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⏱ Make Time — Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

Make Time - John Knapp

How to focus on what matters every dayGoodreads Link

I liked the readable style of the book and the way you can flip through the book and dive into different techniques or ideas for daily work. It didn’t offer a huge catalog of techniques, but there were enough good things in here that I recommend others check it out for themselves.

I heard about this book in an Ali Abdaal Skillshare class and then I also read an excerpted chapter online. Those two things convinced me that the book merited a deeper read.


The idea in this book is to be intentional about focus and what tasks you put your energy into.

Define your own criteria to pick tasks that bring you satisfaction and achievement.

And try various productivity techniques to find the ways you get into the focus or “Laser mode” and make progress on what matters to you.

Who should read / watch / listen to it

I think this is specifically for people who feel like their time is controlled by others. Through some deliberate actions you can make sure you feel satisfied at the end of each day with what you have gotten done.

How it changed me

This book gave me many techniques for making progress on the things that matter to me. I have enjoyed writing my daily highlight, which I review at the end of each day to see how everything went.

My reviews sometimes show that I got distracted or perhaps that I picked the wrong highlight. Over time I have gotten better at steering myself every day to move the needle on projects I care about.

💬 Top 3 Quotes

1) Be intentional about focus

Make Time is a framework for choosing what you want to focus on, building the energy to do it, and breaking the default cycle so that you can start being more intentional about the way you live your life. Even if you don’t completely control your own schedule—and few of us do—you absolutely can control your attention.

2) Defining the “Highlight”

Of course, your Highlight isn’t the only thing you’ll do each day. But it will be your priority. 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. When you choose a Highlight, you put yourself in a positive, proactive frame of mind.

3) The Focusing Power of Paper

And paper opens up possibilities, because whereas Word is designed for lines of text and PowerPoint is designed for graphs and bullet points, on paper, you can do anything at all. Next time you’re struggling to get into Laser mode, put away your computer or tablet and pick up a pen.

✏️ Highlights + Notes

Infinity Pools

These are the time sucks like Facebook, Twitter, or other engrossing mediums that will pull us in for long periods.

Infinity pools are the enemy of productivity! They can be great for relaxing or learning, but they are dangerous when you are trying to focus.

What’s a Highlight?

When you choose one priority for the day, you pick something that matters to you so that your time isn’t spend doing work other people tell you to do. Take a “proactive frame of mind.”

It took me time to calibrate the expectation for my highlight. At first, I thought it should be a moonshot. But after a few days of failing to accomplish my highlight, I dialed it back and chose the priority that, if I did it, would make me feel satisfied with my day.

Productivity Tactics like a Cookbook

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.

Criteria for daily task selection

To pick the things you work on, use these criteria to judge them Urgency – what needs to be done immediately? Or if not immediately, what has the soonest deadline? Satisfaction – what activity will make you feel the most accomplished? Joy – which task will be the most fun, either during the process or after completion?

Daily Highlight duration

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.

Batch things

Good advice I need to hear many times over and over. Take your small tasks, particularly similar ones, and batch process them to knock them all out in one session. E.g. – return all phone calls, or catch up on emails.

Urgency Satisfaction and Joy

Use these criteria to select what work you can do that feels important. It helps be focused and also to feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment at the end of the day

Most important work first

Limit yourself to one project on the “front burner.” Write that down on your daily notebook or paper and underline it. Keep moving this forward. The enemy of progress is spreading yourself too thin to accomplish anything that moves your projects forward.

Daily Limits to activities

One big project, one small project, and a short list of smaller tasks can easily fill a day. Use a burner list to capture your tasks, cross them off as you do them, and replace the list every few days.

Schedule on a blank piece of paper

Take from Cal Newport in Deep Work, instead of using a calendar or journal, write your daily schedule on a blank piece of paper and replan throughout the day as things change. This flexibility can help you find the routine that works best for you – when do you focus best or tackle the hardest problems etc.

Remove email from your phone

We check email on our phones to catch up, but the result is usually just a reminder that we’re falling behind. Remove email from your phone and you’ll remove a lot of stress along with it.

Disable your web browser!

Find whatever technique works for you to do this (just turn off wifi?)

The first portable clock

In 1714, the British government offered a £20,000 prize (that’s $5 million in 2018 money) to anyone who could invent a portable clock that could be used aboard ships. It took nearly fifty years and dozens of prototypes until finally, in 1761, John Harrison created the first “chronometer.” It was a technological marvel that changed the world even though it was only barely portable—the clock had to be mounted in a special cabinet and stowed below decks for its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean aboard the HMS Deptford.

Send-Only Email

The idea is that if you’re in focus mode, you don’t need more inputs or distractions. There are tools out there, such as the iPhone app Compose, that only allow you to write and send an email. No outside messages will interrupt your flow.

You can find our latest app recommendations on

Break up your Daily Highlight

If your task feels daunting, break it into smaller bits, with a first step that you can start immediately and get a quick win.

Use Paper to find Focus

Software tries to guide you through steps to complete your writing or whatever. Paper is literally a blank page with no lines or other formatting restrictions.

And paper opens up possibilities, because whereas Word is designed for lines of text and PowerPoint is designed for graphs and bullet points, on paper, you can do anything at all. Next time you’re struggling to get into Laser mode, put away your computer or tablet and pick up a pen.

Technique for resisting the browser

Acknowledge your twitch to look something up and write the question down on a piece of paper.

Another technique I learned in a YouTube video by BestDressed is to not allow yourself to browse the internet with your phone at your desk. When you have to stand up or move somewhere to do the action is adds just enough extra friction to that activity.

Get out of Stucksville

When you get stuck don’t give up on your activity. The worst thing to do is check your phone or go send an email. Stay stuck and try switching to paper, or going for a walk. When you keep the project as your main focus you can get through the obstacle and make progress.

Exercise & the Brain

Just going for a light walk can boost psychological well being and even improve your short term memory.

A 2017 University of Connecticut study found that light physical activity (such as taking a walk) boosted psychological well-being, whereas vigorous activity had no positive or negative effect.

❇️ More Resources

Choose a Highlight to Make Time Every Day (excerpt) – Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

The article that convinced me to read this book talks about choosing your highlight for the day.

🎙 Podcast Interviews

Make Time on ChooseFI Podcast (Feb 2020)

↪ Bibliography

I always try to learn find a gem or two in the bibliography of books. This one offered book suggestions, which was right up my alley.
The most interesting books in the bibliography:

The Power of Moments – Chip and Dan Heath

The Heath brothers explain why moments have an outsize influence on our lives, then show how you can engineer great moments in yours. Read this book and tackle your Highlights with renewed vigor.

The Living – Annie Dillard

This novel (set near where [the author] grew up, in northwestern Washington State) gave me an appreciation for life and moments that has stuck with me for decades.