Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky: Summary and Lessons

make time book

“Believe in your Highlight: it is worth prioritizing over random disruption.”

Rating: 8/10

Related: Free to Focus, The 4-Hour Workweek, Eat That Frog

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Make Time Short Summary

Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky is a framework designed to help you create more time in your day for the things you care about. It consists of 4 steps, repeated every day: Highlight, Laser, Energize, and Reflect. The book also includes 87 different tactics to custom tailor the framework for you.

Executive Summary

Make Time is a framework designed to help you actually create more time in your day for the things you care about.

Make Time is 4 steps, repeated every day:

  1. Highlight. Choose a single activity to prioritize and protect in your calendar
  2. Laster. Specific tactics to stay laser-focused on your highlight
  3. Energize. How to charge your battery with exercise, food, sleep, quiet, and face-to-face time
  4. Reflect. How to adjust and improve your system
make time framework

To choose your daily Highlight, ask: “What do I want to be the highlight of my day?”

How to pick your Highlight:

  1. Urgency.What’s the most pressing thing I have to do today?”
  2. Satisfaction. “Which Highlight will bring me the most satisfaction?”
  3. Joy. “When I reflect on today, what will bring me the most joy?”

The key to getting into Laser mode and focusing on your Highlight is to create barriers to distraction.

When you don’t take care of your body, your brain can’t do its job.

To increase your energy, all you need to do is travel back in time.

Fine-tune your days with the Scientific Method:

  1. Observe
  2. Guess
  3. Experiment
  4. Measure

Step 1: Highlight

To choose your daily Highlight, ask: “What do I want to be the highlight of my day?”

Your Highlight is not the only thing you’ll do each day.

But choosing a Highlight gives you a chance to be proactive about how you spend your time instead of letting technology, office defaults, and other people set your agenda.

You can design your time by choosing where you direct your attention. And your daily Highlight is the target of that attention.

3 Ways to pick your Highlight:

  1. Urgency.What’s the most pressing thing I have to do today?” Find urgent Highlights on your to-do list, email, or calendar.
  2. Satisfaction. “Which Highlight will bring me the most satisfaction?” Focus on what you want to get done
  3. Joy. “When I reflect on today, what will bring me the most joy?” Not every hour has to be optimized for maximum efficiency

How to choose a Highlight:

  • Trust your gut to decide whether an urgent, joyful, or satisfying Highlight is best for today
  • Highlights should take 60-90 minutes
  • It’s never too late in the day to choose (or change) your Highlight

Highlight Tactics: Choose Your Highlight

1. Write It Down

  • Write your highlight on the evening or morning
  • Record it on an app, calendar, notebook, or sticky notes
  • Stick it to your laptop, phone, fridge, or desk to create a persistent reminder

2. Groundhog It (or, “Do Yesterday Again”)

  • Do yesterday again
  • Repeat to build momentum and create a habit

3. Stack Rank Your Life

  1. Write the 3-10 big things that matter in your life
  2. Choose the one most important thing
  3. Now choose 2-5
  4. Rewrite the list in order of priority
  5. Draw a circle around number one
  6. Use this list to help you choose Highlights

4. Batch the Little Stuff

  • Use batch processing to get small tasks done in one Highlight session

5. The Might-Do List

  • Projects sit on this list until you decide to make them your Highlight and schedule them on your calendar

6. The Burner List

  1. Divide a sheet of paper into two columns. Left is the front burner and right the back burner
  2. Write your most important project (just one) in the top left-hand corner. List the to-dos for that project
  3. Leave the rest of that column empty
  4. Write your second most important project at the top of the right-hand column. List the related to-dos
  5. Make a kitchen sink. About halfway down the right-hand column, list any miscellaneous tasks that you need to do but that don’t fit with project 1 or project 2

7. Run a Personal Sprint

  • Choose the same Highlight for several days in a row
  • Break it up into steps for each day if needed

Highlight Tactics: Make Time for Your Highlight

8. Schedule Your Highlight

  • Think about how much time you need and when you want to do your Highlight
  • Schedule your Highlight on the calendar

9. Block Your Calendar

  • Use daily “do not schedule” blocks to make room for your Highlight
  • Block an hour or two each day and adjust from there
  • When people try to double-book you, say: “I’ve already got plans”

10. Bulldoze Your Calendar

  • Push events around
  • Compress meetings or move them all to the same day

11. Flake It Till You Make It

  • Ask yourself what you can cancel
  • There’s a big middle ground between blindly serving your calendar and being an unreliable flake

12. Just Say No

  • No time: “Sorry, I’m really busy with some big projects, and I just don’t have time for anything new”
  • Can’t give proper attention: “Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to do a great job on this”
  • Something you don’t enjoy: “Thanks for the invitation, but I’m not really into softball”

13. Design Your Day

  • Write your schedule on a piece of blank paper,
  • Replan throughout the day as things change and evolve

14. Become a Morning Person

  • Start with light, coffee, and something to do
  • Design the nights before

15. Nighttime Is Highlight Time

  • Recharge first
  • Go offline
  • Don’t forget to wind down

16. Quit When You’re Done

  • Create your own finish line either
  • Use time as a cutoff or your Highlight

Step 2: Laser

When you’re in Laser mode, your attention is focused on the present like a laser beam shining on a target. You’re in the flow, fully engaged, and immersed in the moment.

The key to getting into Laser mode and focusing on your Highlight is to create barriers to distraction.

The best way to defeat distraction is to make it harder to react.

When distraction is hard to access, you don’t have to worry about willpower.

Laser Tactics: Be the Boss of Your Phone

17. Try a Distraction-Free Phone

  • Delete email and Infinity Pool apps (social media, news, games, streaming)
  • Remove the Web browser

18. Log Out

  • When you’re done using a website or app, log out
  • Don’t check the “Remember me on this device” box

19. Nix Notifications

  • Turn off almost all notifications. Go into your phone’s settings, find the list of notifications, and turn them off one by one
  • Leave only the really critical and useful ones enabled, such as calendar reminders and text messages
  • Leave just one way for people to interrupt you with time-sensitive things (text messages, for example)

20. Clear Your Homescreen

  • Make your home screen blank by moving all the icons to the next screen over
  • Have only one row of apps on each screen

21. Wear a Wristwatch

  • A wristwatch replaces the need to check your phone whenever you want to know the time

22. Leave Devices Behind

  • Great when you want to make time for an “offline” Highlight
  • When you get home, put your phone in a drawer, shelf, or your bag

Laser Tactics: Stay Out of Infinity Pools

23. Skip the Morning Check-In

  • Don’t reach for your phone first thing in the morning

24. Block Distraction Kryptonite

  • The one especially powerful Infinity Pool you just can’t resist
  • If it requires a password, log out. If it’s a website, block it
  • Remove the app, account, or browser from your smartphone

25. Ignore the News

  • Read the news weekly

26. Put Your Toys Away

  • Sign out of apps, close extra tabs, and turn off email and chat at the end of each day
  • Hide the bookmarks bar
  • Make your browser homepage something unobtrusive, like a clock

27. Fly Without Wi-Fi

  • It’s the perfect opportunity to read, write, or think

28. Put a Timer on the Internet

  • Turn the Internet off
  • Switch off the Wi-Fi on your laptop and put your phone in airplane mode
  • Lock yourself out by temporarily blocking the Internet

29. Cancel the Internet

  • You can still get online by using your phone as a hotspot
  • Ask a friend to change your password and keep it secret for 24 hours

30. Watch Out for Time Craters

  • Small distractions that create much larger holes in your day
  • Figure out your time craters

31. Trade Fake Wins for Real Wins

  • Remind yourself: Your Highlight is the real win

32. Turn Distractions into Tools

  1. Identify why you use a particular app
  2. Think about how much time you want to spend on that activity
  3. Consider whether this app is the best way to accomplish it
  4. Finally, consider when and how you’d like to use that app to achieve your goal

33. Become a Fair-Weather Fan

  • Watch games only on special occasions, like when your team is in the playoffs
  • Stop reading the news when they’re losing

Laser Tactics: Slow Your Inbox

34. Deal with Email at the End of the Day

  • Use your prime hours for your Highlight and other important work

35. Schedule Email Time

  • Put email time on your calendar

36. Empty Your Inbox Once a Week

  • Only respond to messages that really require a faster response
  • For other urgent issues, ask friends and family to contact you via text or phone

37. Pretend Messages Are Letters

  • See email as what it really is: just a fancy, dressed-up, high-tech version of regular old mail

38. Be Slow to Respond Above

  • Let hours, days, and sometimes weeks go by before you get back to people
  • Answer messages in batch
  • For truly urgent and important things, people will track you down in person or on the phone

39. Reset Expectations

  • Manage the expectations of your colleagues and others
  • Say: “I’m slow to respond because I need to prioritize some important projects, but if your message is urgent, send me a text.”

40. Set Up Send-Only Email

  1. Create an email account to be used for outgoing email only
  2. Set up email forwarding so that any replies to the new account will instantly go to your normal account
  3. Add the new account to your phone instead of your regular account

41. Vacation Off the Grid

  • Set an “out of office” email response
  • Example: “I’m on vacation this week, off the grid without access to email, but I’ll reply to your message when I return.”

42. Lock Yourself Out

  • Schedule times to lock yourself out of email with Freedom

Laser Tactics: Make TV a “Sometimes Treat”

43. Don’t Watch the News

  • Instead, make a habit of reading the news once per day/week

44. Put Your TV in the Corner

  • Rearrange the furniture so that looking at the television is a bit awkward and inconvenient

45. Ditch Your TV for a Projector

  • You get a big cinemalike display but it’s also a pain in the ass to set up every time
  • This hassle is a good thing because it switches the default to off

46. Go à la Carte Instead of All-You-Can-Eat

  • Cancel streaming subscriptions and instead rent or buy movies and episodes one at a time

47. If You Love Something, Set It Free

  • Try going cold turkey for a month
  • Unplug the TV, put it in the closet, or take it to a storage locker and hide the key

Laser Tactics: Find Flow

48. Shut the Door

If you don’t have a room with a door, look for one you can camp out in for a few hours

If you can’t find one, put on headphones—even if you don’t actually put on any music

49. Invent a Deadline

  • Create a deadline that will help you make time for something you want to do
  • Examples: register for a 5K run or invite your friends over for a homemade pasta dinner before you’ve learned how to make it

50. Explode Your Highlight

  • Break your Highlight into a list of small, easy-to-do items
  • Each item should include a verb, be specific, small and easy

51. Play a Laser Sound Track

  • Use music as your cue for Laser mode (more about focus music)
  • Try playing the same song or album every time you start your Highlight
  • Or choose a specific song or album for each type of Highlight

52. Set a Visible Timer

53. Avoid the Lure of Fancy Tools

  • Choosing the perfect tool is usually a distraction
  • Adopt simple tools that are readily available

54. Start on Paper

  • Paper improves focus because you can’t waste time picking the perfect font instead of working on your Highlight
  • And paper opens up possibilities because you can do anything at all

Laser Tactics: Stay in the Zone

55. Make a “Random Question” List

  • 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

56. Notice One Breath

  • Even a pause that lasts only one breath can bring your attention back to where you want it—on your Highlight

57. Be Bored

  • Boredom gives your mind a chance to wander, and wandering often leads you to interesting places
  • The next time you are feeling understimulated for a few minutes, just sit there

58. Be Stuck

  • Just be stuck
  • Stare at the blank screen, or switch to paper, or walk around, but keep your focus on the project at hand

59. Take a Day Off

  • Take real breaks throughout the day
  • Switch to a joyful Highlight that’ll help you recharge

60. Go All In

  • The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest but wholeheartedness
  • Seek out moments when you can be passionate about your efforts

Step 3: Energize

If you can increase your energy every day, you’ll turn moments that might otherwise be lost to mental and physical fatigue into usable time for your Highlights.

When you don’t take care of your body, your brain can’t do its job.

To increase your energy, all you need to do is travel back in time.

Going back to basics represents a big opportunity. Because life today is so out of sync with our hunter-gatherer bodies, there’s a huge margin for improvement. 

How to fuel our caveman brains and bodies:

  1. Keep It Moving
  2. Eat Real Food
  3. Optimize Caffeine
  4. Go Off the Grid
  5. Make It Personal
  6. Sleep in a Cave

Energize Tactics: Keep It Moving

61. Exercise Every Day (but Don’t Be a Hero)

  • The most important benefits of exercise can be attained in just 20 minutes
  • Give yourself partial credit: if you can’t manage 20 minutes every day, get out there for ten 
  • Go small and go every day—or as close to every day as possible

62. Pound the Pavement

  • Try substituting walking for your usual mode of transportation
  • If the distance is too far, maybe you can walk part of the way

63. Inconvenience Yourself

  • Cook dinner
  • Take the stairs
  • Use a suitcase without wheels

64. Squeeze in a Super Short Workout

  • You can finish a proper workout in as little as 5 or 10 minutes
  • Examples: the 7 Minute Workout or the 3×3 workout
  • 3×3 Workout: 3x times a week, complete the following 3 steps: as many push-ups as possible in one set (rest 1 min); as many squats as possible in one set (rest 1 min); as many lifts (pull-ups, curls, whatever) as possible in one set (rest 1 min)

Energize Tactics: Eat Real Food

65. Eat Like a Hunter-Gatherer

  • From “In Defense of Food” by Michael Polan: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
  • Real food: non-processed ingredients such as plants, nuts, fish, and meat
  • Quick and easy snack: almonds, walnuts, fruit, and peanut butter

66. Central Park Your Plate

  • Put the salad on your plate first and then add everything else around it

67. Stay Hungry

  • Try Intermittent fasting
  • How to fit fasting into normal life: eat an early dinner, then skip breakfast and have a big lunch as your next meal

68. Snack Like a Toddler

  • Choosing high-quality snacks
  • Snack when your body and brain need it

69. Go on the Dark Chocolate Plan

  • Allow yourself to have dessert as long as it’s dark chocolate

Energize Tactics: Optimize Caffeine

70. Wake Up Before You Caffeinate

  • In the morning, your body naturally produces lots of cortisol, a hormone that helps you wake up
  • When cortisol is high, caffeine doesn’t do much for you
  • For ideal morning energy, experiment with having your first cup of coffee at 9:30 a.m

71. Caffeinate Before You Crash

  • Have coffee 30 minutes the period when your energy regularly dips

72. Take a Caffeine Nap

  • Wait till you get tired, drink some caffeine, then immediately take a 15-minute nap

73. Maintain Altitude with Green Tea

  • Replace high doses of caffeine (such as a giant cup of brewed coffee) with more frequent low doses, such as green tea

74. Turbo Your Highlight

  • Time your caffeine intake so that you’re wired right when you start your Highlight

75. Learn Your Last Call

  • The half-life of caffeine is five to six hours
  • Experiment with cutting yourself off earlier and earlier and note if and when it becomes easier to fall asleep

76. Disconnect Sugar

  • Separate the caffeine from the sweets of soft drinks

Energize Tactics: Go Off the Grid

77. Get Woodsy

  • Exposure to nature can make you measurably calmer and sharper
  • Spend a few minutes in a park and take note of what it does for your mental energy
  • If you can’t get to the park, step outside for a breath of fresh air

78. Trick Yourself into Meditating

  • Meditation is like exercise for your brain
  • To get started, use a guided meditation app
  • Try guided meditation while riding the bus, lying down, walking, running, or even eating

79. Leave Your Headphones at Home

  • If you put on headphones every time you work, walk, exercise, or commute, your brain never gets any quiet
  • An occasional headphone vacation for a day or an hour is an easy way to put some quiet in your day and give your brain a moment to recharge

80. Take Real Breaks

  • Take breaks without screens
  • Gaze out the window (it’s good for your eyes)
  • Go for a walk (it’s good for your mind and body)
  • Grab a snack (it’s good for your energy if you’re hungry)
  • Talk to someone (it’s usually good for your mood unless you talk to a jerk)

Energize Tactics: Make It Personal

81. Spend Time with Your Tribe

  • Spend time having real conversations (with your voice)
  • Go out of your way to have a real conversation with energy-giving people
  • Spending time with interesting, high-energy people is one of the best—and most enjoyable—ways to recharge your battery

82. Eat Without Screens

  • You’re less likely to mindlessly shovel unhealthy food in your mouth
  • More likely to have an energizing face-to-face conversation with another human
  • You’re creating space in your day to give your brain a rest from its constant busyness

Energize Tactics: Sleep in a Cave

83. Make Your Bedroom a Bed Room

  • Remove all electronic devices to transform your bedroom into a true sanctuary for sleep
  • You can read in bed, but paper books or magazines are best
  • A Kindle is okay if you turn off the bright white backlight

84. Fake the Sunset

  • Starting when you eat dinner or a few hours before your ideal bedtime, turn down the lights in your home. Instead, use dim table or side lamps
  • Turn on your phone, computer, or TV’s “night mode”
  • Use a simple sleep mask over your eyes
  • Use an automatic “dawn simulator” alarm clock (like this)

85. Sneak a Nap

  • Lots of studies show that napping improves alertness and cognitive performance in the afternoon

86. Don’t Jet-Lag Yourself

  • Sleeping late on weekends is basically like giving yourself jet lag
  • Resist the temptation to oversleep and try to stick as closely as possible to your regular schedule
  • Keep that alarm set to the same time every day whether it’s a weekday, weekend, or holiday

87. Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

  • If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t be a great caretaker
  • Find a way to take little breaks and maintain your sanity

Step 4: Reflect

Fine-tune your days with the Scientific Method:

  1. Observe what’s going on
  2. Guess why things are happening the way they are
  3. Experiment to test your hypothesis
  4. Measure the results and decide whether you were right

You are a sample size of one, and your results are the only results that really matter. This kind of everyday science is what “Reflect” is all about.

Take notes to track your results (template here).

Every day, reflect on whether you made time for your Highlight and how well you were able to focus on it. You’ll note how much energy you had. You’ll review the tactics you used, jot down some observations on what worked and what didn’t, and make a plan for which tactics you’ll try tomorrow.

If you fail at first, don’t be hard on yourself. Give it time and use the notes to track and tweak your approach.

“Quick Start” Guide to Make Time

If you’re not sure where to begin, try this recipe:

  1. Highlight: Schedule Your Highlight (#8). A simple way to be proactive, give form to your day and break the reaction cycle
  2. Laser: Block Distraction Kryptonite (#24). Free yourself from one Infinity Pool, and see how your attention changes
  3. Energize: Pound the Pavement (#62). A few minutes of walking each day provides a boost for the body and quiet for the mind
  4. Reflect every evening for three days. 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