Book Review: Make Time
As promised, I wanted to follow up my digital minimalsim series with a review of Make Time. It is definitely influenced by Cal Newports ideas of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, but a bit more on the productivity / personal development side of the spectrum. But actually, I found the most valuable part to be the underlying philosophy. But see for yourselves.
An average American spends 4h watching TV and 4h scrolling their phones every day. Thus, the authors of Make Time conclude that “distraction is a full-time job”.
They identify two big destructive tendencies of today’s world: The “busy bandwagon” and “infinity pools”. Like I already mentioned in the post on my fight with the screens:
“In Make Time. How to Focus on What Matters Every Day, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky argue that there are two destructive tendencies of our time, traps we ought to avoid at all costs. And that is on the one hand, “the busy bandwagon”, i.e. our culture of constant business and “infinity pools”, i.e. scolling dashboards which refresh themselves for all eternity, providing an endless amount of distraction. In the introduction to Make Time, the authors write:
“Nobody ever looked at an empty calendar and said, “The best way to spend this time is by cramming it full of meetings!” or got to work in the morning and thought, “Today I’ll spend hours on Facebook!” Yet that’s exactly what we do. Why?”
Change your defaults to make time for what matters
By saying “We can’t do the 57 things bloggers tell us we should do before 5a.m.”, the authors stress that this book is not meant for perfect people. It doesn’t require a will of steel. It stresses that you can make changes without crazy amounts of willpower if you just change the defaults which lead you to make bad choices. It’s not about doing more. It’s about making time for what matters. To you. The authors stress multiple times that the techniques were not written for super-humans.
Most of the techniques suggested in the book are probably already known to those who are into productivity tools and techniques. But, in my opinion, the most important thought they proliferate is that a lot of things which are non-optimal about our lives are based on the fact that we use the default option rather than actively making a choice for what we want.
The most important thing about Make Time is the philosophy behind it, according to me anyway. Since “most of our time is spent by default”, changing the default to a new default isn’t such a big deal. But it makes a huge beneficial difference. And yet, it mostly requires that you make the mental shift: You need to come to the conclusion that you don’t want to live the default life.
The main tips are based on the four steps from the authors’ previous Sprint, which shaped the popular technique of ‘design sprints’.
The highlight is your main activity for the day. The goal, the thing you look forward to, the thing you will remember about your day. It can be something urgent. It can mean batching administrative tasks so you don’t get distracted by them at other times. Or just something very important to you or something that you will enjoy. It can be playing with your kids or writing a few pages ofyour PhD thesis. It takes around 60-90 minutes and you block time for it as if it were an important appointment. Be focused and don’t allow distractions. You will feel accomplished and up your life quality. Write down what it will be in advance, best in the morning (in one word reminder, on a post-it). All of the other to-dos go on a “might-do list”. That way, you don’t let the spirit of the ‘busy bandwagon’ and the feeling that you have to work as much as possible and be as “productive” as possible ruin what’s important to you. Try doing this highlight early in the morning or late at night. Any other time theoretically works too, but the authors have found one of these two options to most likely work for you in a reliable way.
Laser: Get rid of distraction
This can include switching off the internet, leaving your phone at home, getting a dumb phone or just un-installing the browser, the email app and social media apps on your smartphone. Without them, you disable this “swiss-army knife of distraction”. Get rid of the TV too. (Or just get the no-internet-plug, like I did, to switch it off between 19:00-08:00).
Create as much of intentional inconvenience (logging out of all apps after each use), friction and barriers as possible (stashing the phone / TV away, unsubscribing from Netflix, unsubscribe from newsletters, delete apps, have empty tabs and an empty home screen without quicklinks to your favourite distractions; disable notifications). In short, make it as hard as possible for you to succumb to your old defaults.
One Thing to rule them all, One Thing to find them,
And in the darkness bind them.
(Tolkien on your smartphone)
JK and JZ exemplify this on “the distraction-free phone”. Maybe go back to wearing a wrist-watch. Don’t check your digital life first thing in the morning nor last thing at night. In order to get many of those benefits in one simple action which requires no willpower whatsoever, I have installed a timer plug on my wifi: it’s only available between 08:00-18:00. That way, I have gotten rid of most screen-induced losses of time and energy, am encouraged to read a book instead and still don’t miss out on any of the benefits.
And it was easy. Really no self-control involved. This is, I think, the strongest point of the book. Most books rely on super-high willpower you probably don’t have, especially in very stressful times when we’re at our most vulnerable.
Also, I found that disabeling “mobile data” on my phone really did the trick for me. I still check it when I have wifi. I can switch it back on if ever I get lost. That way, I can save my time until my light (dumb) phone comes in July. And also, you don’t get tracked as much if you’re not constanly online.
Check digital stuff only once per day, if possible. Check news once per week: How many ‘breaking news’ actually influence decisions you make daily? Hardly any, depending on your job. Also, to make sure you digital life (which you are not required to give up on completely) doesn’t eat up your real life, save it for the end of the work day. If you need email and social media for work, just do it in the late afternoon when you wouldn’t be productive anymore anyway. Also, wanting to get home will probably cause you to be less overly motivated to write 5 pages long emails and thus, help you streamline.
Also, if you are slow to respond, you reset expectations. As a detox, try to not respond to email straightaway. I have successfully made Wednesday my administration day where I batch administrative time-wasting and time-consuming tasks. It feels good to get it all done that day, but it also makes sure the urgent but not all that important stuff doesn’t ruin your focus capacities for everything else.
You will realize that once something else is “easier” and wasting time becomes an inconvenience, you won’t do it so much anymore. But of course, like we also saw in my last two posts on the topic (Fighting the screens and Digital Minimalism), tech companies spend a lot of time and energy to make their tools as alluring, conveniant and easy as possible, tapping into all of our psychological weaknesses.
But, like they write, perfection is another distraction. It’s okay to fall off the wagon some days.
Like the popular saying from strength training “leave one in the bar” suggests, even leaving work half an hour early, just before you get tired, can have tremendous effects on your productivity for the days after.
Exercise every day. Take 45 minutes for that. It is agreed that this will really boost your energy and reduce stress. However, don’t let this become yet another source of stress. If you’re too busy, squeeze in a super short workout. Just do something. And then again, you might have heard about this meditation quote:
You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.
Most of the Energize part is made up of sound, but well-known advice like “reduce sugar”, “take naps”, “drink green tea”, “don’t have caffeine first thing in the morning” (get light, movement and water first), swipe sweets for dark chocolate and nuts as a default, etc.
It ends with the important point often announced in airplanes: Put on your own oxygen mask first. By that, they mean that you can’t help others and be a good person before you have taken care of yourself (see Astrid’s post on that). So be egoistic, so you have the energy needed for altruism.
Which means that you should test out a new tactic every day and write down what has worked and what hasn’t. Then use this data to learn from it and fine-tune. Journaling or a simple notebook can serve for that. Keep notes of what you find out. You might not remember it next year but it can be beneficial to have some data on what works for you in the future. Even if you decide to discontinue something now, maybe you’d like to go back to it next year and would be happy to have a record of what has worked for you in the past. Also, journaling has been proven to have tons of benefits aside from that.
Overall, the book is not all that long (despite being almost 300 pages). The words are not dense on the pages, there are a lot of visualizations, etc. I listened to the Audiobook anyway. I found the book to be very valuable and packed with interesting thoughts, despite it being rather short and even though the tips by themselves are not all very innovative. Combined with the more ‘philosophical’ ideas it brings up (our culture as “busy bandwagon”, digital tools as “infinity pools”, living on defaults which means its easier to change the default than bring up willpower, etc.), all these tips can be seen in a different light as in other books. That’s why I liked it. Definitely worth it, but – even while you’ll miss out on the cool illustrations, maybe rather listen to the audio book, if you’re into that.
Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky, Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day, NY 2018. https://maketime.blog/
A lot of articles are available for free on: https://maketime.blog/articles/