Book Notes: Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

Jan 12, 2019 · Books, Life

These are my notes to the book Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. The book consists of many individual tactics that can be used to create time for what is important. Below is an explanation of the general framework and the approaches I found most useful.


Make Time is a framework for choosing what you want to focus on, building the energy to do it, and breaking down the default cycle so that you can start being more intentional about the way you live your life.

The book focuses on three hypotheses:

  • The Highlight Hypothesis
    If you set a single intention at the start of each day, we predict you’ll be more satisfied, joyful and effective.
  • The Laser Hypothesis
    If you create barriers around the Busy Bandwagon and the Infinity Pools, we predict you’ll focus your attention like a laser beam.
  • The Energize Hypothesis
    If you live a little more like a prehistoric human, we predict you’ll enhance your mental and physical energy.

Even if you don‘t completely control your own schedule—and few of us do—you absolutely can control your attention.

It isn‘t about getting time. It‘s about making time for what matters.

The first step is choosing a single highlight to prioritize in your day. Next, you‘ll employ specific tactics to stay laser-focused on the highlight by using a menu of tricks to beat distraction in an always connected world. Throughout the day, you‘ll build energy so you can stay in control of your time and attention. Finally, you reflect on the day with a few simple notes.

Perfection is a distraction—another shiny object taking your attention away from real priorities.

Choose a highlight

A highlight is something you want to focus on and execute in a given day.

Write down your highlight as an all day event in your calendar. This will also provide a reminder about what you want to focus on.

Feel like time is blurring and flying by? „I realized I didn’t need perfectly planned task lists or well-crafted long term plans. Instead, it was simple but satisfying activities that helped stop the blurring of time.“

What will be your highlight of your day? It can be something that is urgent (e.g. an important customer presentation which needs to get done), something satisfying (e.g. 1500 words of the book you always wanted to write) or something joyful (e.g. mastering a new song on the guitar).

A highlight should need about 60-90minutes to get done.

Most to-do lists are reflections to other people’s priorities, not yours.

The might-do list
A possible solution to the to-do list problem is to separate the decision about what to do from the act of doing it. New process: Add items to a Might-Do List. Make an item on the list your highlight. Put it in your calendar. Repeat.

Block time
E.g. set a blocker in your calendar in the morning to get important deep work done before the „usual“ meetings time begins. This is the time when you probably have the most energy.

Personal addition to this chapter

Setting a highlight for the day is a very simple yet effective tactic to remind yourself about your priorities. In order to make setting the highlight as easy as possible, I made a little shortcut with the Shortcuts app.

This simple snippet asks you to input your highlight and then sets it as an all-day event in your calendar as well as adds it to Wunderlist as an additional reminder. Furthermore, you could directly schedule the highlight in the calendar.

Accountability partners or groups, with whom you share your goal for today (e.g. via WhatsApp), are great for increasing the commitment. In order to share your highlight as convenient as possible, just add these two modules to the shortcut:


No notifications: disable all notifications.

Clear your home screen
Remove all apps with notifications from your home screen, so that you don’t get seduced into opening certain apps (mainly social apps) when unlocking your phone.

Skip the morning check-in
When you wake up in the morning, whether you slept for five hours or then, you’ve had a nice long break from the Busy Bandwagon and the Infinity Pools. This is a golden moment. The day is fresh, your brain is rested, and you have no reason to feel distracted yet. No news items to stress about, no work emails to stew over. Savor this moment and use it wisely. The longer you can persevere that feeling of rested calm, the easier it is to get into laser mode.

Ignore the news
It is not necessary to check the news hourly or daily. Which headline will change any decisions you make today? How many of those headlines will become obsolete by tomorrow, next week, or next month? Even checking news once a day is a persistent, anxiety-provoking, outrage-inciting distraction. Try to ready the news weekly. E.g., there is no need to check a certain reddit page daily. Even in a monthly interval you will get all relevant news and only need to digest the real important stuff.

Slow your inbox
The faster you answer to emails, the faster you will get responses. Thereby, the zero inbox method is mostly ineffective and can cause even more stress. Find a good interval for checking and replying to mails, so that they don’t interrupt your deep work.

Shut the door
„The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business.“ Lock yourself in a room. Put on headphones (noise-canceling works wonders for me). Signal everyone that you do not want to get interrupted. Easy and effective.

Play a laser sound track
Find yourself a track or a playlist that gets you into laser mode. Your brain will begin to associate this song with your intention. Looping on song or an album is also an effective method many people use.

Make a „random question“ list
Whenever you feel like you need to look something up while working, just write it on a paper. This helps you to get it out of your head and to focus again.

Be stuck
The moment we feel stuck when working on something, we often start to take a look at the smartphone or something similar. Be stuck. Don’t give up. Stare at the blank screen, or switch to paper, or walk around, but keep your focus on the project at hand. Even when your conscious mind feels frustrated, some quiet part of the brain is processing and making progress. Eventually, you will get unstuck, and then you’ll be glad you didn’t give up.

Go all in
Even when you feel you do no make any progress, continue to work on the problem. Give your wholeheartedness to it. But if you feel worn out and unable to focus, you don’t always need to take a break. Sometimes, if you go all in and embrace the current task with wild abandon, you may find it becomes easier to focus. You may find the energy is already there. This is also something people doing a Design Sprint regularly feel.


Energize is the secret sauce. The thesis is simple: If you have energy, it’s easier to maintain your focus and priorities and avoid reacting to distractions and demands. With a full battery, you have the power to be present, think clearly, and spend your time on what matters, not default to what’s right in front of you.

Act like a caveman to build energy
Remember where homo sapiens come from and what they were naturally doing: Keep it moving (sports), eat real food (a good nutrition plan), optimize caffeine, go off the grid (no tech), make it personal (meet people), sleep in a cave.

Pound the pavement
We were born to walk and walking is really darned good for you. The time walking can be used to think, daydream or meditate. Altogether, walking may be the world’s simplest and most convenient form of exercise, but despite being easy, it packs a powerful charge for your battery.

Optimize your eating habits
Experiment with these three tactics:

  1. Eat like a Hunter-Gatherer. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
  2. Eat a lot a small meals instead of a few big ones.
  3. Try methods like intermittent fasting (e.g. fasting for 16 hours followed by a 8h eating window – repeat)

Optimize caffeine
A possible system for optimized caffeine intake (caution: this system is from a friend of the authors. Personal experimentation is required.)

  1. Wake up without caffeine (in other words, get out of bed, eat breakfast, and start the day without any coffee)
  2. Have the first cup between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m.
  3. Have the last cup between 1:30 and 2:30 p.m.

Put on your own oxygen mask first
As in an airplane, when the oxygen masks drops from above, you are instructed to put it onto yourself first. You need to be energized to be a good caretaker.


Fine-tune your days with the scientific method
Follow these steps:

  • Observe (what’s going on),
  • guess (what things are happening the way they are),
  • experiment (to test your hypothesis),
  • measure (the result and decide wether you were right).

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 Thruman