Book notes: Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

Make Time by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsy book review summary and key ideas.

Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Everyday by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky


“In a world where information refreshes endlessly and the workday feels like a race to react to other people’s priorities faster, frazzled and distracted has become our default position. But what if the exhaustion of constant busyness wasn’t mandatory? What if you could step off the hamster wheel and start taking control of your time and attention? That’s what this book is about. 

As creators of Google Ventures’ renowned “design sprint”, Jake and John have helped hundreds of teams solve important problems by changing how they work. Building on the success of these sprints and their experience designing ubiquitous tech products from Gmail to YouTube, they spent years experimenting with their own habits and routines, looking for ways to help people optimize their energy, focus, and time. Now they’ve packaged the most effective tactics into a four-step daily framework that anyone can use to systematically design their days.

Make Time is not a one-size-fits-all formula. Instead, it offers a customizable menu of bite-size tips and strategies that can be tailored to individual habits and lifestyles.  Make Time isn’t about productivity, or checking off more to-dos. Nor does it propose unrealistic solutions like throwing out your smartphone or swearing off social media. Making time isn’t about radically overhauling your lifestyle; it’s about making small shifts in your environment to liberate yourself from constant busyness and distraction.

A must-listen for anyone who has ever thought, “If only there were more hours in the day”, Make Time will help you stop passively reacting to the demands of the modern world and start intentionally making time for the things that matter.” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I picked up this book because my old coworker Chris recommended this book. He had listened to it and thought it was really good. I take personal recommendations from fellow book lovers seriously so I picked it up this month.

Key notes:

  • This is a book about making time for the things that matter
    • It’s possible to feel less busy, be less distracted, and enjoy the present moment more
  • Busy bandwagon mindset: if you want to meet the demand of the modern workplace and function in modern society, you must fill every minute with productivity
    • Everyone else is busy, so you don’t want to fall behind and have to catch up
  • The second force competing for your time is called infinity pools
    • These are apps and other sources of endlessly replenishing content
  • Is constant busyness really mandatory? Is endless distraction really a reward? Or are we all just stuck on auto pilot?
  • 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 you can start being more intentional with the way you live your life
  • Even if you can’t control your schedule, you can control your attention
  • It’s not about saving time, but making time for things that matter
  • Four lessons from the design sprint laboratory: (five day work weeks dedicated to solving one problem)
    1. Something magical happens when you start your day with one high priority goal, drawing attention to one big focal point
    2. You get more done when you ban devices
      • This removed the defaults and switched it to focus
    3. The importance of energy for focused work and clear thinking
      • They observed how things like a healthy lunch, a quick walk, frequent breaks, and a slightly shorter workday helped maintain peak energy, resulting in better and more effective work
    4. The experiments taught them the power of experiments
      • Experimenting allowed them to improve the process, and seeing the results of their changes firsthand gave them a deep confidence
  • Make Time is just 4 steps repeated every day:
    1. Highlight
    2. Laser
    3. Energize
    4. Reflect
  • Highlight:
    • This doesn’t have to be something you need to do, but could be something you want to do
    • It can be multiple tasks, and doesn’t have to be the only thing you do in your day, but it will be the highest priority
  • Laser:
    • You can’t swear of technology in the modern world, but you can redesign the way you use technology to stop the reaction cycle
  • Energize:
    • Your brain needs energy, and that energy comes from taking care of your body
    • Charge your battery with exercise, food, sleep, quiet, and face-to-face time
  • Reflect:
    • Adjust and improve your system
  • He believes that every day should have a highlight, bigger than a to-do task but smaller than a big lofty goal
  • Book: Rapt by Winifred Gallagher


  • 3 criteria for choosing a highlight:
    1. Urgency: What is the most pressing thing you have to do today
    2. Satisfaction: Which highlight will bring you most satisfaction at the end of the day?
    3. Joy: When I reflect on today, what will bring me the most joy?
  • You only waste time if you’re not intentional about how you use it 
  • A good rule of them is to choose a highlight that takes 60 to 90 minutes
    • It is OK to change your highlight during the day
Choose Your Highlight
  • Choose your highlight:
    1. Write it down
    2. Groundhog it or do yesterday again
    3. Stack rank your life
    4. Batch the little stuff
    5. The “might do” list
    6. The burner list
    7. Run a personal sprint
  • Sticky notes are a good choice for writing down your highlight
    • If it is important or enjoyable, feel free to repeat your highlight again and again
  • When you make a list of the big priorities in your life, only include big stuff and have them as one or two word titles
    • They can be broad categories or as specific as you want
    • Keep the list high-level
    • List 3 to 10 things, and then pick the number one most important
    • Consider what is most meaningful and not the most urgent. Trust your heart and your gut
  • A burner list has one column with your top priority and the tasks underneath it
    • The second column has your second priority projects and tasks underneath it
    • Your focus will be the front burner, while occasionally you can do some work on the back burner


Make Time for Your Highlight
  • Make time for your highlight:
    • 8. schedule your highlight
    • 9. Block your calendar
    • 10. Bulldoze your calendar
    • 11. Flake it till you make it
    • 12. Just say no
    • 13. Design your day
    • 14. Become a morning person
    • 15. Night time is highlight time
    • 16. Quit when you are done
  • On some days, when you seem overbooked and busy, you can try to figure out which things on your calendar you can flake on to make time for your highlight
  • In reality, a structured day creates freedom because you’re not constantly having to decide what to do next
    • It’s provides the freedom to focus on the moment, and you’re focused on how to do it
  • To become a morning person, start the day with light, coffee, and something to do 
  • Pay attention to how food and drinking affect your sleep
  • Adjusting your environment to wind down and signal bedtime
Be the Boss of Your Phone
  • Be the boss of your phone
    • 17. Try a distraction free phone
    • 18. Log out
    • 19. Nix notifications
    • 20. Clear your home screen
    • 21. Wear a wrist watch
    • 22. Leave devices behind
Stay Out of Infinity Pools
  • Stay out of infinity pools:
    • 23. Skip the morning check-in
    • 24. Block distraction kryptonite
    • 25. Ignore the news
    • 26. Put your toys away
    • 27. Fly without Wi-Fi
    • 28. Put a timer on the Internet
    • 29. Cancel the Internet
    • 30. Watch out for time traders
    • 31. Trade fake wins for real wins
    • 32. Turn distractions into tools
    • 33. become a fairweather fan
  • Instead of reacting to a trigger, prompt, or reaction, you can practically use your favorite apps
Slow Your Inbox
  • Slow your inbox:
    • 34. Deal with email at the end of the day
    • 35. Schedule email time
    • 36. Empty your inbox once a week
    • 37. Pretend the messages are letters
    • 38. Be slow to respond
    • 39. Reset expectations
    • 40. Set up send only email
    • 41. Vacation off the grid
    • 42. Lock yourself out
Make TV a Sometimes Treat
  • Make TV and he sometimes treat
    • 43. Don’t watch the news
    • 44. Put your TV in the corner
    • 45. Ditch your TV for a projector
    • 46. Go à la cart instead of all you can eat
    • 47. If you love something, set it free
Find Flow
  • Find flow
    • 48. Shut the door
    • 49. Invent a deadline
    • 50. Explode your highlight
    • 51. Play a laser soundtrack
    • 52. Set a visible timer
    • 53. Avoid the lower offensive towards
    • 54. Start on paper
  • Get a time timer
Stay in the Zone
  • Stay in the zone:
    • 55. Make a random question list
    • 56. Notice one breath
    • 57. Be bored
    • 58. Be stuck
    • 59. Take a day off
    • 60. Go all in
  • The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest
    • The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness
  • Wholeheartedness is complete commitment, holding nothing back
    • It is letting go of caution and allowing yourself to care about your work, relationship, or project
    • Throwing yourself into the moment with enthusiasm and sincerity
  • To get the energy need to get a focused, high-performing brain, you’ve got to take care of your body

Principles for More Energy

  1. Keep it moving
    1. A 20 to 30 minute session could make the brain work better, reduce stress, improve your mood, and to make it easier to sleep well, providing more energy for the next day
  2. Eat real food
  3. Optimize caffeine
  4. Go off the grid
  5. Make it personal
    • Getting together in person face-to-face is an easy, paleolithic mood boost
  6. Sleep in a cave
Keep It Moving
  • Keep it moving:
    • 61. Exercise every day but don’t be a hero
    • 62. Pound the pavement
    • 63. Inconvenience yourself
    • 64. Squeeze in a super short workout

What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while

Gretchen Rubin
  • Don’t strive for perfection
    • Developing the daily habit is key
    • Even if you can’t do a full workout, just go out for 10 minutes or take a walk
  • Go small and go every day, or at least as close to every day as possible
  • Focus on daily, doable exercise
  • Pounding the pavement, a.k.a. walking, is practically a wonder drug
    • Helps you lose weight, avoid heart disease, reduce the risk of cancer, lower blood pressure, strengthen bones, improve your mood through the release of pain killing endorphins
  • Choosing inconvenience is a great way to find opportunities for exercise outside of the gym
    • You just have to be willing to reset your default from inconvenient to energizing
3 x 3 Workout Technique
  • Three times a week do the following three steps:
    1. As many push-ups as possible then rest one minute
    2. As many spots as possible and then rest one minute
    3. As many lifts as possible, such as curls, pull-ups, whatever, then the rest one minute
Eat Real Food
  • Eats real food:
    • 65. Eat like a hunter gatherer
    • 66. Central park your place
    • 67. Stay hungry
    • 68. Snack like a toddler
    • 69. Go on the dark chocolate plan
  • Fasting to a point makes your mind clear and your brain sharp which is good for staying focused on your priorities
Optimize Caffeine
  • Optimize caffeine:
    • 70. Wake up before you caffeinate. 71, caffeinate before you crash
    • 72. Take a caffein nap
    • 73. Maintain altitude with green tea
    • 74. Turbo your highlight
    • 75. Learn your last call
    • 76. Disconnect sugar
  • Caffeine doesn’t technically give you an energy boost
    • Instead, it blocks you from having an energy dip caused by adenosine induced sleepiness
    • It blocks the receptors in place of the adenosine
    • But when the caffeine wears off, the sleepiness will hit
  • Studies show that it is optimal to drink only 2 or 3 cups between 9 and 10:30 AM, and last cup between 1:30 and 2:30 PM
  • If you wait until you are groggy, it is too late to caffeinate
    • You have to anticipate and caffeinate 30 minutes before you expect your energy to dip
      • For most people this is right after lunch
  • To take a caffeine nap, wait until you get tired, then caffeinate, and immediately take a 15 minute nap
    • The nap will clear out the adenosine and will be just in time for the caffeine to hit
Go Off The Grid
  • Go off the grid:
    • 77. Get woodsy
    • 78. Trick yourself into meditating
    • 79. Leave your headphones at home
    • 80. Take real breaks
  • Studies show that even brief exposure to woodlands and forest lowers stress, heart rate, and blood pressure
  • Meditation is not only rest for your brain, but also exercise for your brain as noticing your thoughts takes work
  • Putting your headphones away once in a while is an easy way to put some quiet in your day and give your brain time to recharge
Make it Personal
  • Make it personal:
    • 81. Spend time with your tribe
    • 82. Eat without screens
  • Humans evolved to thrive in tight-knit communities, even introverted people
  • Spending your time with interesting, high energy people is one of the best and most enjoyable ways to recharge your battery
    • Reach out to friends whom you admire and inspire you, and make you laugh and let you be yourself
Sleep In A Cave
  • Sleep in a cave:
    • 83. Make your bedroom a bed room
    • 84. Fake a sunset
    • 85. Sneak a nap
    • 86. Don’t jet leg yourself
    • 87, put on your own oxygen mask first


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

Book Recommendations

Main ideas / Themes:

  • Make Time is just 4 steps repeated every day:
    1. Highlight
    2. Laser
    3. Energize
    4. Reflect
  • 3 criteria for choosing a highlight:
    • Urgency: What is the most pressing thing you have to do today
    • Satisfaction: Which highlight will bring you most satisfaction at the end of the day?
    • Joy: When I reflect on today, what will bring me the most joy?
  • You only waste time if you’re not intentional about how you use it 
  • A structured day creates freedom because you’re not constantly having to decide what to do next
  • Energize:
    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

Closing thoughts:

I really loved this book and I’m glad someone recommended it or else I might not have heard of it.

I enjoyed that even though its about productivity, it really just focuses on how to have a more focused life in general. In order to do that, it gives a holistic view on how to improve your life in several different aspects like health & energy, relationships, career, etc.

Because of that, I would recommend almost anyone this book.

I do appreciate that many aspects are high level. It gives you just enough as well as concrete action steps in order to get the ball rolling. However, the authors do mention that they aren’t experts, they’re just experimenters who have tried these things out and are sharing what works for them.

I will say the format is a bit strange as there are like 80-something steps. But when you take a step back and break them down into the four main categories/steps for their framework, it makes more sense and a bit easier to digest.


The 4-step framework for Make Time in order to make the most of your life.



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