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Make Time | Ep 168

John Zeratsky, author of Make Time, joins Brad and Jonathan to share actionable tips to build a framework that cuts through your perpetual state of busy-ness.

John Zeratsky joins the show to discuss the principles in his new book, Make TimeThe book outlines strategies to make time in your life for the things that matter to you most. John shares his insights on these frameworks.

The framework is a four-step thought process that centers around Highlights, Laser, Energize, and Reflect. One way to make more time in your life is to minimize the distracting power of technology. Instead of reacting to technology, you can create a framework that allows you to use the best parts of technology without getting overwhelmed.


Show Transcription

Jonathan: Hello, everyone. On today’s episode, we’re gonna be discussing the book Make Time. Written by Jake Knapp and John’s Zeratsky. I was introduced to Make Time and John by Brad at FinCon, who was telling me this is a book you absolutely have to read and be honest–we have a lot going on. We’ve had a lot going on for several months. I’ve actually felt this constant state of busyness and I didn’t feel like I had time to read the book.

Finally had some downtime just over Thanksgiving. I started reading the book and then I couldn’t put it down. I read the book in the airport. I read the book as we were getting on the plane. I read the book when we made it to the relative’s home as we were waiting in the queue to come back. I finished it on the plane ride home.

It’s the book I needed in this stage of life. And I think after we dig into this episode, you’re going to realize why I liked it so much, that even though I had read the book and was technically done with it, I went and bought a copy of the book in post because I wanted to reference back and have that to really cultivate this. It’s one of the few books that immediately as I was reading it, I was actively making changes in my own life that proved out the results that day or the very next day and beyond the tactics that provided in this book.

It’s one of the few books that immediately as I was reading it, I was actively making changes in my own life that proved out the results that day or the very next day and beyond.

I don’t want to spoil it. We’re going to get into it now. But it’s about what you can do. You can take action on the ideas that we’re talking about today. Right now, as you listen to this episode, you can improve your life. That’s how important this book is. And help me do this. I have my cohost Brad here with me today. How you doing, buddy?

Brad: Hey, Jonathan, I’m doing quite well. And yeah, you’re absolutely right. I’ve frankly never seen you respond so positively to anything you’ve read. It’s so cool. This book has changed your life and you legitimately put these changes into place almost immediately. It was remarkable.

And the cool thing, though, little backstory here is I had read this book probably six months prior in reading the acknowledgments or thank you notes at the back of the book. I saw that John thanked Pete from Mr. Money Mustache, Vicki Robin, J.D. Roth, and Paula Pant, and Warren Buffett. So I’m like, wow, this is a kindred spirit. This guy is a member of the FI community.

I actually shot Paula a Facebook message and said, have you read Make Time yet? John’s Zeratsky mentions you in the back. And she’s like, No, I haven’t. So she went out and bought the book. It was just really, really cool. And then I got a chance to meet John at FinCon had a 90-minute breakfast with him. And just this far reaching conversation, we knew we had to bring John here for the ChooseFI audience. So, John, with that, welcome to the podcast.

John: Thank you. It is very exciting to be here.

The Origins Of The Book: Make Time

Jonathan: So, John, Make Time. I was intentionally vague with the actions that I’ve taken with this setup for this episode and really describing the why. But I think to break this down a little bit for the audience and give you a platform to talk from, I feel and have felt for several months now, increasingly so, a chronic state of busyness where I’m reacting to other people’s priorities and not really prioritizing myself or my family.

In fact, as I’m reading the book, there’s a comment in here that Jake makes that he’s playing trains with a son, I believe in in the chapter. And he’s just checking his phone when this is the time that he’s carved out. And increasingly we talk about bandwidth. You know, you’re pursuing Financial Independence. You’ve optimized different aspects of your life and you’ve carved out bandwidth. But for me, I feel like that bandwidth maybe just goes towards watching more Netflix or pressing refresh on Facebook or Twitter or Google.

Actually, one of the worst for me was that if you swipe left on Google, that news feed that chronically updates. Yeah, I was able to within a series of minutes create structural changes that immediately I felt the positive benefits from. And I’m curious for you, what got you writing about this? You know, what made you think to put this book together?

John: Jake and I both became kind of obsessed with productivity optimization going back 10 plus years. And it came from both of us working inside of large companies. We both worked at Google for a long time. He worked at Microsoft before that. And as so many of us do inside of large corporations, we felt that we were spending most of our time and our energy, you know, these valuable, finite, precious resources that we had. We were spending them on sitting in pointless meetings and answering emails and kind of going through all the motions and the administrative work that tends to happen at work.

For a long time, we didn’t question those things because they’re normal. They are the defaults of the world that we live in. And before we even met before Jake and I knew each other, we had both kind of pursued this idea of productivity and efficiency.

All the stuff that we read about, you know, for reading the blogs and watching the TED talks and reading the books, it’s all about how to do more, how to do it faster, how to outsource your life and optimize this and tweak that. And we felt like those systems, while they worked on a certain level, they didn’t make us feel good. They didn’t make us feel like we were really putting our energy and our attention and spending our time on the things that were most important to us.

And so we started to think differently about it. We had the opportunity to work together at Google Ventures, which is a V.C. firm that invests in startups. And we were in this really unique role. Jake and I were where we would go inside of a startup after we had made an investment and sort of worked with them, like consultants. And all of a sudden we had this really unique laboratory to go from company to company to company. Some of the most brilliant, motivated, well-funded companies in the world working on these really interesting problems.

And again and again, saw that they struggled in the exact same ways that we did with their time with this feeling that there is something really important about the work that they’re doing, you know. Not to mention their life overall, but even just the work that they’re doing, the reason they started their company. Yet the defaults of our world make it so hard to dig in.

And so we started to see some patterns there. And we developed this design sprint process that helped teams focus together on their biggest challenges. And that worked really well.

And then even before the Sprint book came out. So we wrote a book about the design spend process. We started to talk about what if we translated these ideas and these philosophies into kind of a system or a framework for everyday life. And we spent years experimenting with these things on our own and we started writing about them. And, you know, as you did in reading the book, we immediately got this sense that this is a universal problem.

This is something that everybody struggles with, whether you are you’re sort of operating at 90 percent and you want to get to 100 or whether you’re down somewhere a little bit lower. And you’re just trying to create a sense of normal and a sense of calm in your life. We felt like it was necessary. And so we decided to take all this experimentation and all these unique opportunities that we’ve had to go inside of companies and work with people and change their defaults for them and packaged it together. And that’s that’s what’s in the book.

And so we decided to take all this experimentation and all these unique opportunities that we’ve had to go inside of companies and work with people and change their defaults for them and packaged it together. And that’s that’s what’s in the book.

Finding Your Daily Highlight

Brad: And John, I look at my own productivity life, if you will, and I have these to do lists and I’ll check everything off. And I mean, that’s a nominally successful day. And I say that kind of sarcastically. Yeah. But yet I’ll look back at the day and say, what the heck did I actually do? What did I accomplish? I did everything right. I checked everything off. But yet it didn’t feel fulfilling.

And in the book, you talked about these design sprints and said, quote, The first thing we learned was that something magic happens when you start the day with one high priority goal. And that really stuck out to me, and especially when I was reflecting on what was going wrong with my own days and weeks.

John: Yeah, we came up with this idea of the daily highlight. And so our pitch, if you will, are sort of proposal is that at the start of each day you should ask yourself, what do I want to be the highlight of my day? What is the thing that is most important to me today? What’s the thing that’s most deserving of my energy and my attention? And that’s not going to be the only thing you do, of course. I mean, life doesn’t work that way for almost everybody.

But there is something magical. There is this surprising sense of clarity and purpose that comes from being very intentional about the one thing that you want to make time for. And, you know, I’m sure there’s science about this. I’m sure there’s research. But largely it’s kind of this intuitive thing of fitting the focus to the fundamental unit of the day.

And I think, you know, again, when we when we get into sort of reading about productivity and optimization and all these things, we tend to focus a lot on the very, very micro that the to do list, you know, the task management type stuff. And we focus on the very, very macro, like what’s your five year plan? You know, are you on track to become FI or to do whatever? And really, life happens in between. You know, life happens day by day. And so we feel like the day is kind of the best possible unit for people to look at and to ask themselves, what is the one thing I want to make sure that I get out of today and then really to build their day and build their routines and their habits around that one thing.

And I think, you know, again, when we when we get into sort of reading about productivity and optimization and all these things, we tend to focus a lot on the very, very micro that the to do list, you know, the task management type stuff. And we focus on the very, very macro, like what’s your five year plan? You know, are you on track to become FI or to do whatever? And really, life happens in between. You know, life happens day by day. And so we feel like the day is kind of the best possible unit for people to look at and to ask themselves, what is the one thing I want to make sure that I get out of today and then really to build their day and build their routines and their habits around that one thing.

Brad: And John, early on in the book, you actually have a story in your own life about how you basically essentially lost two months of your life. And you had no clue, you couldn’t recollect what you had done.

It did seem like you were stuck between that day to day and these faraway goals. And you said it was the simple but satisfying activities that helped stop the blurring of time. And I thought that was really profound and that led to this concept of the highlight. I’m curious, how do you pick the highlight? What qualifies as a highlight? If I wanted to go to cross fit with my wife? Is that a highlight? Is that too little? Is that you know, like how does someone really contemplate what is the highlight?

John: I think fundamentally it’s an intuitive thing. So it’s one of the philosophies of the book and of our work with the design sprint as well as to really embrace human intuition. This amazing power that we have to make high quality gut decisions about important things.

And so I discourage people from getting too into the weeds on exactly how to pick the highlight, because it’s really that intuitive sense of what’s most important to me today. You know, what’s not what’s the thing that I have? You know, this at the top of the priority list or I’ve sorted in my project ranking spreadsheet. And is that, you know, the most important thing that like, you know, really inside what feels like the most important thing.

There are a few strategies that we find people using and that we use. And one is to focus on urgency. You know, things that truly are time sensitive and they need to get done today because there is a deadline or somebody is waiting for them. And in those moments it can become a really powerful mechanism to say, look, this thing’s got to get done and I’m going to structure my day around making it happen. I’m not going to wait until I get to the end of the day and I’ve gotten through all my meetings and all my emails and then try to squeeze it in. I’m gonna build my day around it.

Another strategy is satisfaction. So looking at things that maybe nobody is really asking you for, but you’ve been meaning to get around to them. It could be, you know, a proposal for a new project that you want to write up or a new hobby at home, something that you want to get off the ground and using your highlight as a way to make time for that and bring some much needed attention to that thing that you’re gonna be in a feel really good that you did.

And then the third strategy and we see a lot of people using as is just joy. You know, it’s just choosing things that are fun, that are gonna make you happy. You’re gonna bring you joy. And I find myself kind of rotating between these different strategies and using my highlight to sort of balance out my life, you know, kind of at the week level. So I might have a couple of days when I’m really focused, kind of grinding away at writing something new or working on a new design project. And so I’ll have a couple of very sort of work focused type highlights.

But then a couple nights ago, I went to a basketball game with a good friend of mine, Milwaukee Bucks. I knew that that was coming at the end of the day. And so I made that my highlight and actually structured my day around making sure that I had enough done and I was feeling good enough about my day that I could go and really enjoy that moment with a good friend of mine. So it’s kind of this intuitive thing. But I find that the people who use it really successfully, you know, they sort of use it to shine a light on different aspects of their life that require a bit of attention.

But I find that the people who use it really successfully, you know, they sort of use it to shine a light on different aspects of their life that require a bit of attention.

Brad: John, I’m curious, as far as unexpected things that pop up like for instance, literally last night I played ping pong with my seven year old daughter Molly for about an hour and I could not have forecast that this is going to happen. Yeah, but it was clearly, without any question, the highlight of my day. Now, from like a gratitude perspective, if I’m looking at a highlight, that’s something I’ll keep in my head. But like that is clearly not something I would have written the night before as my highlight for yesterday.

So talk me through like setting highlights how this moves essentially because life happens.

John: You know, I think the nice thing about the ping pong game with your daughter is stuff like that is that it’s all gravy. You know, it’s all gravy on top of what can be a very, very focused and deliberate day when you use the highlight and you use the other tactics in the book.

And it’s kind of a funny thing with the highlight, which is that by the time the day is over, you end up sometimes not even thinking about it because you already sort of got the benefits of it. You know, the benefit is not so much in fixating on it throughout the day, but rather and having that as your North Star, when you’re beginning the day, when you’re planning your day, you’re setting up your plan for the day, making any adjustments you need.

And I often find that. But by the time I get to the end, I’m not thinking back on the highlights specifically, but I’m looking back at all the things throughout the course of the day that I feel good about, that I’m satisfied by that. I’m grateful for. And we encourage people to do a bit of a daily reflection and we provide sort of a template, a notes template in the book that people can use. And one of the questions we ask in that reflection is what’s something I’m grateful for today? So that certainly can be your highlight. But, you know, it doesn’t have to be. And I think having that perspective at the end of the day of like, what am I grateful for? Whether it was something I planned or didn’t plan was something that happened today that I’m really happy about.

Managing Distractions

Jonathan: So your framework is that we talked about highlight, which is kind of the first step of your framework, but it’s actually four steps that kind of happen in rotation and it’s highlight laser reflect and energized.

And we’re actually going to spend some time on each of those. But I wanted to come back actually to the title as the setup for this make time because it’s great to have a highlight or even to set a priority the day before. But so often the highlight just never, even if you plan on it, never happens because life gets in the way. You start the day you have forty five emails that you need to do, and by the time you’ve left them you have another forty five. You have a meeting that you need to go to. You just have priorities that you have to handle because life is there.

And then when you’re not doing that, you have distractions that are easily accessible. You talk about these distractions and in fact in many cases you’re responsible for some of these. You personally are responsible for some of these distractions. Talk us through the patterns that you saw there that you and Jake really identified as time suckers.

John: Definitely. So there’s a whole category of apps and services that we call infinity pools. These are the things that you can pull to refresh the things that are automatically updating in the background, the things that are streaming. Anything that has sort of that endless supply of interesting content where you can jump back into the pool at anytime there’s always something more there for you.

And so many of these things, we accept them into our lives without really thinking. You know, if you think about getting a new smartphone and you take it out of the box and by default it’s got an email app pre installed. And by default, it’s going to check automatically in the background and it’s going to show you a notification every time a new message comes in. By default.

We’ve got ways to check the breaking news and the stock market updates. And we’ve got all these things on our phones that we didn’t necessarily choose to install. We didn’t say, you know what, I need to have this information. This is the most important to me. But it just kind of comes, it comes as part of the package. And there’s so many things like this that exist in our lives, in our world.

It’s funny because our world was created by us, but we have created a world that we are not prepared to thrive in, you know. So it’s sort of like I’m using the general ‘we’ here, you know, all of us as humans, we were unable to anticipate the consequences of the things that we have created. And it’s not just technology products, but it’s all sorts of things. It’s the ways that our cities are designed. That’s the ways that we get around. It’s the way that our food system works.

So if we’re not aware that these defaults exist and we don’t understand that they can be changed and that they need to be changed, if we want to have more control over how we’re spending our time, then we get stuck in that autopilot mode where the day flies by. We were busy, but we didn’t get a lot of important stuff done. And so the really important thing about technology in particular is understanding that so many things happen by default. So many things that are engineered to kind of pull at our attention, pull at our time. Those defaults can be changed. You can restructure the environment of the tools that you use to make them less distracting, to remove the temptation to do a quick check to, you know, sort of get sucked into the breaking news or whatever is going on.

So if we’re not aware that these defaults exist and we don’t understand that they can be changed and that they need to be changed, if we want to have more control over how we’re spending our time, then we get stuck in that autopilot mode where the day flies by. We were busy, but we didn’t get a lot of important stuff done. And so the really important thing about technology in particular is understanding that so many things happen by default. So many things that are engineered to kind of pull at our attention, pull at our time. Those defaults can be changed. You can restructure the environment of the tools that you use to make them less distracting, to remove the temptation to do a quick check to, you know, sort of get sucked into the breaking news or whatever is going on.

Brad: So, John, let’s talk real actionable tips here about about the phone in particular. I can think of family and friends of mine. They are just responding. I can think of members of my family or friends, for instance, who they’re just constantly responding the phone that it has the beeps, it has the buzzes on. And if a beeper buzz, a phone call comes in, it’s looked at within five seconds because, oh, the horrors, you know, what would happen if you didn’t look at it right away?

I personally have started to remove a lot of the notifications and I’ve found that that’s helped. But it’s only helped to a certain degree because it’s still only two clicks away as opposed to just getting pushed through. But I’d love to hear your thoughts both on just removing notifications and also removing apps specifically. And what type of apps are we looking to remove? How does this work for you in particular? And I guess more broadly, what advice would you give?

John: Yeah, turning off notifications and turning off sounds in those types of things is a really good first step. It’s kind of a, you know, it’s the most obvious first step. And so that takes care of the active interruption, you know, takes care of these cases where our phones are actively interrupting us. We were doing one thing and then we hear a buzz or we see an alert and now we’re doing something else. And so I think that’s obviously problematic. There is a deeper level, though.

Just the presence of an addictive habit forming app on a phone is very compelling to us. We find that difficult to resist.

You think of somebody who has an addiction to gambling, the fact that they live half a mile from a casino doesn’t mean that they’re never going to gamble just because they don’t actively see it. It’s not actively in their line of sight. They know it’s there. And the behaviors that make that activity so compelling, the habit loop that exists for those people that draws them back into the casino and playing those games that is still there. And that’s exactly the way that a lot of the distracting technology products work as well.

One of the things that I’ve researched a bunch over the last several years is habits. Habits are sort of the mechanism by which we unconsciously do repetitive actions. So they’re not the big decisions we make once in a while. They’re not the intentional things that we do. They’re the things that we basically offloaded to this very special part of our brain that can run on autopilot. And they require a specific context and they require a specific cue to remind us to do something. And then there’s a routine where we’re performing some activity and then there’s a reward that we get at the end of that activity.

Just because we don’t have a notification on our phone doesn’t mean that we’ve disrupted that flow because it doesn’t have to be an active cue. It doesn’t have to be a hey, check the news. Hey, refresh Twitter. It can be something as simple as a moment of boredom or it can be a comment that we overhear from somebody else. It can be a friend who says, oh, hey, did you read about that thing that happened that sparks you to grab your phone and kind of get sucked into this infinity pool.

So we think that if you truly want to reclaim your time, you know, when we talked about sort of, you know, this idea of of a highlight and you set your highlight and that’s great. But then, you know, life happens, life gets in the way that time needs to come from somewhere. And that attention and that energy that you’re spending on things needs to come from somewhere. And we think for most people, your phone and the other digital devices in our lives is a great place to take that stuff back from, to take that time back from.

So we think that if you truly want to reclaim your time, you know, when we talked about sort of, you know, this idea of of a highlight and you set your highlight and that’s great. But then, you know, life happens, life gets in the way that time needs to come from somewhere. And that attention and that energy that you’re spending on things needs to come from somewhere. And we think for most people, your phone and the other digital devices in our lives is a great place to take that stuff back from, to take that time back from.

Because nobody says, I wish I spent more time on my phone. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, you know, I’m thinking today and maybe three and a half, four hours on the phone would be good. Nobody says that yet. Those are the averages. That’s the data about how much time people spend on their phones. And there’s equally shocking numbers about watching TV, which includes streaming and includes Netflix and things like that.

So we think if people want to reclaim that time and reclaim their attention, the fundamentally best thing you can do is to cut off that temptation at the source by removing apps. When you remove an app like Twitter or Instagram or even email from your phone, you don’t have to worry about resisting that temptation. You don’t have to worry about trying to use willpower to stay on track because there’s enough friction there that it’s not impossible to check your email, but it’s difficult. You have to go through a bunch of extra steps.

And the research on habits shows that the best way to break a habit is to add friction, to make it more difficult to get sucked in to that habit loop. So removing apps is really a simple and powerful way to do that. But there’s lots of other examples of how you can sort of modify your environment to add friction as well.

Jonathan: I want to stay here a little bit longer just because I think, as you pointed out, this is so prevalent now you could say someone’s listening to say, well I, I’m on my phone while I’m watching TV. So it’s like a two for one. Yes. Well played, sir. Well, played it. All right.

But no, I want to come back to this. So you and Jake were both in the software industry, both worked for Google. Google has created several of these types of apps, which could be either, you know, are either infinity pools or other. I only say that to say I don’t like you guys are evil guys. I don’t think software engineers are evil. I don’t think there’s a malicious conspiracy here. But since you’re inside the industry, why do these infinity pools exist? Why? Why? What’s the point of them? And then two and this is what I loved about the book, because I am a tech guy. I love tech. If I were reading a book and it told me to throw my cell phone in the trash, I might throw the book in the trash. My cell phone’s not going anywhere. You guys love tech and you’re going to come out of you still loving tech. So what’s the role here and what’s going on behind the scenes up this balance point?

John: I think that that sort of love of tech and that enthusiasm for all the amazing things that technology can do is really at the core of how we ended up with these products that we’ve got. It didn’t start from some evil master plan of let’s try to make things that are super addicting, that suck up everybody’s time. You know, it came from this desire to make things that were really cool and really interesting and really valuable and fun and compelling and whatever.

But there’s a couple of innate characteristics of the software business that then enabled things to spiral out of control. There’s the rapid iteration, the ability to very, very quickly make changes.

There’s the measure ability of the effect of those changes. And, you know, when you when you have a software product that’s live in the world, you have an app and you’re measuring something like the number of times a person uses it per day or the number of minutes they spend in it. And you have the ability to launch tweaks or changes to that app every day, sometimes more than once a day. You’re obviously going to optimize for the things that you’re measuring.

You know, the incentives are going to be to try to make that number go up, you know, to see that that line go up and to the right. And on top of that, the economics of the software business are largely tied to advertising. Google’s business is a bit unique in the sense that it’s really intent driven advertising. So it’s a little bit different from Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, which is advertising that’s based on sort of targeting you based on the sort of characteristics of what you look at and what you’re interested in. But still, regardless of those details, the economics, the business model incentivizes these same metrics of getting people to look at things more, to spend as much time on these products as possible.

I still have lots of friends who work in the technology industry. And I think that and I hope this is not naive, but I tend to believe that for the most part, these have been unintended consequences. There are some people who have very deliberately engineered and designed and written about and taught how to engineer habit forming products. To me that is that’s a bit problematic, because I think that’s where you start to cross the line into purposeful manipulation.

But I think for the most part the consequences have been unintended. And really, it’s the sort of characteristics of the business, the business model and the ways that software is built and delivered that have added up to this seemingly untenable situation that we’re in.

But like you said, Jake and I are our tech people. And, you know, we continue to really be optimistic about technology. And so and we’re the same way. You know, for us, a blanket ban on digital technology is not interesting and that doesn’t seem realistic. And so our approach really is to help people focus on the things about technology that are really magical, the things that feel like they give us superpowers that enable us to do incredible things, things like the Amazon Kindle that allows us to download a book in five seconds or Google Maps, where we can step off a plane in a city in the world and immediately be able to find our way around or, you know, other stuff that we’re using to record this podcast. The ability for us to have this conversation across distance and to share it with people who we may never meet. I mean, that stuff is is magical.

And by removing apps and by adding friction around the apps that we don’t want to prioritize, that we don’t want to be spending our time on, it not only frees up time for us to focus on the things that are really important to us, but it recharacterizes our relationship to technology. So our technologies become something that we are using to make ourselves better, to add value to our lives, to enable us to do things that we really care about and that are really exciting to us instead of letting those technologies use us.

Brad: Yeah. Jake in the book described his phone as almost akin to the one ring in the Hobbit, calling to Bilbo Baggins. And I feel that sometimes it’s funny. Like I’ll open my phone up. I have my little thumbprint. Jonathan’s putting his phone up. Here is his precious and I’ll feel that unconscious like, oh, I can just click on Gmail. That’s my thing. That’s my issue. Is Gmail on the phone?

And I have that little space between the stimulus and response sometimes. Right. Sometimes it just gets pressed. Other times I actually feel bad about myself. I’m like, I don’t even want to be checking, but this is just it’s a habit. And then I’ll put it down. But then somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m intellectually honest enough to know that I’m going to check it sometime the next hour. It’s inevitable. Yeah. So that’s why. Yeah, I think removing it. It’s something I’m almost like afraid to do. Like, I don’t know. Is my Google account gonna shut down on my Android phone? Some ridiculous nonsense like that.

Jonathan: I can assure you, Brad, that it won’t. It does not.

Brad: Okay, good good. So right now, I’m going to challenge myself here to as soon as we get off with this recording, I’m uninstalling Gmail.

Jonathan: But play it, play it out. Let me actually bring that in. I want to give this back to you, because you talked about infinity pools and we also want to talk about busy bandwagons. But just to focus on this Gmail thing, this is the biggest epiphany, because I had the same thing. I deleted Facebook Messenger, I deleted Twitter, I deleted Instagram, I deleted. Actually, if you show me how to delete Google notes, which you swipe left, it has this news feed which is carefully aggregated. It will go forever. It was one of the worst for me. That was my like grazing ground.

My wife saying, what are you doing? And I was like, just staying informed. All right. So anyways, I deleted all those and it came to Gmail I was like, oh, you know. But then I realized I never want to reply on my phone. Like, you can’t possibly give someone the answer they deserve. And if you’re only going to give them a ‘yeah, okay’. Why does that, there’s no urgency there. Why and why would I check it? So, you know, I’ll give it back to you, John, talking about busy bandwagons, but it seems to me that you were reacting to other people’s priorities and we’re adding a level of urgency, which really isn’t there.

John: Yeah, that’s right. It’s we’re not checking our email again to the point about defaults and being intentional. We’re not checking your email because it needs to be checked, because we’re hanging on to a super time sensitive message that’s going to come in and change the course of our day or our life. It’s just because the app is already on our phone. It’s pre installed and it is there and it is tuned to create a habit of checking it frequently.

What you said about not replying to e-mail on your phone is really huge. And I always encourage people that they struggle with email to do two things. The first is to remove the email app from their phone because most people don’t respond to email. So in addition to the, you know, sort of annoying, nagging feeling that you always to want to do a quick check, there’s an additional problem, which is that you look at your email and you see things and then you’ve basically added this layer of attention residue. And that’s not my term, that’s a term that a researcher came up with.

But you basically are you’re sort of building this kind of ball of this stuff that like grows and grows like this big snowball that you’re trying to pay attention to and you’re trying to keep track of throughout the day. But you’re not in a position to do anything about it, you know, because you’re on the go, because you’re standing in line waiting for a coffee. You’re not gonna deal with that thing that needs to be done. You’re not going to complete that project that somebody is e-mailing you about.

So removing email from your phone is a huge step. And the second thing for people who struggle with email is to schedule time for email. There is some interesting research on this, too, which is that people in a particular study who were sort of forced to check their email only three times a day, not only felt less stressed, which is to be expected, that seems sort of obvious, but they actually got better at doing email. They became faster and more efficient.

So when it came time to really take care of their email, they were better at it. And I think it speaks to the power of compartmentalizing your time. And this is a philosophy that is woven throughout make time and design sprints and all the work that I’ve done. It’s basically about doing one thing at a time and doing it well and being clear about which time of the day is going to be my time for focused work and which is gonna be the time for busy work, which is going to be the time for administrative work and keeping those things separate.

You know, when we keep them separate, it’s OK if we spend two, three hours doing e-mail. If you know, that’s the nature of our work and we get a lot of e-mail, that’s fine. But I think it’s when we let those things mix in, we let those sort of addictive that infinity pools and apps that kind of pull at our strings, we let those seep into all the little spaces of the day that we get this feeling of being out of control and feeling like we don’t really have time for the things that are important to us.

Jonathan: You know, what I love so far as we’ve really. These are some of the big ideas. And I’ll continue to like weave in the small actions that I took. And maybe, Brad, you as well, you know, as a result directly of reading this book, I should say a lot of things that we’re talking about. I did that day or the very next day and I’ll have additional stuff to talk about.

John: That’s incredible.

Jonathan: It’s amazing. I mean, really, I don’t think I could have said this about any other book that I was able to dramatically improve my life within a space of hours of finishing this book and certainly within days.

The Make Time Framework

Let’s go ahead and take a step back. Right. That was a little bit micro and I think it’s important. So I think it actually add some flavor to the framework. Walk us through with what the building blocks that we built so far. How does all this become this make time framework?

John: Sure. The make time framework has four steps. The first is highlight, which is all about starting your day by choosing a single thing that you want to make sure you make time for that thing, that you want to sort of structure your day around. The one thing you want to make sure that you get to before the end of the day.

The next step is laser. And that’s really about creating barriers to distraction. So finding ways to reconfigure the technology that you use or the environment of your home or your office to give you more control over your attention and your time so that you actually you can do your highlight. You can do the thing that’s important to you, but also achieves sort of a level of calm and presence throughout the day.

So finding ways to reconfigure the technology that you use or the environment of your home or your office to give you more control over your attention and your time so that you actually you can do your highlight. You can do the thing that’s important to you, but also achieves sort of a level of calm and presence throughout the day.

The third step is energize. And this one’s a little bit different because this is not about productivity or, you know, sort of process or things like that. It’s really about understanding that our brains and bodies are connected, you know, are our bodies don’t work right if our brains aren’t well. And our brains don’t work right if our bodies aren’t well.

And we need to take care of our whole body if we want to have energy for the moments that matter.

If when we’re in that moment where we feel sort of the pull of distraction, we want to have the energy to say, you know what, I’m good. I’m going to do something else. You know, instead of getting sucked into this thing, I’m going to do something that’s really important to me. And that comes from a lot of basic stuff, you know, stuff about food and movement and sleep and things that everybody kind of knows at some level.

But also it comes from things that people don’t always appreciate, like spending time face to face with people that you care about or having moments of quiet or calm in your day. Even something as simple as sitting down for a meal with a friend instead of kind of eating at your desk or going for a walk without headphones, you know, just doing nothing, just walking. Those things can actually give you energy. They can actually make the rest of your day better, even if you know they’re not the most sort of efficient or productive thing that you could be doing.

The fourth step is reflect. And the idea here is that the best way to make any kind of change to your life, to what you’re doing with your days, is really to take it one day at a time. And so we encourage people to look back at the end of each day and ask themselves what they wanted to make time for, whether they made time for it, how they felt throughout the day and which tactics they used, which changes, which of those specific things from the book they tried and how they worked for them. And then most importantly, what they’re going to do tomorrow.

So really thinking of our time as something that can be designed, something that we can kind of experiment with and play around with and little by little, improving this system and making it fit into your life better over time.

Jonathan: So as I took your system and I tried to look at my own life and I realized that one of the things that I’ve been frustrated by is my lack of ability to prioritize goals that I have for myself.

And so to put that in perspective. I really want to exercise and engage in some level of activity on a daily basis that promotes my health. I really want to feel like I’m productive and I really don’t want to feel like ChooseFI, this business which I love, doesn’t stretch across my whole day. Then I felt like those were in conflict with each as anytime I wanted to exercise or take this time or spend time with my son, I always felt like it was robbing, you know what I needed to do, my obligations with this business and it’s because I didn’t prioritize anything in particular.

And I also didn’t realize that I could actually change like when I’m working on ChooseFI, I just was I didn’t question it. It just was, you know. As the audience listens to this, I recognize you may be in a different situation, but please pull this out to your own situation. I’m reading your book and it’s either you or Jake basically says you actually did this on a Google calendar. You scheduled a do not schedule or schedule yourself or whatever over this period time. In that window of time, you then schedule what activities you wanted to do.

And then you said, you know, you may or may not have this sort of flexibility with your boss, but you may be able to do a version of it. And I’m sitting there reading that. I’m like, I’m the boss. I get to pick. I get to pick when I’m working and when I’m not working and I’m not prioritizing myself at all. So between what I just said with the apps and the notifications, I just finished deleting all of those. I’m riding the high from realizing that, wow, historically, maybe I was one of these people that was touching my phone on average over two thousand times a day, subconsciously not even realizing maybe that’s me and then realizing that ChooseFI we were doing interviews at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which for me is a horribly inconvenient time if I’m trying to do some sort of exercise program.

And Brad had been trying to work out with his wife Laura multiple days a week and they were having to break that rhythm to come here and do this. And I could see there was a little bit of frustration there and I was like, dude, we can just make the schedule whatever we want. We could just schedule ourselves to eleven thirty. And then from there we can cram everything else in. After that point up to this point, then we shut off for the day and then the last piece of that all that’s fine, except that in the past without this book that free time was sucked up by the infinity pools of Netflix. Let’s talk about the fact that Netflix you want to pick the next episode, right. It just goes to the next episode. The email that you can do all that, you know, you can answer and check your email four or five times a day. The endless refreshes on the apps. And then just this crazy mentality, you eliminate TV, you eliminate all these things you were just doing because you don’t even remember the last three or four months.

So get rid of anything that prevents you from remembering the last three or four months. And it focused on these big ideas. And within two days I had actually designed my life like designed my life. And then I can look back. I started waking up at 5:00 knowing that my time is five to eleven. That’s what I scheduled. Yeah. And then knowing that ChooseFI is I’m laser focused. Between 11:00 and whatever time we pick and then carving that remainder for my family, there’s no guilt about what I haven’t had done because I plan to make that highlight in the morning.

I mean, maybe not everybody can do exactly that, but a version of that. And I’m just curious for you, what did that look like for you when you applied your framework to your life? What did you do?

John: Yeah, well, when it started, it it wasn’t quite like that because, you know, when I started thinking about this stuff and working on this stuff, I still had a full-time corporate job. I still worked at Google. I was going to an office every day. And so, you know, I started small and I always encourage people to start small.

And for me, one of the most powerful things that I could do was to really think about using my morning intentionally. And I’m not a natural morning person. And so I’m not the type of person who jumps out of the bed naturally before the sun comes up. But I found that if I had a plan for my morning, if I scheduled those first couple of hours of the day, not only was I beginning my day on a proactive note, but I was also really in it in a real way. I was making time for things that were important to me.

And in fact, Jake and I wrote most of Make Time in that slot. I did most of my writing before work, before going into the office and then on the weekends, because again, we still we were both working full time at Google. But I think this idea of scheduling everything honestly is really powerful. A lot of times are our calendars are just lists of things that we have to do, lists of meetings that we’ve been added to or sort of demands that other people are placing on our time.

But we can reclaim our calendars. You know, we can use our calendars as a list of things that we want to do, the things that are important to us. And it may not be the whole day. It might just be a part of the day.

But I think when we use that tactic, when we design our day by scheduling things on our calendar, we’re kind of separating out the version of ourself that is calm and collected and has a plan for how we want to spend our time. From the version of ourselves that is in the moment that is maybe being pulled down the path of least resistance or making a decision that’s based on what’s convenient or what’s easy or what’s immediate, you know, what’s right in front of us. And if so, if our calm sort of planning self can think ahead and kind of plot out the day in the expectation that our future self is going to be a bit distractable and is going to be susceptible to being pulled in a different direction, then we can really set ourselves up for having a great day.

But I think when we use that tactic, when we design our day by scheduling things on our calendar, we’re kind of separating out the version of ourself that is calm and collected and has a plan for how we want to spend our. Time from the version of ourself that is in the moment that is maybe being pulled down the path of least resistance or making a decision that’s based on what’s convenient or what’s easy or what’s immediate, you know, what’s right in front of us. And if so, if our calm sort of planning self can think ahead and kind of plot out the day in the expectation that our future self is going to be a bit distractable and is going to be susceptible to being pulled in a different direction, then we can really set ourselves up for having a great day.

Brad: John, this reminds me of, I guess, what’s known as Parkinson’s law. That work expands to fill the time available for its completion, which is, like Jonathan said, when you set up this structure. So he has these hours to himself in the morning, which he feels amazing about. And then, OK, whatever the time is for ChooseFI, it’s eleven to four or eleven to five, whatever it may be.

Almost invariably everything is going to get done that would have got it on if he’d spent from 6:00 a.m. until 5 p.m.. Yeah, it’s amazing how that happens. Right. And I think a lot of it is because you’re not just grazing, you’re not going back to I think of how many times I check email in a particular day. Email is my crutch. There is no question that I’d love to hear. I know you wrote extensively in the book about emails.

Are there strategies that people can employ? Because I know in a normal day when I’m not cognizant of it, I’m checking email 40 times at minimum, maybe a hundred times. I have no idea what the number is. It’s some absurd number and it kills my day. What would you advise someone like me?

Dealing With Email

John: Yeah. The first thing is I would advise removing the e-mail app from your phone, which we’ve already talked about.

Jonathan: Have you done that yet?

Brad: I’m doing it right now. And I’m going to do it right. And I have like five things I actually do on the phone. I’m going to remove three of them right now.

Jonathan: Keep going John. He’s gonna remove the app.

John: I love this. And then the next thing is to schedule email time and again, as you were saying, we tend to get things done in the amount of time that we’ve given for them.

And so by scheduling time for email, you know, maybe the way that I do it is I schedule in the morning a couple of short blocks for a kind of quick checks to get on top of anything that’s really time sensitive. And then I schedule a longer block in the afternoon, which is when I sort of go through and methodically go through every single email in the boxes. I start from the bottom and I work my way up and just reply to things and file things away.

And I look for messages that are actually there actually like a project or a task in disguise. Right. So email is just the delivery mechanism for what is actually a bigger piece of work. So it might be sending feedback on a project or it might be drafting something or it might be, you know, kind of updating some slides. And I got an email about that. But really that’s a bigger chunk of work. So I’ll pull that out of my inbox. I will schedule that somewhere in my calendar and then I can archive that email knowing that I’ve made a plan for doing the thing, you know?

So I think we sometimes get we get mixed up because we think of our email as being all one thing. Right. It’s this monolithic thing. It’s my email. But really our emails are a mix of small little things and really big, difficult, challenging things. Did you remove the app?

Jonathan: Is it gone Brad?

Brad: I’m trying. Google makes it very, very difficult. I’ve had to try my normal method like five times. I’m like now deep in the settings. So if you’re watching this on YouTube, you’re seeing the top of my head sadly.

Jonathan: I’m watching Brad, I’m like, this is taking longer than expected.

Brad: Yeah, way longer.

John: That was actually when I switched from an iPhone to Android. I liked how and I don’t know what version of Android you have, but I liked how you could go in and you could disable system apps.

Jonathan: He was right there. He got to the disable button. And then he doesn’t wasn’t sure that he wants to press it. It’s disabled. It’s all gone, replaces all data. Yep. All data will be removed. His head is going to explode.

John: They do make it seem very scary.

Jonathan: Read that out loud, Brad. Read.

Brad: I don’t like this. Alright, John I’m going to fix this, I promise.

Jonathan: It’s says all data will be removed. That’s terrifying. OK. We’ll keep going.

John: Yeah, it is. Yeah. And recognizing when an email is not just an email, you know, it’s not just a message, but it actually represents a bigger piece of work and pulling that work out of your inbox and giving it the space on your calendar that it needs to actually get done. And that’s very helpful.

I think there’s also some kind of mindset shifts that you can use to better stay on top of email. And one of them is, you know, tell yourself that email is just kind of a fancy digital version of regular mail. And you think about the regular mail and you think about how business worked for centuries. You know, the mail would get delivered. It would only get delivered once a day and it would sort of sit there and somebody would go through it and deal with it. But, you know, things still happened. Work still got done. The Golden Gate Bridge was built without computers. And as Jake likes to say, the first iPhone was designed without the benefit of the iPhone. So clearly, we don’t need all of this stuff quite as quickly as we think we do.

Creating A Productive Day

Jonathan: I’m just curious about process here. So I noticed you reference a sticky note. So in terms of how you actually create and process and plan your day, as I implemented this out that night, I opened up a journal and I created a page and I said what my highlight would be. And I worked through the urgency, the satisfaction of the joy, and I picked urgency, satisfaction for this blended one. Right. I had something to do with yard maintenance. And I’ve been putting it off for a month and a month that had been on my to-do list. I just knew I’d be so satisfied if I could just say that that was done. Finally, I woke up at 5 a.m. I had my coffee and a ritualistic manner. My pour over coffee, which is very reminiscent of what you guys every time I do that as well.

John: Yep. Yep.

Jonathan: I got my chem X for that. And then after I did that I just went and I did this after about an hour so I’d been up for about an hour. I’d been enjoying it. I prepped for two podcasts that were going to record that day. And then I went out and I did this lawn activity at six-thirty. I’ve never done anything in the yard before the afternoon. Why would you? And I did in this case.

And then I took the power and the motivation that I had from doing that. It rolled over into the next thing, which in that case was going to cross-fit and working out. And then I took the power in the motivation and the achievement that I had from doing that. And I was just my most productive self. I did four or five phone calls that I’d been dreading doing in this period of time. Just had it all done. I rolled into eleven o’clock doing more in that period of time that I had done and spans of weeks. You know, sadly, sadly.

And then that level of success and joy that I had from looking back at all these things that I crammed in. It gave me back my entire afternoon and evening with my wife and children know to go do whatever we wanted. Because what normally happened is busyness and drift would occupy the morning, then maybe a little bit more drift in the afternoon. And this kind of sense of regret or guilt about my lack of productivity would carry into the evening. So I would try to make sure I’m staying informed right in the evening till it’s time to go to bed. And I’d actually stay up late to try to get extra out of the day. Yeah. Just recognize my wife always wants to go to bed early. And because now suddenly this sense of fulfillment and ownership that I’d had over the first half of the day, I happily went to bed at nine thirty or whatever just on the early side of ten. And then getting up the next day at 5:00, super easy, just right out. It took two days to go from a guy that “I’m not a morning person” to suddenly I’m a morning person and I’m loving it. Loving it.

John: Yeah, yeah. It’s amazing how these things can reinforce each other and they can set up a virtuous cycle of, you know, just continuing to have more time, have more energy, have more attention for the things that really matter to you most day to day.

I can walk you through if it would be helpful. I can walk you through the typical day for me and how I fit all these tactics together. I’ll use yesterday as an example. So we are just right now in the process, Jake and I are launching an online course based on Make Time and helps people kind of go through a process of identifying where their time goes, where they want their time to be going, and then take them through making some changes to their technology, to their schedule, all the things that we’re talking about so that they have time for the things that matter, but they’re doing it in a way where there’s community, there’s accountability, there’s support they’re not just on their own reading a book and trying to make it happen.

So I’ve been working on that lately. Yesterday, I woke up just before 6:00, which is a little bit early for me in the winter, anyway, I tend to sleep in a bit later in the winter, but my wife is in grad school and she had class early in the morning. So we got up before 6:00 together. We keep all of our devices not only outside the bedroom, but we keep them behind the closed cabinet.

So in our dining room, we have a cabinet that has our all are charging station setups. We’ve got all the right cables coming through. And our phones and our computers and everything lives in there overnight. So wake up in the morning and have to put in a bit of work to actually get to my phone because it’s hidden away.

Went into the kitchen, made some coffee. I started drinking at Athletic Greens, which is like a supplement drink, which I feel embarrassed saying, but I’ve started doing that recently and I enjoy it as part of the morning ritual. And fed the cats too, I shouldn’t neglect to mention that, they would be very upset if I didn’t mention them, but then I had from basically 7:00 a.m. to noon to work on this big project. And so I split up that time into a series of working blocks where I work for about an hour and then I take a break and then work for about an hour and take a break.

And I had my my little email slot scheduled in there and all this stuff was scheduled in advance. So I use what I call a calendar template. It’s inside of Google calendar. It’s a separate calendar that I use to define my ideal day, you know, the day that I want to have. And of course, it never happens that way, but it’s my gold standard for what I want to do. And then I scheduled each day based on the particulars of what I actually have going on. You know, I’ve kind of got these working blocks and these e-mail blocks scheduled out throughout the morning.

And then I made some lunch and we had some leftovers so I made some lunch. And then in the afternoon I had a couple of meetings. So that was when I actually had one call and I went out to have one meeting. And then I had my sort of email block in the afternoon. So I had a couple of hours to sort of process through my email and go through all the things that needed a response. And, you know, I needed to get to them eventually, but they weren’t super time-sensitive.

And then the end of the day, I had plans once a month. I’ve got a group of friends that I get together with on a Tuesday and we go to a different part of the city and go to a couple different bars and hang out. So that was my Tuesday evening and met my wife for dinner after that and then was also in bed before 10:00.

But the key elements really were creating that friction around getting sucked into any kind of distracting technology, first thing. Having something that I’m excited about doing first thing in the morning. So having that project that I’m really excited about, having that highlight and then understanding sort of how my energy changes throughout the day and knowing that the afternoon is actually the best time for me to do administrative work.

But then also a great opportunity for me to spend time with people that I care about and sort of get the energy boost that comes from hanging out with my friends and hanging out with my wife.

Dealing With Interruptions

Brad: John, I love that concept of blocking out this time and just focusing and kind of a related topic that I specifically am curious about is mental switching costs. And I’ve read about this in your book. I’ve read about it repeatedly how when you’re focused on something and there is a distraction or an interruption, your brain takes X number of minutes. I’ve read anywhere between 3, 5, 20 minutes to get back to what you’re doing.

And while to me it both rings true and it’s somewhat not intuitive all at the same time, if you will. So bear with me. Clearly, I’m involved in something. I’m focused. And let’s say, you know, I work from home. My wife Laura stops in just to say hi. Which is wonderful, obviously. But it feels like, oh, man, my brain just it’s not focusing like I just I got the flow just all messed up in essence. But then she goes on her merry way and I’m back to work and it feels like I’m right back in. But yet, reading all this research, every single thing that I’ve read suggests that I’m wrong about that, that it does take me X number of minutes to get back into it. I’d love for you to talk through this mental switching costs because I think people, again, are cognizant of it, but I don’t know that they necessarily believe it to the extent that the research suggests.

John: I think the most important thing to understand is that when we think about multitasking, we need to realize that what we’re really doing is switching. So we think we’re doing multiple things at once. But what we’re actually doing is we’re switching back and forth between things very rapidly. So that’s the first thing to keep in mind. Then I think it’s important to think about interruption as being different from switching sort of self-directed switching.

The research that I’ve read on and we’ve probably read all the same stuff. But my understanding of the research on interruption is that there are different kinds of interruptions. And the worst interruption would be the kind of stuff that honestly happens at work a lot where a coworker comes over and they interrupt you with a question that is completely unrelated to what you were doing. Right.

So you have to kind of load a different set of data into your brain, you know, into you’re working memory. And then it’s kind of a tricky thing, you know. So it’s not a simple question. It’s not like they’re just stopping to say hi. But it’s a you know, it’s kind of a tricky question, something that requires you to think. And those are the most challenging types of interruptions. Those are the types of things that probably take us the twenty-three minutes or whatever to recover from.

So the interruption from your wife saying, hi, you know, that’s probably not so bad. You know, that’s that doesn’t require any great cognitive energy from you. And in fact, it probably, you know, makes you happy, you know, gives you a bit of a lift, a bit of a spark. And I think because it doesn’t completely take you out of the zone that you’re in, doesn’t take you away from what you were doing. I think that that’s, you know, all things considered, that’s probably a relatively easy interruption to recover from.

When it comes to switching on our own accord and jumping between tasks. Couple of important things to keep in mind. One is the role of working memory. And this is a bit of a kind of technology reference. But, you know, computers have RAM, which is the memory where things are sort of stored temporarily while you’re working on them. And that’s kind of how our brains work as well. You know, we have long term memory, obviously, but then when we’re really engaged with something in the present, we can load things into this working memory, the short term memory.

And whenever we switch between tasks, then we actually have to sort of offload what we were thinking about and load something new into its place. That definitely takes some energy. So a lot of the switching costs comes from that.

And whenever we switch between tasks, then we actually have to sort of offload what we were thinking about and load something new into its place. That definitely takes some energy. So a lot of the switching costs comes from that.

And then the other thing I think is just the sense of a loss of momentum. And you know, Jonathan, you kind of touched on how, you know, practicing these things. You sort of get a boost from when you finish something that you were excited to do and that propels you forward into something else and then that propels you forward into something else. And when you’re really in the zone, working on something that you care about or doing something that you care about or being with people that you love. It’s this continually reinforcing series of kind of mini milestones. You think you know, you’re writing and it’s like, all right. Finish the paragraph. Ready to dive into the next one, you know, and it just kind of keeps going forward. And when you switch either intentionally or unintentionally because you were interrupted or because the pull of the addictive or habit forming app kind of takes you out of that zone, you lose a lot of that momentum.

Jonathan: So as we’re kind of starting to get ready and prepped to go to the hot seat, I’m kind of thinking of these troubleshooting points that probably both of us experienced. And you addressed in your book. I wanted to talk about two in particular. One, what if the highlights really big and you’re just kind of brute forcing it that first day. So you’re like you’re writing, trying to write a chapter for your book, your next book that you’re coming out with. Then like you’re just stuck. You lean into it, but you’re stuck. And even if you were productive, it’s going to take you multiple days to finish.

John: Yeah, that’s part of sort of the intuition that comes from using the highlight as a daily practice. You begin to get this sense of what sort of things are reasonable to get done, you know, in a in a particular chunk of time, which things are good highlight material in that sense in which things are gonna actually take multiple days or multiple weeks or whatever.

And there’s a tactic in the book called Explode Your Highlight, which is basically about taking a big project and breaking it apart into all the little pieces, the things that you can actually do day by day. And that’s an idea that comes from at least in terms of my awareness comes from Getting Things Done. The book by David Allen.

The Importance Of Breaks

John: Another part of this that I think is important is, is understanding how necessary it is to take breaks and how sometimes we need to step away from something and give our brains a bit of space to kind of recover and then come back into it with a renewed sense of energy. And it’s gonna happen sort of in the course of an hour or a day. It can happen when we’re a little bit stuck on something and we need to step away from the desk.

Again, this ties into technology use as well. It ties into apps because a lot of times we use breaks as a way of doing a quick check of Twitter, email or something like that. But those breaks don’t actually renew our ability to focus. They don’t actually refresh us and so they don’t help us get unstuck. So taking a real break and stepping away. But sometimes that applies across days to or across weeks as well.

I remember when I was working in one of my first jobs at a tech startup and I was doing design and coding and that sort of thing. And I would have this problem at the end of the day where I felt so stuck and I felt like it was so challenging. And I would eventually put it aside and I would go home for the night and get a good night’s sleep and come in the next morning. And I would finish it in like 10 minutes, those things that I was like banging my head against the wall over it when I came back to it with a fresh mind it was so easy. It was so straightforward.

And so that kind of leads us to the strategy of sometimes stringing together highlights across days. And we call it sort of a personal sprint. And again, it ties back to some of the lessons that we learned, running design sprints with the startups that you can build up a head of steam when you’re in the flow of doing something. But you also, I think, retain a bit of that working memory and a bit of that momentum from day to day. And if you’re working on an article and you can work on it for two hours today and two hours tomorrow and two hours the next day, that’s gonna be a much better way to get that thing done than to try to grind it out in eight hours one day or split it up into lots of little 30 minute blocks, because that’s all the time you have.

Restart Again Tomorrow

Jonathan: And then the second thing that I wanted to ask you is from a troubleshooting perspective is and you kind of alluded to this with your calendar, what if you fail? You have this highlight. You have this grand plan to wake up at 5, every 30 minutes is scheduled and then you get nothing done. It’s an abject failure. What then?

John: There’s an important mindset here, which is that there is no failure, you know, in the context of these types of things. You know, there’s no such thing as doing it perfectly and there’s no such thing as failing, you know, where we’re doing the best we can. The good news is that we can try again tomorrow.

That’s one of the things that’s so powerful about taking one day at a time approach. If we have a day that didn’t go the way that we want, we can start again tomorrow.

That’s one of the things that’s so powerful about taking one day at a time approach. If we have a day that didn’t go the way that we want, we can start again tomorrow.

And the reflection becomes really important here. That process of looking back and, you know, thinking about what went well and what didn’t go well is really valuable. And it’s funny because we’re used to being analytical and critical about our work, but we’re not used to applying that same kind of thinking to our time. And I think if we can see our time as something that we can design, something that we can experiment with and we can make adjustments to, then when we do have one of those days where we feel like we failed, where we feel like we were distracted and we were too busy and we didn’t get to the things we care about. We can analyze that and we can figure out what changes we need to make.

Maybe we need to uninstall some apps. Maybe we need to put our phone away. Maybe we need to unplug the TV to create just a little bit of friction around whatever that thing was. But I think having that mindset that tomorrow’s a new day and that your time is something that you can design is really valuable.

Jonathan: So, John, thank you for being so generous with your time and really doing a deep dive on this book and really pulling out some of these big ideas.

I mean, these are things it doesn’t cost money to implement these ideas, you know, buy the book, implement the book, read the book, take action on the ideas and then iterate to design the life you want to live in, too. The book is Make Time to be found anywhere books are found. Highly recommended, we’ll have a link to it in the show notes for today’s episode. And there’s so much more in here. I think there’s over eighty-seven tactics that you can be implemented in five minutes or less and will serve you for the rest of time. Ha, pun intended.

The Hot Seat

On most shows, that would be the end of the episode. But John on this show, we would love to give you the chance to tackle the hot seat. Are you ready for this?

John: Yeah, let’s do it.

Brad: All right. John, question number one, what is your favorite blog, podcast, or book of all time?

John: I’m going to give you my favorite book, which is a book called Rapt, R A P T. And it is by Winifred Gallagher. It’s a book that I read when I was struggling with that winter where I lost those months and where I was kind of in this swirl of busyness and trying to be productive, but not feeling like I really had time for the things that were important to me. The thesis of Rapt is that your experience of life is not determined primarily by what happens to you, but by what you choose to pay attention to. And I read that book at the perfect time. And, you know, for anybody who’s listening or watching who reads Make Time, you’ll see a lot of that philosophy woven throughout.

Jonathan: Awesome. All right. Question number two is incredibly poignant in the context of today’s episode, an inflection point in your life that was especially memorable or meaningful.

John: Yeah, I’m going to go all the way back to when I was in college. I went into college, as many kids do, with what I thought was a plan for my life. And, you know, I was going to study engineering and I was going to go into that world. I followed that plan for the first year and a half of college and just hated it. It just wasn’t for me. And I always enjoyed making things and tinkering and being creative. But the way that engineering was taught was not appealing to me in the least. And so I decided to give up on that plan.

I stayed in college, but I basically I gave myself permission to not have a plan, to not have a goal and to just follow things that I was really excited about and to focus more on the process and less on the outcome. You know, that is what led me to doing web design and to working in technology and to being interested in writing and all these things that are still really important to me today. And, you know, it was an important inflection point, but it was by no means an intentional decision. It was just sort of this reaction to what I was feeling in the present.

Brad: Alright, John, question number three, your favorite life hack?

John: Yeah, I think my favorite life hack is the distraction free phone. So that’s a phone that has no social media apps, no news apps.

Jonathan: Oh, John, what apps are on your phone currently? That’s the real question here.

Brad: Yeah. Well, while you’re pulling your phone out, I just want to say I’ve just removed while we’re recording these six things that I ever open that I feel bad about myself for on my phone. So they are, every single one of them are gone at this point. The only things I use my phone for now is basically Google Maps, Spotify and my podcast player. That’s all

Jonathan: And Brad, you’ve got to realize when this episode goes live. You will, you know the Friday roundup. We will. Now, you’ll have three or four months of this decision baked in and you’ll be able to actually provide on Friday. When it goes live whether or not you regret this really terrifying decision that you’ve made, that was forced upon you.

Brad: And, you know my meditation app as well. I’ve got on here. Yeah, I’m yeah. I’m excited to report back. It’ll be a couple of months down the road from this recording anyway.

John: Yeah. That’s awesome. On my home screen, I have my calendar which is really important to me. Keep. Which is like a notes app by Google. Texting and phone. Then up here I’ve got freedom which is an app that will you can use to sort of lock yourself out of certain apps or websites. And I use it to lock myself out of mobile email. So because I find myself when I have my browser enabled, I’ll go and check my email on my phone. So I use freedom to lock me out. My Kindle app, I keep it on my home screen because it’s a reminder to me whenever I’m kind of grabbing my phone for that impulsive reason that if I’m going to do that, if I’m gonna get sucked into that, at least I want to be reading a book instead of reading something and sort of look away.

I’ve got Spotify. I’ve got Google Maps. I’ve got this is an app for opening our garage door. It’s kind of weird. And then this is that says mail. But what that is, is actually I have configured Yahoo! Mail to be used only to send messages. So when I tap that widget, it just opens the compose sheet. And so I don’t have the ability to check my own e-mail. I use Gmail normally, but I use this Yahoo! Mail app to send myself email. So if I have a quick you know, I need to send myself a note to remind myself of something. I use this to send it off to. So that’s my home screen. And then I’ve got a bunch of other stuff. I’ve got Uber and I’ve got, you know, obviously cameras on phones are amazing. So all that photo stuff and things like that.

But the only real infinity pools that I have are. Well, I guess at the moment, the web browser Chrome is probably the only infinity pool app that I have.

Jonathan: When I figured out how to delete the, if you swipe left on an Android phone, you get this Google News Feed. When I figured out how to delete that, my entire world opened up. It was amazing.

John: It’s so crazy that you say that because I just did that myself. I got a new phone semi-recently and that thing was disabled or was enabled by default. And I. Same as you. I. I found myself in these weird periods where I’m like, what the hell am I doing? Why am I reading this thing? And it’s the most bizarre collection of stories.

Jonathan: It’s just whatever you clicked on, you could click on one thing once and it’s going to give you five more of those. It’ll take you six unclicks to remove that from your aggreate. It actually convinces me that we have a little space before Skynet takes over the world. So it’s actually comforting in that regards.

John: I was getting like stories about the new Google pixel because like, that’s the phone I bought. It’s like now here’s some stories about it. And I was getting stories about like airlines, you know, because I’ve been flying a lot. And so apparently, you know, by Google think, I really like airlines now. But yeah so I just realized you could disable it and just did that a few days ago.

Jonathan: If you maybe, you know, there will be tens of thousands of people that will disable it now as a result of this conversation, I suspect. All right. Question number four, the biggest financial mistake that you’ve made.

John: Yeah. My wife and I bought a condo in 2007 and sold it in 2010. So for anybody who is familiar with the housing market during that time, that was the worst possible time you could you could buy and sell a home.

Brad: What if you don’t mind indulging us? What kind of percentage drop was it roughly?

John: Well, the percentage drop in sort of the top line sale price was not too bad. But when you own a home, there’s a lot other costs that go into it. And we had to bring a check to the closing. So we had to pay some money and to settle everything up. And we were selling because we were moving from Chicago to San Francisco.

You know, it’s one of those mistakes that ends up being really valuable in teaching you an important lesson, because it was right in the heart of the recession. And we’re like, this is a tough call, but we think it’s the right call to sell and to move out to San Francisco. And it really set us up for a very frugal and intentional lifestyle, having just gone through that experience. And so as we built our careers in San Francisco and started to get raises and promotions and all that stuff, we started just saving that money instead of spending it. If we hadn’t that sort of painful experience with the condo, I don’t know if we would have had that mindset going into that move.

Jonathan: John, I’m going to change this. Question number five, just a little bit here. It normally is the advice you’d give your younger self. And I’m sure that would be a great answer. But I’m actually curious, really, just in your book, you actually credit Paula Pant, Pete Adeney, very familiar faces in the FI community. And I’m just curious, what’s the overlap here with your FI story?

John: First of all, it’s sort of a just a philosophical level. There’s so many parallels between how we think about our money and how we think about our time. You know, in a lot of the challenges that we have, even something as simple as, you know, saving how to save money on a regular basis, how to invest on a regular basis. The tactics that work to do those things, you know, automation is sort of removing temptations to spend it. All those things are the exact same tactics that you use when you’re trying to make better use of your time. You’re trying to rethink how you spend your time. So that’s a big part of it.

Another part of it is that you know, using the tactics in this book, you can make time, you can reclaim time and spend it on the things that you care about. Up to a point, because at some point you run into sort of this brick wall of economic reality, which is that you got to get to work to have money to pay for stuff that you need to live in our world. And that’s where you start to crossover, into FI, into thinking about, well, if I want to, you know, only go to work for five hours instead of eight hours, or if I want to work only three days a week instead of five, or if I want to be in a place where I don’t actually have to work at all so that I have complete control over my time. That is in my mind, that is a continuation of the same thread. It’s a continuation of the same type of transformation that you’re going through. It’s just that as you cross over from being purely time focused into being more money-focused, you have to use a different set of tactics and tools.

Brad: I love the intersection of truly making time right either down out the micro of the day to the macro of Financial Independence.

John: Yeah, it was a couple months ago. I remember it listening to an interview on your show and you were speaking with somebody or maybe you were telling the story of somebody who had negotiated with her employer to work part-time. I think to work like 80 percent or 70 percent so that she could spend more time with her kids. But as a result, she was able to arrange things that she no longer had to pay for childcare.

The result was that she had more time with her kids. She was working less, but the money was net the same. You know, the money she had saved from paying for childcare that was offset by the loss in income. But that to me was really interesting example of being right at that transition point where you’re sort of you’re trading money for time and you’re making these decisions that can be, you know, both long term very good for you. Obviously, you know, one of the challenges in becoming FI is that you need to do these things over and over and over again for years to get to that point. But I think it’s really interesting when you can find short term things that have both short term and long term benefits and helping you have more control over your time.

Brad: John we’ve got a bonus question for you. What’s the purchase you’ve made over, let’s say, the last 12 months or so that it’s out of the most value to your life?

John: I’m going to choose an experience that I have started paying for, which is yoga. I have not been a person who traditionally pays for exercise. You could say, you know, I do a lot of walking and I like to run and I do sort of bodyweight exercises on my own. You know, very simple stuff. And that’s you know, I do that because I find that for me anyway, and a lot of people benefit from sort of the accountability of knowing that they have paid somebody for something. But for me, the easier I can make it, the more likely I am to do it.

So being able to exercise at home 30 minutes and not have to have all the time of getting to the gym and changing and all that stuff that really works for me. But I recently started doing yoga twice a week and going to a studio that’s right here in my neighborhood. And it’s amazing. I’m certainly not unique in saying that it has this very cool blend of physical and mental benefits.

And as somebody who doesn’t meditate in a sort of a structured, deliberate way, but tries to create a lot of space in my day for partial attention activities where I’m walking, I’m cooking, I’m doing things where my brain is free to wander to a certain extent. Yoga becomes basically two hours a week of enforced kind of passive thinking time for me. And so I really appreciate that in addition to the physical benefits.

Jonathan: John, this has been absolutely incredible. The book again for audience, Make Time. You need to get this book. Check it out from your library. If you have to buy it, I recommend buying it. You’re going to want to mark it up, make some notes. I mean, it’s just one of those books. It’s really, really incredible. I think you heard this come through. This is from the heart, folks. OK, John. People are listening to this episode. They want to find out more about you, your story. You and Jake are doing now, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Connect With John

John: Yeah. The best place to go is That is our website with all our articles and resources and everything new that we’re working on. And despite all the talk about distraction free phones and all that. I also encourage people to follow me on Twitter and reach out on Twitter. Yeah, I probably won’t reply right away, but I do have daily Twitter time scheduled into my calendar. So it’s a fun way for me to hear from people and hear what’s working.

Just know if I interact with you on Twitter, it’s from my desktop.

John: Exactly. This tweet sent from my computer.

Jonathan: That’s right. John, thank you so much. You’re coming on the show.

John: Yeah. Thanks, guys.

Jonathan: Alright my friends if you got value from today’s episode, if you’ve been getting value from the episodes up to this point, just take one second. Press the subscribe button on the platform you listen to us on. It just lets the provider know you’re getting value from show and you want to be here when we produce additional content.

If you’re watching us on YouTube and you’re noticing that Brad is not looking at you, he’s looking at his phone, it’s because he’s actually still in the progress of uninstalling every app. It actually took him eight to nine minutes to figure out how to uninstall Gmail. And that was probably by design, by default.

Anyways, you can find our YouTube channel at ChooseFI.TV. Subscribe while you’re there.

Alright my friends, if you’re trying to learn how to make time, check out John’s book and if you’re trying to figure out how to get started on your own path to financial independence. The easiest way to do that just go to There we actually have an illustrated guide to FI. It makes some of these big ideas very simple to start implementing and we’ll direct you to the episodes that you really need to hear in order to start implementing these ideas in your life.

All right, my friends, a fire spreading. We’ll see you next time as we continue to go down the road less traveled.

Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. American Express is a ChooseFI advertiser. Disclosures.
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