, cortisol is highest between 8am and 8am, so for ideal morning energy, experiment with having that first cup of coffee at 9:30am.

  • The tricky thing about caffeine is that if you wait to drink it until you get tired, it’s too late: The adenosine has already hooked up with your brain, and it’s hard to shake the lethargy…Instead, think about when your energy regularly dips—for most of us, it’s after lunch—and have coffee thirty minutes beforehand.

  • To keep a steady energy level throughout the day, try replacing high doses of caffeine (such as a giant cup of brewed coffee) with more freuent low doses. Green tea is a great option.

  • Studies show that meditation increases working memory and the ability to maintain focus.

  • I 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.

  • Sleeping late on weekends is basically like giving yourself jet lag: it confuses your internal clock and makes it even harder to bounce back from the original deficiti.

  • The research on light exercise and the brain is pretty amazing. For example, a 2016 study at Radboud University in the Netherlands found that exercise boosted short-term memory, even when the information being recalled was learned hours before the participants exercised.

  • Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

    — Howard Thurman
  • Eventually, a funny thing happened. The more I made time for writing, the more I wanted to write. Finally, I decided to try doing it as a full-time job. This major shift in my priorities didn’t happen overnight. It was like a snowball rolling downhill, growing with every revolution. It took seven years from starting to make time for writing in the evenings back in 2010 to becoming a full-time writer in 2017.

  • For much of our own careers, we were too distracted, scrambled, busy, and exhausted to make time for the things we cared most about. First, Make Time helped us find control. Over time, it helped us start those classic “someday” projects we had been putting off for years and could have continued putting off indefinitely. When you create a practice of setting your own most important priority, daily life changes. Perhaps you’ll find your inner compass perfectly aligned with your current work, in which case you’ll now be that much more capable of identifying and acting on the most important opportunities. Make Time could provide a long-term sustained boost to your career. Your hobbies and side projects, strengthened with Make Time, could be a perfect complement. But it is also possible that those side projects might gradually take on a life of their own. A new and unexpected path may emerge. And you may find yourself ready to follow that path and see where it goes.