350: Productivity Principles to Make Time for What’s Important with Jake Knapp

By September 26, 2018Podcasts

 

 

Jake Knapp shares how to deliberately design your day around what’s important to you, and how to give yourself more energy in the process.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A fresh definition for what makes a day successful
  2. Why and how to set the highlight of your day before it starts
  3. Approaches to clear out distractions for laser focus

About Jake

Jake spent 10 years at Google and Google Ventures, where he created the Design Sprint. He has since coached teams like Slack, Uber, 23andMe, LEGO, and The New York Times on the method. Previously, Jake helped build products like Gmail, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Encarta. He is currently among the world’s tallest designers.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jake Knapp Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jake, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Jake Knapp
Pete, thank you so much for having me, really excited about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to have you as well. I want to start where perhaps many of your interviews have started, your lack of a spleen. Tell us the whole story behind this.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, I don’t have a spleen. I lost it while playing basketball. Not like it fell out or anything. But I was in high school and playing basketball. I took a really weird hard fall, where I actually sort of got caught up with my legs caught up on somebody’s shoulder and fell down really hard.

I lived – I grew up on this remote island, not super remote, but you have to get there by ferry boat up in Washington State. In order to get sort of medical care, you have to be helicoptered off the island if it’s an emergency. They did that. By the time they got me to the hospital, I had almost bled to death internally.

I had about – as it turns out they just had to sort of cut me open, see what was going on, and they had to take the spleen out because there wasn’t time to fix it, so I have no spleen and that’s the backstory.

Pete Mockaitis
That is wild. It sounds like you play basketball hard. Maybe that is a good thing for people to learn about like, “This guy is a badass.”

Jake Knapp
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Your latest book, it’s called Make Time. What’s sort of the big idea behind this one?

Jake Knapp
Well, to try to tie it into the spleen, I guess.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh please do.

Jake Knapp
Let’s see if we can. That was a near-death experience for me at the tender age of, I guess I was 16 at the time. I suppose that a lot of the idea in Make Time is about making good use of time. It’s about the idea that we have limited time in our days and in our years and in our lives and every day matters.

I think a lot of times it’s easy for the important things to get pushed off to someday, important work projects, important people in our lives, important hobbies or things that we hope to do or dig into or invest in. This is a book of sort of practical techniques for making time every day for whatever is important and making attention for it so that you can really pay attention and enjoy every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. It sounds super worthwhile. I’d like to maybe get a picture in terms of the difference this research and material and insight has made for you or your co-author or some readers. Could you give us maybe a little before/after or transformation story/case study of kind of what it’s doing for folks?

Jake Knapp
Yeah, it’s probably best to tell my story, my experience with it. I’m a designer by trade, a software designer. That’s what I have done for about 20 years. In my life I was building products. I worked at Microsoft. I worked on something called Microsoft Encarta, which most people probably don’t remember.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I do remember that.

Jake Knapp
Oh, okay, cool.

Pete Mockaitis
The encyclopedia on CD ROMS?

Jake Knapp
Exactly, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That brings me back.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, that was great except – it was great the first couple years I worked there. In the early 2000s when I was there it was kind of when Wikipedia was just taking off. It was also – I learned a lot of lessons. I learned a lot of lessons about the business of software. About 15 years ago I was really like, “Gosh, really every day is important. I need to make the most of it.”

But I think that this crucial moment, it’s something I describe in the book happened in I suppose around 2012, where I’m with my two sons. One of them is a baby at this point and the other one is maybe eight years old. I’m playing with them in the living room in the evening. It’s this great moment. It’s this great family moment.

I’m on my iPhone. I’m on my iPhone and I don’t even know what I’m doing. I’m just unconsciously pulling it out and looking at my email or looking at Facebook or whatever. My older son was like, “Oh, dad, what are you looking at on your phone?” not like trying to call me out.

Pete Mockaitis
Excuse you.

Jake Knapp
Just like, oh, like he was curious, like it must be something interesting if you’re not going to playing trains with us here. I was like, “Oh man, I don’t even have an answer for that. I don’t know why I’m looking at my phone. I have no good answer.”

I just – that kind of thing has happened to me a number of times, but at that one finally it was like something kind of clicked where I was like, man, I have been working for many years to try to figure out how to as effective and as efficient as I can at work, as productive as possible.

Yet here I am rushing to process as many emails as possible and go through as many meetings and get as much done as I can so that I can be home early and spend time with my kids and yet I’m not even mentally present. I’m just kind of checked out.

At that moment I was like, screw this. I deleted Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and YouTube and I shut – there’s a way to turn Safari off on your iPhone. I figured out how to do that. Just kind of in this kind of craze. I even deleted Gmail and I worked with the Gmail team at that time. I was like I can’t even handle this. Just took everything off of the phone.

The weird thing was that that was – that actually ended up feeling amazing. I kept the phone. The phone had still a lot of great stuff on it.

Pete Mockaitis
You can make calls. You can get and receive text messages.

Jake Knapp
Right. But you’ve got maps. You’ve got Uber. It’s got a great camera. They’re actually still – even though smartphone if you take away all that stuff, there’s still a lot of great things it can do.

That was – that is kind of like this moment where at that shift, all of the sudden I was like wait a second. I have just been accepting whatever kind of came at me from new products that came out or the expectations at work. I’ve just been kind of saying, “Yeah, I’ll meet this req. I’ll do this. They’re all good.”

I started to realize that the default settings were not necessarily beneficial for me and taking on everything was not necessarily – and this is kind of an obvious realization, but for me what happened from there till now was that I started to kind of question the way my days were spent, the way my time was spent.

My co-author and colleague at the time, John Zeratsky, and I were working on this process at work, where we were helping teams. In one week, we did this thing called a design sprint, where we would totally structure the whole week and have the team focusing on one project for the whole week. We were optimizing how they spent their time and we started to just do the same optimizations with our own time.

For me, it went from like I had this long-time dream of writing a book, but I had never even written so much as a kind of a blog post. All of the sudden as I started to make these shifts, the kind using the tactics from the book, I started to create time and space to write, basically by shutting down other things, saying no to other things, redesigning my calendar.

It’s kind of changed my life. Since then I’ve written three books. One of which is not published yet, but just coming out. Then another one, which is just finished. It feels more whole. It feels more like the way I want to spend my time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. You said it feels more whole, could you give us maybe a little bit more of a picture if you could paint in terms of the before and the after, how does it feel? Because I think some folks might need an extra push or oomph of motivation.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, totally.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re thinking, “There’s no way I could do that.”

Jake Knapp
Yeah, I guess actually that’s kind of the – I would have said the same thing if I heard this because I’ve read every productivity and time management book and often felt like they were – there’s a lot of really smart systems out there and philosophies, but for me at least, when I applied those, I usually just ended up feeling guilty. I was like I’m not doing that thing and I’m still just as overwhelmed by everything that’s going on.

The simple before and after I guess would be that before I used to judge my success at – let’s just talk about work, my success at work based on how productive I was, so how well was I kind of getting done all the things that I needed to get done.

I would every day – like working at Google, the amount of email that you receive is just astonishing, like come into work – actually maybe it’s not so astonishing. I don’t know. But at least when I first went there, I couldn’t believe how much stuff happened on email.

I’d come to work in the morning and have hundreds of emails to deal with. I felt like if I processed all of that email by the end of the day and got back to zero, that was like I’m on top of my email. If everybody who puts a calendar request on my calendar – if I can go to those meetings and help everybody with what they have going on, then I’m helping everyone on the team and that’s really good.

If I’m kind of processing through all of the to-do list, all the items on my to-do list and I’m on top of my to-do list, if I’m doing all those things, then I’m being productive. That’s kind of the before.

The after is I still have to deal with emails. I still have to meet with people. Those things don’t go away. You can’t zero those out. But the after is to start with what is most important to me each day before I do anything else, to figure out what is the one thing that at the end of the day when I look back on today, I want to say is the highlight of my day.

Sometimes it might be spending time with my kids. Sometimes it might be – there’s this big, sizeable chunk of this project that I want to do today. But I’m going to start with that thing and I’m basically just going to put me first on the schedule. I’m going to do whatever I have to do to clear that out.

If it means that I’m not checking my email until after that work is done, then I do that. If it means I’m going to have to push some meetings around or say no or cancel something, that’s what’s going to have to get done. But that thing always comes first. It means that the chances of it getting done are – they’re like 95%. They’re not 100%, things happen, things come up.

But that’s really the shift for me has been from trying to be productive and trying to get as much checked off as possible to trying to be really purposeful and to look for a way to do larger things, not just tasks.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. You’re saying now how you determine whether or not you had a success that day is whether you did the key thing that you identified as opposed to whether you did everything?

Jake Knapp
Yeah, absolutely. Kind of I guess we’re pulled in two directions in the modern world. If you have an office job especially, but I think it’s very hard to escape because technology and email and messaging is so much a part of all of our lives.

We talk about this in the book, about being pulled between on the one hand what we call the busy bandwagon, which is like this expectation of instant response, this expectation of speed, this sort of cultural norm that we have in the United States of fill your calendar as close to full as possible. If somebody asks-

Pete Mockaitis
I loved your graphic in the book. It made me chuckle.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, yeah. It’s just like busy. It’s just like every single moment is busy. Sometimes it’s like three things at the same time overlapping. I feel like that is actually quite widespread, this notion of being packed. If somebody asks me at work or in my personal life, “How are you?” this expectation that if I say busy, that’s a good thing. I’m like, “Oh man, it’s crazy, crazy busy,” that people will say, “Oh, yeah, yeah good.” It’s sort of insane.

On one hand you’ve got that pull of okay, just a fire hose of stuff coming at you. You respond to it as fast as you can, go to everything you can, work as much as you can. On the other hand, you get exhausted from that.

Then on the other hand, we’re pulled by what we call the infinity pools, which is all of this entertainment or distraction which is available at our fingertips at all times and is incredibly compelling. There’s always something new on my phone or on my laptop or whatever, the non-stop breaking news, the social feeds, the updates from my friends, all these cool things. There could always be something new.

My personal email is like this. There always could be something new on there. These things are sort of pulling back and forth. Netflix. All these things are just kind of pulling you in the other direction. Once you’re too exhausted from the busy bandwagon, the infinity pools pull you back.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s a great point. It’s like, “I’m so exhausted, but I want to sort of be entertained and rejuvenated, but I don’t want to go hiking because that’s too hard, so maybe something fun will be on the news or Netflix.”

Jake Knapp
Yeah, totally, totally. It’s just – it’s not our fault that we don’t have the time for the things that matter the most to us. We’re stuck in the middle between two really powerful forces.

The fundamental idea that we have is – and this thing that we observed, especially from getting the chance to work with a lot of different teams. We worked with probably 150 different companies. We would have the chance to say what they were doing all day at work for a week and to experiment with it.

It turns out you change a few of those defaults, the default settings, the default work cultural settings, and you start to open up time and attention. Because things are so crazy right now, you actually don’t have to make the largest changes to have a really significant impact.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a nice optimistic view. It’s like it is so screwed up-

Jake Knapp
It’s so bad now.

Pete Mockaitis
If you do just a little bit, you’re going to see huge gains.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, it’s true. It’s true. For example, one of the things that we talk about in the book is the importance of building energy and this is just a simple observation. If you want to focus on something every day, if you want to have 60 to 90 minutes of time where you really focusing on something, you’re in the zone, you’re going to need energy, physical energy, mental energy. You’ve got to have a full battery to do that.

We’re all sort of basically the same kind of creature we were 200,000 years ago. We’re in this modern world. Everything is totally different. It’s not – we don’t live in caves anymore. We don’t live in the wild. We’re in homes and we’ve got screens everywhere. Things are really out of whack.

But if you want more energy, a simple change you can do is start dimming the lights and dimming your screens in the evening time and to not look at screens after say 8 PM. You can start actually turning down the lights in the house to make it more like if you’re not living in a house, which is the sun sets. Maybe there’s a fire. This is kind of the environment we grew up in. Sorry, not grew up in, but evolved in, which I guess is the same as growing up.

Pete Mockaitis
As a species. Yeah.

Jake Knapp
Yeah. But otherwise, the default is there’s blue light or bright white light shining on us until we’re so exhausted we’re lying in bed with our head spinning trying to fall asleep. You make that little shift and that makes a huge difference. Those opportunities are everywhere. Those little things where stuff is so out of whack and you make a little shift, it can make a huge difference.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that a lot.

I love the way your book is organized. You just gave us one great tactic when it comes to the energizing. Because you’ve got sort of four steps and then underneath them what you might call clusters. Then underneath those, 80 tactics. It was really kind of fun so you can sort of just jump into whatever catches your attention or go deep into “Oh yeah, I need to know everything about this.”

Could you maybe give us kind of the overview picture of what are the four steps and the maybe your sort of super top favorite tactic that you have in each of them? I know you’ve got 80 to choose from, but if you could start with four and then maybe we’ll go a little more.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, I’ll try. I’ll do my best. Yeah. It all starts off with that idea of setting a highlight. Again, it’s starting off in the morning or perhaps some people they do it the night before. My co-author, John, does it the night before. But it’s looking at the day ahead and saying, “Okay, when this day is over –“ let’s say somebody says, “Oh hey, Jake, what was the highlight of your day today?” I should design that. I should in advance figure that out so that I make it happen. I make it as good as possible.

I find that actually it’s pretty easy for people to get into the zone where they can just make a gut decision about what this highlight is, but at first it’s kind of assessing, “Okay, is there something that’s really important to me?” Maybe it’s not urgent. Maybe there’s nobody begging for it, but it’s this project at work. Perhaps it’s really – I know it’s important and I know it can easily get pushed aside.

Maybe it’s something from work. Or maybe it’s something that’s going to bring me joy, like I want to spend time with somebody I really care about. Or maybe it’s going to be something really satisfying, like making progress on a hobby. Whatever it is, it’s picking that thing that’s going to be probably 60 to 90 minutes long.

It’s not a task. It’s like more than a task. It’s not a whole big giant goal, but it’s in between. It’s figuring what that thing is and writing it down. Today, this is going to be my highlight. Highlight, that’s step one. Step two is-

Pete Mockaitis
If I may-

Jake Knapp
Yeah, excuse me.

Pete Mockaitis
… dig it up for a smidge. I like how you distinguish that. It’s not a task. It’s not a goal. It’s in between. It’s 60 to 90-ish minutes, something that can be done within a chunk of attention or one sitting or standing. I think we’re both on standing desks right now.

Jake Knapp
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So kudos. It makes me feel cool if the productivity guru thinks it’s a smart move. I love my mat too, the Topo.

Jake Knapp
The mat is huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh me too. Is it the Topo by Ergo?

Jake Knapp
Yes, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
What are the odds? I did not see your mat earlier. Well, look at us, a couple of dorks.

Jake Knapp

Yeah, yeah, Dork City here, but yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s fun. You can kind of – it seems like I’m playing a little bit with – someone said it’s like a playground for your feet. I think so.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, right. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So highlight was where we were discussing.

Jake Knapp
Highlight.

Pete Mockaitis
But when it comes to highlight, so it’s more than task. It’s less than a goal. It’s 60 to 90 minutes. I want to get your view on – boy, there’s many, many ways that you might land upon what to highlight. What are some of your favorite provocative questions or criteria or guideline to say ah, of the thousands of things that you might choose, here are some indicators that it might really be worth a highlight?

Jake Knapp
I think that one of the best ones – and if you’re starting off trying out this make time framework, this is a really good one because it yields immediate results. It’s usually pretty easy to answer. It’s like what would be the thing that if at the end of the day I didn’t do it, I would be so pissed off at myself? I think this is all-

Pete Mockaitis
Pain avoidance. Yes.

Jake Knapp
I know I experience this a lot. I feel like a lot of people experience it. I hear people talk about this a lot. It’s like “I can’t believe that – like I knew this was the thing that I really needed to work on and yet I was just reacting to other stuff all day long. How did that happen? I’m kicking myself now.”

That’s really – that’s like probably the easiest one – the easiest way to find the highlight is like what will you – is regret avoidance. There’s a lot more positive ways to do it, but yeah, it’s that. It’s sort of like, “What would I – what would be such a bummer if I didn’t actually do it?”

Pete Mockaitis
I love that so much. Often I sort of feel that the pain of that sort of the next day or week, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, I’m in this crazy rush. I’m so unprepared. I feel real dumb. Why didn’t I handle this yesterday or whenever I should have?” Yeah, sometimes the regret comes at the end of the day like, “Oh bummer of a day,” and other times it comes later when you’re reaping what you’ve sown.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Then the flip side, the flip question is what might create a really nice memory for the day. If I can imagine the memory – I think for people who keep a gratitude journal or have ever done that, I think it’s hard to keep any kind of a journal consistently, at least that’s my experience.

But if you’ve ever done that and you ever think about writing down at the end of the day something that you’re grateful for, it often – it has this nice effect of evoking these little snapshots. It’s like, “That was really lovely when I took a walk in the park,” or, “when I was focused quietly and I was practicing music,” or whatever – well, I guess it wouldn’t be quiet if you were practicing music but, “I was focused and I was practicing music.”

I think those snapshots – like what would be a really lovely snapshot for my day. That’s another kind of provocative question that can help and often helps me.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Okay, so we talked about highlight. What’s laser?

Jake Knapp
Okay, laser is about clearing out distraction, creating some space so you can focus on that thing. I think that this is maybe where the way we think about accomplishing these highlights, accomplishing these things you really care about each day is different from a lot of systems or a lot of the way people talk about this problem with distraction today.

Because we – I feel like it’s very rare nowadays we talk to someone and say, “Oh, how do you feel about your iPhone, your Android, whatever, your smartphone?” Very rarely will people say, “Oh yeah, everything’s great about it.” People have mixed feelings about their phones. They feel like they’re on their phone too much.

I feel like there’s a tremendous amount of guilt about phones. Even Apple and Google are like – they’re releasing software to help you – or at least to measure how much you’re on your phone so you can presumably in the future feel even more guilty about it.

But our sort of take on this is yes, those things, those paths of least resistance will distract you and they will keep you – they’ll get in the way of doing that thing that really matters to you, that highlight, but when you know what the highlight is, like half the battle is won when you actually have this thing that you’re excited about doing, when you know – when you start to identify “This is my priority. I’m putting me first.”

Then like, “If I cannot be distracted for an hour, an hour and a half, there’s a great reward.” That’s part of the thing that I think is different.

The other thing is we’ll say we have a lot of concrete tactics for shutting things off. The whole deal with laser is you’re going to shut off distraction, you’re going to be completely offline. You’re not going to be using anything that isn’t mission critical to your highlight. By shutting that stuff down, this is another place where things are so out of whack, you can create time. This is a place where you can actually make time.

If I’m not constantly bouncing around between email and Slack and a million other things, but I’m just doing one thing, it’s like there’s more hours in the day all of the sudden. If I’m not constantly checking my Facebook feed or responding to things in that way, again, I’m kind of creating time because I’m not sort of Swiss cheese-ing my attention. It actually sort of creates time out of nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. Then is there a particular kind of time that you just snag on the calendar, like this is the window and do you aim for a particular window or vary it or what’s the best way to play that game?

Jake Knapp
Yeah, as I mentioned I’ve been – I’ll just tell you personally what I do. I think everybody has to – we talked about this idea of designing your day. Everybody has to design their day with what makes sense for them. We have some different patterns, different things that we do.

Like I said, for the last couple years or last year and a half I’ve been self-employed, but before that I worked for Google for ten years, before that I was working at Microsoft for years and years. I was very used to this idea of being at work all day.

Sometimes in many jobs you don’t really control your time when you’re at work. I had this goal of writing books. I figured out many years ago while working at Google that if I want to make time for that, what I needed to do was really reclaim some time at the end of the day.

After my kids went to bed, after everybody went to bed, I realized there’s this window of time, because I’m kind of a night owl, when I’m actually usually awake, but I’m not getting anything out of that time because I’m just – my battery is drained and I’m just distractible. I’m just watching TV or whatever. I’m just kind of winding down.

Not that there’s anything horribly wrong with that, but I realized there’s a goldmine of time that I can sort of reclaim. For me at that time, it was at the end of the day. That was highlight time. For my co-author, John, he created that time at the beginning of the day. For him, it was first thing. I’m going to do that before I do anything else.

Often at work, the highlight time might be – it’s always easier earlier in the day before there are other commitments that have come up, before emails have come in. I think as soon as you open up your inbox, all of the sudden you’re in reaction mode. It’s very hard to keep that sort of nice clear focus that we often have when we wake up.

The morning time tends to be better usually before other things happen. But a lot of times it’s a matter of what we call bulldozing the calendar and actually pushing some things out of the way to make it whenever you can.

Our sort of hypothesis is that you can do this at some point in your day every day. It might be before anything starts. It might be after everything’s over. But a lot of the times you can clear it in the middle.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. We did the highlighting. We did the lasering. You mentioned energizing. Let’s hear a little more about that.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, the energize it’s like, okay, you’ve got the target, which is your highlight. You know where you want to head today. You know what you want to happen. What I do with laser is you’ve – we’ve got a lot of tactics for shutting down distraction so that you can be – your mind can be clear and you can be ready to focus, kind of getting into the zone.

Energize is all about having the physical and mental energy to do the thing, to really bring your best attention to your work. I think there is so much out there in the world about ways to be more physically active, ways to eat better, ways to sleep better.

I think this new, certainly in the last few years, a lot of stuff feels like it’s so intense. It’s like – a lot of like really – like these supplements you should be taking or just like a lot of – it feels really stressful. It’s like really – in sort of the last few years as we were – as John and I were really into this topic and researching it a lot, you read this stuff and I just feel so bad about myself because I’m like, “God, I’m not doing anything.”

Our kind of principle is like look, if you just do a little, you get a huge amount of reward. Just do a little, that’s fine. If your goal for getting more physical activity is that you want to improve your cardiovascular health, or you want to live a few years longer, all those are wonderful things, but they’re very abstract. They’re very far away.

If I want to get more physical activity because I want to look better, like look like somebody in a magazine, realistically I’m not going to get there. I think a lot of those things are really disheartening.

Our whole point is if you will just build the energy so that you get an immediate reward today of you had more focus. The thing that you really cared about, that you were really excited about, you got more out of it because you had more energy, you get an immediate reward for doing it.

In my experience, that transformed the way I looked at exercise, the way I looked at eating, the way I looked at sleep, and even the way I looked at talking with people. Actually talking with people face-to-face instead of over texts or emails or whatever, is actually a way to boost energy. We’re social creatures and we get an energy boost from talking to people.

A lot of those things, if you have this immediate reward and you realize that you don’t have to do something heroic, you don’t have to be training for a marathon or anything, if you just get a little emotion, if you just change a few small things about the way – maybe you have coffee, for example. Most people drink coffee. There’s little tweak you can make to that to boost your energy.

Then when you have this immediate reward loop, it’s a game changer.

Pete Mockaitis
What I’m hearing is the key to really getting this energy thing flowing is not so much doing a long-term program of supplementation that will mold your biochemistry into something else over the course of three months, but rather finding the things that give you more energy that very day?

Jake Knapp
Yeah. I mean I don’t want to say that – there’s a lot of folks who are experts in the body and experts in what you can do with it and the kinds of things we all ought to be doing. I’m just not that person. All I can say is if you really care about your time and you really care about the quality of your day and the quality of your experience in the moment, energy matters.

The kinds of things you need to do to have high-quality energy today, they’re not crazy. You don’t have to start some new boot camp with a trainer. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. You don’t have to do crazy things. Small little things, these kind of tactics we talk about in the book, that can make a big difference.

For example, I take the bus to work for years and years, if you can find a way to get off the bus a couple stops early and walk a little further, it actually creates more energy throughout the day. That’s not – that doesn’t sound like I’m really exercising a lot, but just that little bit of extra walking will give me more energy throughout the day. A small thing like that.

There’s a lot of little tactics and ideas about just tweaking the knobs on things to get a boost.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I resonate with that walking piece because my Fitbit tells me my step count. It’s tricky working from home. Sometimes that step count is tiny. It’s like … crack the four digits. It’s like 920 steps. Oh wow, that’s really a bummer.

Sure enough, I really do notice kind of the difference in terms of feeling zesty, alive, energized and rearing to go if there are days of tiny amounts of movement versus even moderate amounts of movement.

It’s funny because I think I used to have a little bit of this ‘go big or go home’ hardcore, being like, “That’s not a workout if there’s not a weight bench involved,” or “That’s not a big enough dumbbell to mean anything.” It really doesn’t seem to be the way our body’s work.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, right. We evolved for constant motion. That’s part of being a hunter/gatherer, you’re moving around a lot looking for food. We thrive, our brains perform better when we’re moving.

But this idea of ‘go big or go home’ you’re exactly right. That just totally mirrors my experience. We were talking about basketball earlier. I mentioned this in the book. I was really into basketball, really, really into basketball. I’m six foot eight. There’s really no avoiding it. You’ve got to-

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, freakishly tall.

Pete Mockaitis
Could not tell from the video.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, yeah, video takes off a few inches. Yeah, I loved playing basketball. As I started my career I would – I’m playing in these gyms and leagues and things. I loved playing basketball. When I’m playing I can’t – it’s hard for me to stop, so I’ll play to the point of exhaustion and then would come back to work. I might be playing at lunch just wiped, just wiped out.

Every time at basketball, you’re almost inevitably going to get some kind of little injury, whether it’s somebody cuts you with their nails, which is gross, but totally happens, or it’s a twisted ankle or an elbow to the face, whatever it might be. I’m just kind of a bit broken and worn out. I can’t do anything the rest of the day, so I’m actually kind of sapping my energy.

I can’t – I have to recover, so it becomes this irregular workout. Then all of the sudden I might not do it for months because it takes – the threshold to get in there and play basketball is pretty high and then I’m overdoing it. This whole cycle was really busted. But for me I was always like, well, that is exercise. It doesn’t count unless I’m doing – it was like this whole ego thing for me.

At some point I realized after doing that I – I had taken my son for a jog and he’s a baby in the stroller the day before. I get back to work exhausted from basketball. I’m like, “God, I’m worked. I can’t do anything.” Then I realized that the day before I did this jog, which didn’t even count to me, I was just getting my son some fresh air, and I felt way better the whole day at work.

That for me made the connection that I needed to do something small every day. I started to just try – okay, I’m going to change my parameters. The small everyday thing is great. It’s fine. We don’t have to be ultra-marathoners. We don’t have to be – do anything heroic. We don’t have to have eight-pack abs. It’s all right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. I wonder any kind of guidance or threshold when it comes to the amount of motion that’s just right, like not so trivial that it makes minimal difference and not so big that you’re just wiped out from having done it. Any sense for what’s just about right?

Jake Knapp
Yeah, I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve seen a lot of – looked at a lot of studies, read a lot of books about all kinds of studies about the health effects of exercise.

I think one of – there’s a book that does a really nice summarization of the effect of lots of things on the brain. It’s a book called Brain Rules. This was really – this was also the thing that finally when I saw it happening for myself and I had read this book, I believed it. Those two things together made it happen for me.

He says, you look across all the research, it’s like 20 – 30 minutes gives you kind of the optimal – it’s going to give you a mental boost. It’s going to give you most of the benefit that you’ll get. Even if you work out longer, you’re going to get most of the benefit. In my mind it’s like if I can get 20 to 30 minutes a day, that’s great. I try to work it into the structure of my day.

For example, a typical day for me now is take my younger son to school on the bus and run home. That run happens to be about 25 minutes and it’s just perfect. That’s built into my day now and I’m never going to be running a marathon with that level of everyday exercise, but I have more energy and I feel sharper mentally every day with that amount of exercise.

But the other part of it is to not be down on yourself if you can’t get to 20 for some reason. You’re feeling a little under the weather, there’s just not quite enough time. If I can get five or ten minutes in, if I can just take a walk. Anything helps.

A lot of times not having this super harsh threshold for yourself, will mean that I get out the door and maybe 10 minutes turns into 20 minutes. Maybe once I’ve broken the ice, it actually goes longer. But 20 to 30 is I think a really nice guideline if you can build it in.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Finally, the reflect stuff is in there.

Jake Knapp
Yeah. This idea of reflect comes from I think from being steeped in building technology products for so long. We talked so much about having hypothesis about what might happen when we build a product and then launching it and trying to measure what happens.

This idea of measuring and running experiments is really built into the culture at Google. I think both in the way that we built products and in the way teams worked and the way individuals worked, this idea that we’re going to run an experiment and we’ll measure. It’s basic scientific method stuff.

But the challenge I think with a lot of these systems people talk about, people like me talk about for doing things, a lot of the studies that we hear about, a lot of the science that we hear about is that it’s – it might be credible when I read about a scientific study, but I’m not going to really, really, really believe it until I know it’s true for me.

Knowing what’s true for me and my life is the most powerful thing. Having that experience of what happens in my life when I do this thing.

The idea with reflect is that I’m going to – at the end of every day I’m just going to take note of what I did during the day and see what worked and what didn’t and kind of take note on that and just start to frame this idea of what I choose to focus on, so the highlight part and this idea of distraction as a thing that I can experiment on and this idea of building energy as a thing that I can experiment on.

Once those things are framed as experiments, it also makes me be a lot gentler on myself. I’m not going to be as self-critical. I’m going to realize that if I falter today, if I made a mistake, well, what can I try differently tomorrow that might make it work?

This is not something that you have to do for your whole life. You don’t have to constantly at the end of every day be filling out a form, but we think that if you start off doing this process in the first—maybe week or two—you’re answering a few questions and just taking a moment to reflect back on the day, that you can pretty quickly tailor a system that makes sense for you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good.
Well, one exercise that you did Jake, which I find really intriguing because I’ve done a little bit of this is tracking your energy. First of all, how do you quantify that and how do you record it and how do you input it? I want to hear that side of things. Then I want to know, what are some of the insights that emerged for you? Was it worth doing?

Jake Knapp
Yeah, it was worth doing. It was an extremely dorky activity. I have to – this is before the era of Fitbits. Nowadays you can measure your sleep with an app and tuck your phone under the pillow. There’s a lot of smart watches. There’s so many things you can do. This was – I suppose it was 2008 I want to say, maybe 2009. I just thought I don’t feel like I have a handle on my energy. I don’t feel like I know where it’s going.

What I did was I kind of hacked together this system of things using a Google spreadsheet and a form that I could answer a few questions on the form and it would put the answers into the spreadsheet and a calendar notification that would come up at a time when I knew I would typically be at my desk at work and would prompt me to fill out what I call the Jake pop quiz.

I would answer the questions and then it would go into this spreadsheet. Then over time I could go back and kind of look at that spreadsheet and see what was what.

I didn’t have a – there wasn’t really a way that I could think of to accurately quantify my energy, so I just said okay, I’ll accept that it’s going to be unscientific. I’m just going to score it on a scale of I think one to ten. I’ll make notes of the things that I did.

I started as I did this first it was just kind of what’s my energy level then maybe some open comments I would fill out for myself. Then over time I started to realize – I thought that I had an idea about what some of the things were, the patterns that were giving me energy or taking energy away, so I started to ask some specific questions about exercise and what I ate and how I slept.

I have to say that the conclusions, the sort of findings from this, they were exceedingly impactful for me, but – and I’ll tell you what they were – but I’ll tell you, they’re going to sound obvious and stupid, but they were very powerful.

One of them was if I exercise in the morning, I have a lot of energy throughout the day, I have more energy throughout the day as long as I don’t overdo it, so a small amount of exercise in the morning makes me feel better all day long and more energized. Obvious, right? This is not groundbreaking New York Times front page news, but this was a big deal for me.

Pete Mockaitis
When you know – like you know, know, know it’s true for you having seen it in your own log-

Jake Knapp
Exactly. Yes, exactly, right.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re now absolutely convicted as opposed to “Oh, well studies suggested,” like you said earlier, “Oh studies suggested that this is good.” Okay, yeah, well maybe I’ll give that a shot. It’s a very different level of oomph internally.

Jake Knapp
Yes, totally. My usual experience of reading a study about health is to be like, “Interesting,” and then also feel bad about myself. That’s the mental path – I mean I guess this is neurotic, but I’ll read about it and be like, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and then like, “Oh man, I should really do that.” But ‘I should really do that’ it just doesn’t happen. It just makes – I just don’t feel good.

This was like, oh yeah, when I do that thing, when this happens – it was just a much more concrete way to introduce that idea into my head. It was something I knew already, but I started to believe it.

Another thing was don’t eat a really sugary dessert after lunch. That kind of craters my energy. I have a sugar crash. Pretty obvious. I don’t think anybody would be like, “Wow, I can’t imagine that having a sugary dessert after lunch would make you not feel good,” but lo and behold that was really useful for me to hone in on.

It was insights like that, the things that are really obvious. But what I started to I guess dawn on me is that it’s like a little tiny shift, as I shift these things just a little bit and I see every day as an experiment rather than a judgment on my character, it’s a whole new ballgame. It’s a whole new ballgame.

Focusing in on my energy and on the things that I could do with my energy – because when you have energy, I’m happy and I can kind of work on the things I want to work on. I can be more present with the people that I’m with. All these good things flow from that.

Again, it makes this instant positive feedback loop. I’m getting good results right away. I don’t have to wait months and years for this health habit to pay off.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Well, we could talk at length about 80-ish tactics, so maybe I’ll just hit the one you mentioned earlier. What’s the thing you can do with your coffee or caffeine for better energy productivity?

Jake Knapp
The number one thing that you can do is to figure out what your cutoff time is. This is – I know that this is true and I know that it does not sound very thrillingly new and fresh.

But if you talk to doctors – if you know a doctor and you talk to a general health doctor and say like, “What’s the number one thing people come to you for?” A lot of doctors will tell you – I have a friend, a couple friends who are doctors who will say, “Yeah, the number one thing people often struggle with is sleeping.” They have a hard time falling asleep. A lot of people come to the doctor for that.

“Okay, what happens when somebody comes to you because they’re having a hard time sleeping?” “I’ll ask them when’s the last caffeine that you have during the day?” The answer is often either that they don’t actually know when it is or they know when it is, but they say “But it’s not that. It’s not caffeine.”

Pete Mockaitis
“It doesn’t affect me that way. I know.”

Jake Knapp
Yeah, “It’s fine.” The truth is that caffeine affects everyone differently. It does affect everyone differently, so it might not be that, but there’s a good chance it is because caffeine stays in the bloodstream a lot longer than we think. Well, doctors and scientists know how long it stays in it, but I don’t know. I don’t consciously think about how long it stays in the bloodstream.

Like four hours – the way you metabolize it, it varies by person, but typically even like four hours after you’ve had the caffeine or the half-life is really long. Often you might have coffee at four and then be going to bed and you still have a lot of caffeine in the bloodstream.

The caffeine is blocking the thing that makes us groggy, so there’s this little molecule that’s supposed to bind to the receptors to tell us that it’s time to go to sleep and if the caffeine is still there, it’s going to mess with your sleep. Then this creates obviously this compounding effect. You have a hard time sleeping one night. You have lower energy the next night. You need more caffeine. It’s problematic.

That’s a big one. But really I guess the bigger thing is just if you identify caffeine as – because most of us consume caffeine in one form or another if you – which means we’re addicted to it. Most of us are addicted to caffeine.

You don’t have to stop drinking caffeine, but if you’re aware that this has this really powerful effect on your energy, this drug that we’re taking into our system has this really powerful effect on your energy – I’m a coffee drinker myself, but if you know what it’s doing and how it works and then you can design the way you use it so that you have your peak energy when you want it.

You’re not drinking caffeine when you’re not going to be getting a benefit from it or actually harming your energy level. It makes a huge difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there maybe a starter rule of thumb you might try out?

Jake Knapp
Yeah, starter pack, yeah. The starter pack for it is to wait in the morning until like maybe 9:30 to have your first cup of coffee because when we wake up we have cortisol that kind of will naturally – it’s a stress hormone, which is naturally higher in the morning. It’s going to kind of arouse your body up and wake you up. It’s kind of how our body naturally wakes up.

If you have caffeine then while the cortisol is ramping up, it’s kind of wasted. You’re getting this – the lift from the caffeine, you were going to get it anyway from your body.

But what happens is if you have coffee first thing in the morning, your body comes to be accustomed to that and it’s going to produce more of the drowsy-causing molecules so that you’re going to feel drowsy, you’re going to feel groggy or you’re going to have more sort of withdrawal symptoms in the morning and you’re going to need the coffee just to fight the withdrawal symptoms. It’s kind of wasted.

Basically I think of that first coffee in the morning as being really wasted. Unless if you really enjoy – if you get some satisfaction out of it as a ritual, that’s fine, but you should know you’re kind of causing yourself trouble maybe for nothing. 9:30 AM is the range of the first cup of coffee.

Then I think for most people it’s smart to maybe start with 2 to 2:30 PM as the last cup. Then see what happens. Some people can go a little later than that. But I usually think of that as the coffee window.

I think one of the key things is having coffee before you crash, so before you get tired. Once you’re already tired – this is a really big deal.

I have a friend who’s way into coffee. He’s basically read every study. He’s started a couple coffee companies. He’s bought beans in Central America. This guy is just way, way into coffee. He sort of informed me about all this stuff.

He’s like, “The biggest deal is, you’ve got to know that if you’re already tired, it’s kind of too late for the coffee to do its thing.” By the time you’re already tired, all of those receptors have already – the groggy thing has already bound to the receptor thing and the coffee, which the – caffeine, which would normally get in there and kind of block it from binding, it doesn’t have a place to go.

That’s another kind of big key. Caffeinate before you crash, and start a little later than you think, and end a little sooner.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. Well tell me Jake, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jake Knapp
Yeah, I think that the biggest thing kind of in summary to consider—if you were to consider taking a look at my book, I think the biggest idea is a small shift can make a big difference. And our time is really important. It’s all we have. All we have is our time and all we have is our attention. That is what our life is made up of: time and attention.

If a day goes by where we’re constantly distracted, we sort of lose that day.

If you’re willing to try a few experiments, I think that you can get more out of each day. It doesn’t have to be a huge, dramatic life shift. It’s really small things that can change the balance of the way those moments are experienced.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jake Knapp
“There’s more to life than increasing its speed.” It’s a quote from Gandhi.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Jake Knapp
There’s this study from Berkeley. I can’t remember the author’s name at the moment. But it’s basically like when you interrupt someone, it takes them on average 23 minutes to get back to the task that they were working on, which is just astounding, 23 minutes. That’s so long. That’s a significant part of the day to take 23 minutes to get back to the thing. I think it’s actually it’s like this wonderful number that seems both astonishing and also extremely true at the same time. I love that one.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Jake Knapp
My favorite book, one that really sort of changed my view on things is this book called Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.

But the one that I think I would really recommend is this newer book by the same author, these brothers, Chip and Dan Heath, called The Power of Moments.
Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Jake Knapp
One of my favorite tools is something called the Time Timer. It’s like an alarm – a timer basically with a big face, but it’s got a dial. You can turn the clock dial and you see this big red disk come out that shows you how much time there is. Then once you let go, the red disk starts to disappear. At the end it beeps.

It’s very simple actually, but it is brilliant because it makes time – the passage of time visible in a way that no other thing I’ve seen can accomplish. It’s a physical object. It’s not something on screen. There’s something about a physical object sitting on my desk, how powerful that is, or sitting on a conference table in a meeting room, just incredibly powerful tool for making the passage of time visible. It creates I think a wonderfully positive sense of urgency.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, whoa, I pulled up a picture, so it’s kind of like a pie chart that’s shrinking.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, a pie chart is a great word. Yeah, pie chart, that’s an excellent descriptor. Yeah, so it’s shrinking. It’s just constantly shrinking.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Jake Knapp
I think that probably the one that’s been the most powerful for me is exercising in the morning before I do anything else.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers in particular?

Jake Knapp
I think that the idea of deleting everything, all the apps on your phone, but keeping the smartphone is something that has been surprisingly sticky and powerful idea.

I think that we’re so used to the idea that we should get as much as we can, really get our money’s worth out of new technology that the idea that you would really selectively cut off a lot of the potential functionality of an amazing device like a smartphone and that if you just have half of what it can do or a third of what it can do, it’s not only just as good, it’s actually better to make it distraction free.

I highly recommend experimenting with deleting the thing that you think is the most distracting on your phone and if possible everything that has infinite content. Taking email off of your phone is unbelievably life-changing for me.

Pete Mockaitis
If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jake Knapp
You can check out JakeKnapp.com just if you want to find out more about me. But if you want to skip me and get straight to the book, it’s on MakeTimeBook.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jake Knapp
Yeah. I would say if you can make a – identify what the most important project to you at work is right now and think about what’s something that’s going to take 60 to 90 minutes on that most important project. Not a task because sometimes a task is so small that it’s just not meaningful and it’s easier to push aside, but dig a little bit deeper and find that larger chunk of time that’s going to be 60 to 90 minutes.

Then put it on the calendar and make an agreement with yourself that during that 60 to 90 minutes, you’re going to turn off your Wi-Fi, you’re going to put your phone on airplane mode, you’re going to go totally offline and just do that thing for 60 to 90 minutes and see how it feels. I predict that you’re going to feel more awesome afterwards.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Getting more awesome, that’s what we do here. Thank you Jake. This has been a lot of fun and so is your book, Make Time. I wish you and the book all the luck and success. I hope that you are transforming lots and lots of people’s experience of time and work and life goodness.

Jake Knapp
Thanks so much Pete. Really appreciate you having me on.

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