make time book summary

Book Summary: Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

The Book in Three Sentences

In this book summary of Make Time, you’ll learn a series of hacks to control your time and attention. The tactics are presented in a four-step framework that lets you design your days. Unlike other productivity books that encourage you to do more, Make Time is all about making small adjustments to free yourself from the constant distractions around you.

Make Time Summary


We’re always busy, our calendars are packed, our phones buzz all the time, we rely on Netflix to energize, and at the end of the day, we wonder where our time went. Despite being surrounded by distractions, this book teaches you to make time for the projects and activities you love. Make Time is a framework to create time for the things you want in your life, such as being with your family, learning a new language, writing a book, or playing games.

There are two forces that compete for your time. The Busy Bandwagon is our culture of busyness and the compulsion to fill every minute of our lives with activities. Infinity Pools are apps or services that give you access to endless streams of entertainment. These forces are our defaults and changing those settings takes time and effort. Everything that surrounds us has been designed to be irresistible, addictive, and frictionless, but is that what you want? What if you create your own defaults?

Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky are product designers who helped create Gmail, YouTube, and Google Hangouts. They decided to apply the design ideas to how they spend their time. Instead of reacting to technology, we should use it mindfully, but this reactionary approach means that we constantly put off our goals. To avoid this, Jake uninstalled every app that consumed his time and the result was a sense of relief and freedom. He soon met John and they bonded over technology. They were both disillusioned with how much time and attention technology demanded, so they tried a series of experiments and came up with a system they could share with others.

Everything they learned comes down to four lessons:

  1. Starting the day with a high-priority goal makes a difference because this focal point gives you clarity and motivation.
  2. Banning devices allows you to get more done.
  3. Focused work and clear thinking need a lot of energy. You get that energy from eating healthily, exercising, and having shorter workdays.
  4. Experiments are a big part of the process because they allow you to improve over time.

Make Time involves four simple steps you must repeat daily:

  1. Choose a daily highlight: the daily highlight is a simple activity you prioritize over everything else and you protect in your calendar. To be clear, you do other things throughout the day, but this is your number one priority.
  2. Laser-focus on it: laser focus involves attacking distractions so that they don’t get in the way of your daily highlight.
  3. Build energy throughout the day so that you have enough time and attention: energizing involves taking care of your body through exercise, food, sleep, quiet, and face-to-face interactions with others.
  4. Reflect on your day: reflecting on your day involves taking down some notes before going to bed. The idea is to determine what works and what doesn’t.

Part I: Highlight

The Busy Bandwagon is the idea that doing more is the answer to everything, but this makes us busier. Instead, you should have a daily highlight, a focal point that you look forward to every day. The Daily Highlight is about being intentional and focused.

We use three criteria to determine our highlight:

  • Urgency: what do we have to do? This strategy is about what needs to get done.
  • Satisfaction: what will bring you the most satisfaction at the end of the day? This strategy is about what you want to get done.
  • Joy: what will bring me the most joy? You’re only wasting time if you’re not intentional. 

Choose a highlight that takes sixty to ninety minutes. This is plenty of time to get in the zone without needing a break.

Highlight Tactics: Choose Your Highlight

1. Write It Down: writing down your plans makes them more important and they’re more likely to happen. This should become a daily ritual.

2. Groundhog It: repeat your highlight daily. You do this to build momentum, create a habit, or have a good time again.

3. Stack or Rank Your Life: when you’re between different highlights or you have several priorities:

  1. Make a list of the categories that are important to you (some examples include health, finances, personal growth, family, parenting, or dating).
  2. Choose the most important
  3. Choose the second, third, fourth, and fifth most important things.
  4. Rewrite the list
  5. Draw a circle around the most important task
  6. Keep the list around

4. Batch the Little Stuff: bundle up tasks and tackle them at the same time.

5. The Might-Do List: this is a list of things you might do at some point. Each of these items becomes its own daily highlight when the time comes. A might-do list helps you stay organized without ignoring the important tasks.

6. The Burner List: this is a limited list of some of the tasks that come your way.

  1. Divide a sheet of paper into two columns: front burner and back burner.
  2. The most important project goes to the front burner. You can only have one.
  3. The rest of the front column should be empty.
  4. The second most important project goes to the back burner.
  5. Make a kitchen sink. These are all the miscellaneous tasks you have to do.

7. Run a Personal Sprint: this is the process in which you carry out a project on consecutive days in order to make faster work and produce better results.

Highlight Tactics: Make Time for Your Highlight

8. Schedule Your Highlight: think about how much time you want, think about when you want to do it and add the Highlight to your calendar. Don’t commit to other things once the Highlights’s been scheduled.

9. Block Your Calendar: Use calendar blocks that say “Do Not Schedule” to make room for your Daily Highlight. Also, you can schedule time with yourself.

10. Bulldoze Your Calendar: this involves compressing, stacking, or pushing certain tasks to make time for your daily highlight.

11. Flake It Till You Make It: when you’re too busy or overscheduled, cancel something else to make time for your highlight.

12. Just Say No: don’t accept low-priority obligations.

13: Design Your Day: make a detailed schedule of what your days will look like. Experiment and make changes accordingly. A scheduled day gives you more freedom than you think. Since you already know what to do, you’ll spend your time thinking about how to do it.

14. Become a Morning Person: start with light, coffee, and something to do (you can do dishes, exercise, iron, or clean up the house if you want). This also starts the night before when you hopefully organized the day in such a way that you got eight hours of sleep.

15. Nighttime Is Highlight Time: alternatively, you can use the nighttime to focus on your Daily Highlight. First, recharge by having a break (read, watch a movie, or clean the house). Then, go offline. Wind down by dimming the lights.

16. Quit When You’re Done: don’t wait to be exhausted to quit. Never try to do one more thing. Create your own finish line, such as a specific time or when your highlight is done.

Part II: Laser

Laser Mode is when your attention focuses on the present. The enemies of laser made are distractions, and they usually come in the form of devices, apps, or the news. To avoid distractions, you can’t rely on just willpower. So why is technology so alluring? People are passionate about it, technology evolves over time, the constant need to compete with everything else makes technology something that’s improved and updated all the time, and of course, technology’s designed to impress humans. Also, since tech companies make more money the more we use their products, they make them hard to resist.

Technology distracts us because using it is friction-free. By setting up some barriers between us and technology, we’ll be able to stay in laser mode longer. You want to be focused on your Highlight because the longer you can maintain your focus, the better your work will be.

Laser Tactics: Be the Boss of Your Phone

17. Try a Distraction-Free Phone: smartphones are amazing devices and some of the apps we have access to improve our lives significantly. But while they have their benefits, you don’t want access to everything phones offer all the time. For the authors, the solution to this problem is the distraction-free phone. Here’s how you set it up:

  1. Delete social apps (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat)
  2. Delete additional Infinity Pools (Games, News, YouTube)
  3. Remove or disable the web browser
  4. Keep everything else

18. Log Out: when you’re done using certain services, log out. You can access them again if you have to by going to a website and manually typing your username and password.

19. Nix Notifications: notifications steal your attention, so turn off all of them.

20. Clear Your Homescreen: your home screen should be a blank page. This is one inconvenient step we add so that you can have a moment of quiet before using your phone. By having this, you’ll create space between the stimulus (wanting to use your phone) and the response (actually using it).

21. Wear a Wristwatch: apart from being convenient and useful, a wristwatch replaces a phone when you want to check the time.

22. Leave Devices Behind: going device-free whenever possible can improve your focus and sleep. Alternatively, you can leave devices in your backpack or purse when you leave the house and not use them unless it’s an emergency.

Laser Tactics: Stay Out of Infinity Pools

23. Skip the Morning CheckIn: don’t check your phone as soon as you get up. Avoid the news, email, and social networks. The longer you postpone this check-in, the longer you’ll stay relaxed.

24. Block Distraction Kryptonite: “Distraction Kryptonite” are the Infinity Pools that impact you the most. It varies from person to person, but what they all have in common is that you feel a sense of regret after using them. Identify these apps and do whatever you can to stay away from them.

25. Ignore the News: despite what we think, we don’t need to know everything that’s happening in the world at all times. You’ll find a way to learn about urgent news. You can read the news on a weekly basis or listen to podcasts, but doing it more often than that will distract you.

26. Put Your Toys Away: sign out of apps, close all tabs, turn off email, and make home pages as unobtrusive as possible when it’s time to work on the computer.

27. Fly without WiFi: whenever you fly somewhere, turn off the screen in front of you and don’t pay for WiFi. Use the time to read, write, draw, or think.

28. Put a Timer on the Internet: the internet offers endless possibilities, but while you can use it all the time, that doesn’t mean you should. When you want to get into Laser mode, simply turn it off or use a vacation timer so that it turns itself off.

29. Cancel the Internet: this extreme tactic is about having no internet at home. If you find yourself in a position where you must use it, just use your phone as a hotspot.

30. Watch Out for Time Craters: small distractions create big holes in your day. These constant interruptions make it hard to concentrate so make sure you avoid them or eliminate them completely.

31. Trade Fake Wins for Real Wins: social media is full of fake wins, these are meaningless accomplishments that trick our brains into believing we’re doing something important.

32. Turn Distractions into Tools: all Infinity Pools have some value, so use them intentionally rather than mindlessly. Determine how you’re going to use a particular app to achieve your goals. For example, if you use Facebook to contact your family, figure out the most effective way to use the app.

33. Become a Fair-Weather Fan: sports fans have access to entire seasons of games, as well as news coverage, rumors, trades, draft picks, and more. But you don’t have to give everything up, just watch games on special occasions and ignore everything else.

Laser Tactics: Slow Your Inbox

A lot of people believe that having an empty email inbox is a goal to aspire to, but this is hard work and stresses you out. Reset email habits.

34. Deal with Email at the End of the Day: don’t prioritize other people instead of yourself because you’ll be distracted. Instead, deal with email at the end of the day.

35. Schedule Email Time: add “email time” to your calendar. You won’t waste time on it and once it’s done, you can move on.

36. Empty Your Inbox Once a Week: an empty inbox gives you clarity, so keep it that way.

37. Pretend Messages are Letters: despite what some people think, you don’t have to constantly check your email. Deal with it once a day and resist the temptation to check it again.

38. Be Slow to Respond: deliberately respond to emails, chats, texts, and messages. This doesn’t make you a bad person, but someone who respects their time. By responding quickly, you’re allowing other people to become your priority regardless of where you are and what you’re doing.

39. Reset Expectations: let other people know that you’re slow to respond because you’re working on a project. This can even be part of your signature. You can also give people another way of getting in contact with you in case of emergencies.

40. Set Up Send-Only Email: you can set up your phone so that it only sends emails.

41. Vacation Off the Grid: when you go on vacation, you can choose to be inaccessible. Make a conscious effort not to check out your email while there.

42. Lock Yourself Out: if nothing else works, you can lock yourself out of your inbox. You can use an app called Freedom to schedule email time.

Laser Tactics: Make TV a “Sometimes Treat”

Americans watch an average of 4.3 hours of television and other countries are not that far behind. Despite being a popular way to unwind, television is just too time-consuming. Instead of getting rid of your TV, just save it for special occasions.

43. Don’t Watch the News: watching the news is inefficient, repetitive, empty, and full of ads.

44. Put Your TV in the Corner: most people’s living rooms are arranged around television which is why it’s so easy to default to it. Rearrange your spaces to make it more difficult to watch TV.

45. Ditch Your TV for a Projector: projectors allow you to get a cinematic experience, but they’re so hard to set up that you won’t use them regularly.

46. Go (A la Carte) Instead of All You Can Eat: streaming subscriptions are always offering something new. Try canceling cable, Netflix, HBO, Hulu, or Disney Plus, and rent movies when needed.

47. If You Love Something, Set It Free: you can always try to give up TV, at least for a while.

Laser Tactics: Find Flow

48. Shut the Door: focus work requires you to work behind a closed door, or if you don’t have a room with a door, wear headphones. In both cases, you’re telling people that you don’t want to be interrupted.

49. Invent a Deadline: deadlines are great for focus. Since most people dread deadlines, you can invent them. You’ll get the best of both worlds: you will be able to focus and you’ll do it without the pressure of having an actual deadline.

50. Explode Your Highlight: this includes turning a highlight into smaller chunks that are easy to complete.

51. Play a Laser Soundtrack: this is how a habit loop works: a cue tells your brain that the loop starts, the cue leads to a routine behavior, and as a result, you get a reward, something that makes your brain feel good. To start a good habit, you can create your own cue, such as listening to specific music.

52. Set a Visible Timer: by making time visible, you’ll feel a sense of urgency.

53. Avoid the Lure of Fancy Tools: don’t become obsessed with tools as long as they get the job done. Trying to choose the perfect tool for the job is another distraction.

54. Start on Paper: the simplicity of pen and paper will let you do your best work.

Laser Tactics: Stay in the Zone

Once you get into Laser Mode, you’d want to stay there as long as possible.

55. Make a “Random Question List”: it’s normal to feel the desire to check your phone, but instead of doing that, write what you want on a piece of paper and you can check that after work.

56. Notice Your Breath: focusing on your breath for a few seconds resets your attention.

57. Be Bored: boredom is good because it lets your mind wander and explore new ideas.

58. Be Stuck: when you’re stuck, you know what to do, but you don’t know how. Instead of diverting your attention to something else, stay on your project.

59. Take a Day Off: sometimes, you just need a day off. This will help you replenish your energy.

60. Go All In: commit completely and hold nothing back. This is called wholeheartedness. By going all in with reckless abandon, you’ll be able to focus like never before.

Part III: Energize

Having energy makes it easier to focus and avoid distractions. To have a “full battery”, you need to take care of yourself. While taking care of your brain, don’t forget about the rest of the body.

Humans are hunter-gatherers, therefore, they’re supposed to get up during sunrise, walk for miles, have time to relax, share a meal with other humans, spend some time alone, and go to bed when it’s dark.

To survive, back in the hunter-gatherer era, all humans had to do the same. When the agricultural revolution happened, humans settled in villages and towns. Suddenly, we no longer had access to leisure time, there was violence, and new diseases appeared. New innovations, such as fossil fuel, steam, and electricity were discovered. Over the last centuries, we created television, the home computer, the internet, and the smartphone. While we’re meant to live in one world, we live in a completely different one. The world has changed drastically, but humans haven’t.

To build energy, act like a caveman. This involves:

  1. Keep It Moving: moving for twenty to thirty minutes reduces stress, and improves your mood and sleep.
  2. Eat Real Food: avoid manufactured foods. Instead, eat vegetables, fruits, nuts, and animals.
  3. Optimize Caffeine: while caffeine wasn’t readily available in prehistoric times, it can improve your energy level.
  4. Go Off the Grid: make quiet the norm. Avoid distractions and protect your attention.
  5. Make It Personal: interact with people face-to-face rather than through screens.
  6. Sleep in a Cave: sleep in a dark place and relax before going to bed.

Energize Tactics: Keep It Moving

61. Exercise Every Day (But Don’t Be a Hero): this involves exercising for twenty minutes every day. It doesn’t have to be perfect. When you exercise, you feel less stressed, more energetic, and happier.

62. Pound the Pavement: walking is a great way to energize. It helps you lose weight, avoid heart disease, reduce the risk of cancer, lower your blood pressure, and improve your mood.

63. Inconvenience Yourself: choosing inconvenience often leads to opportunities to exercise and energize. Some examples include cooking dinner, taking the stairs, or using suitcases without wheels.

64. Squeeze In a Super Short Workout: high-intensity training is a great way to get a good quality workout in a short time. There are different ways of doing it: with weights, push-ups, pullups, or squats. Doing these kinds of exercises should take you five to ten minutes.

Energize Tactics: Eat Real Food

65. Eat Like a Hunter-Gatherer: as Michael Pollan said in his book In Defense of Food: “Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants.” By “real food”, the authors refer to nonprocessed foods such as plants, nuts, fish, and meat.

66. Central Park Your Plate: when you’re organizing your plate to eat, put salad first and then serve the rest on the side.

67. Stay Hungry: nowadays, we can eat anything we want whenever we want, but the fact that we can do it doesn’t mean we should. Whenever you’re hungry, wait a little bit before a meal or a snack. Food will taste better and you’ll benefit from cardiovascular fitness, longevity, muscle development, and reduced cancer risk. Intermittent fasting also has some benefits as well.

68. Snack Like a Toddler: snacks are good for you, so have snacks when your body needs them.

69. Go On the Dark Chocolate Plan: if you want to keep your energy up, avoid sugar. Instead of sacrificing desserts, have dark chocolate as a treat.

Energize Tactics: Optimize Caffeine

Be intentional with your coffee consumption or else this habit will become an addiction. Coffee affects your energy and this is the best way to drink it:

  • Wake up without coffee
  • Drink the first cup between 9:30 and 10:30 am
  • Drink the last cup between 1:30 and 2:30 pm

70. Wake Up Before You Caffeinate: since your body produces cortisol (the hormone that wakes you up) in the morning, don’t drink coffee as soon as you get up.

71. Caffeinate before you crash: never wait to drink coffee until you crash because that means it’s too late. Drink coffee after lunch and you’ll maintain your energy level up.

72. Take a Caffeine Nap: if you’re too tired drink a cup of coffee and then take a fifteen-minute nap. It takes a while for caffeine to reach the brain, so you could get some rest and then get the benefits of the coffee you just drank.

73. Maintain Altitude with Green Tea: drinking Green Tea is a good way to maintain energy levels throughout the day. You can even drink two to three cups of tea for every cup of coffee you used to have.

74. Turbo Your Highlight: you can time your coffee intake so that you feel energized when you work on your highlight.

75. Learn Your Last Call: if you take caffeine too late, it might affect your sleep, so you have to learn your “last call”. Experiment with drinking coffee at different times until you find the sweet spot and you can fall asleep easier.

76. Disconnect Sugar: sugar gives you a rush, but you can’t sustain that level of energy. Ideally, you’ll cut out sugar from your diet, but if you can’t, avoid mixing caffeine and sweets.

Energy Tactics: Go Off the Grid

77. Get Woodsy: be exposed to nature whenever possible and you’ll soon realize how your mental energy improves.

78. Trick Yourself into Meditating: meditation has a deluge of benefits, but some of the best ones are that it reduces stress and it increases your happiness, as well as your focus. A lot of people have trouble meditating though, but think of it as a way to relax from the constant thinking. Here’s what the authors suggest to meditate:

  1. Use a meditation app
  2. Start with a three-minute session
  3. Try meditation in any position you feel comfortable with
  4. If you don’t like the term meditation, call it something else, but just do it
  5. Don’t dismiss guided meditation just because you need assistance from someone else

79. Leave Your Headphones at Home: while headphones let you listen to whatever you want whenever you want, there are moments when you want to enjoy some quiet time. You don’t have to fill every blank space in your life just because you can.

80. Take Real Breaks: whenever you have a break, don’t use Infinity Pool apps because you won’t be able to relax your brain. When you want to relax, move around, talk to people, or do something that gets you away from screens.

Energize Tactics: Make It Personal

81. Spend Time with Your Tribe: we all need face-to-face human interaction. This means having meaningful conversations with others. Those who have strong relationships will live longer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.

82. Eat Without Screens: the problem when screens are involved in your meals is that you’re more likely to eat unhealthy food, you’ll avoid human interaction, and you’re not giving your brain time to rest.

Energize Tactics: Sleep in a Cave

83. Make Your Bedroom a Bed Room: bedtime is an hours-long process where you remove stimuli so that you can sleep more easily. To get better quality sleep, you must wind down by avoiding social media, email, and the news, and by removing all electronics from your bedroom. The only exception should be your alarm clock.

84. Fake the Sunset: bright lights tell your brain it’s time to wake up. Screens and lightbulbs simulate daylight constantly, so faking the sunset is a great strategy to fall asleep faster. This involves eating dinner hours before bedtime, turning down all the lights, and not using your electronics. Some lights simulate sunrise as well which trick your brain into waking up.

85. Sneak a Nap: taking a nap makes you smarter and the best part is that you don’t have to fall asleep. As long as you lie down and rest for ten to twenty minutes, you’ll be able to recharge.

86. Don’t Jet-Lag Yourself: falling behind on sleep happens, but don’t fix the problem by sleeping late because this doesn’t work. Instead, of oversleeping, try to go back to your regular schedule.

87. Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First: when you’re on a plane and something happens, you’re told to put on your oxygen mask first so that you can then assist others. When you have to take care of someone, you have to eat well and get some rest whenever you can. Some of the strategies from this book might seem selfish, but by taking care of yourself, you’ll be able to take care of the people you love.

Part IV: Reflect

This fourth and final part of Make Time is all about tailoring the system for you. So this is a summary of everything we’ve learned so far.

The scientific method is about:

  1. Observing
  2. Guessing
  3. Experimenting
  4. Measuring
  • The Highlight Hypothesis: setting a single intention each day will leave you more satisfied and joyful.
  • The Laser Hypothesis: by creating friction around the Busy Bandwagon and Infinity Pools, you’ll be able to fully maximize your focus and attention.
  • The Energy Hypothesis: living like a prehistoric person will improve your mental and physical energy.

Track your results by taking down notes. This will help you reflect on your days, as well as show gratitude.

Small changes lead to big results. Reducing distractions increases your energy so that you can focus on one thing.

Part V: Start “Someday” Today

You can use the tactics you learned from this book and make necessary changes so that they work in your favor. Not only will these actions make you feel in control, but you’ll soon be making your projects a priority.

Further Reading

Scroll to Top