Discover more from Design Better
Jake Knapp: The guy who brought us the design sprint wants us to rethink time management
What if you could set aside a distraction-free space to accomplish one meaningful thing in your life each day? How might that change your relationships, hobbies, work, or mental wellbeing?
In a special episode of the DesignBetter.Co Podcast, we talk to Jake Knapp, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Sprint, about his new book, Make Time. The book advocates for forgetting about being productive and focusing instead on being purposeful by using design sprints thinking to define a “highlight” for each day.
If you enjoy this episode, we hope you’ll leave a review on iTunes or Google Play to help others members of the design community discover the podcast.
Jake Knapp is the author of Make Time and the New York Times bestseller Sprint. 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.
Aarron Walter (01:33):
Jake Knapp, author of Make Time and Sprint. Welcome back to the Design Better Podcast.
Jake Knapp (01:40):
Thank you so much for having me back on it's, uh, more punishment for you guys. So I really appreciate you taking a chance on me a second time.
Aarron Walter (01:48):
So our, our long term, uh, listeners will remember Jake was in season one talking about design sprints. Um, and now he is back talking about, uh, something related about taking time for yourself, which feels a little bit like, uh, making a, you know, doing a sprint for yourself personally. And we'll talk about that here in a minute, but Jake, thanks for joining us.
Jake Knapp (02:10):
Well, it's, it's really, it's exciting to talk to some folks who think about design all the time about how we can design our time, because that's what the new book make time is all about.
Aarron Walter (02:23):
Um, so it, we start kind of at the, get the origin story, um, Jake, and, and you could tell us what inspired you and, and John Zuki, am I pronouncing his last name, right? Erra yeah, yeah, that's right. Okay. We could just refer to him as Jay-Z like
Jake Knapp (02:38):
You in book, that's easy, as long as people know which Jay-Z, we're talking about. Cool. Yeah,
Aarron Walter (02:43):
We'll set up. Jay-Z co-author here. Uh, what, what inspired you guys to get back together and write, make time?
Jake Knapp (02:50):
Well, John and I worked together on sprint and we worked together for five years at Google ventures, really refining the design sprint process together with Braden and Daniel and Michael there. And a lot of the, you know, the, it was obvious for us to work together on sprint, cuz we were doing that day in and day out. But actually both of us have this real interest in, in our own personal lives and making good use of time. That goes back years and years before, before we met each other to, you know, being really into getting things done and really into just our own personal sort of productivity. And now in make time, I would say productivity's kind of a dirty word to us and we wanna, you know, kind of change the way we, we look at at that idea of being effective or being purposeful in our work.
Jake Knapp (03:41):
But we've both been interested in it in a long time. And through the course of working together at GV, we realized that we had this shared interest and so doing the design sprints and this environment where we could continually experiment with the process us, you know, with our, our companies as sort of test subjects in each design sprint also became for us a way to, to start experimenting with these same ideas in our personal lives. So could we apply the ideas from a design sprint to what we were doing in our own day to day lives and vice versa? Could we take something that we learned about what worked well for us and then test it on these, you know, poor unwiting startups who are coming in to work with us.
Aarron Walter (04:26):
That's awesome. So what, just to start diving into the tax of the book, a big part of make time revolves around this concept of a highlight, and maybe you could just talk to us about what a highlight is, what makes for a good light in some, some ways that you might go about choosing one for a day.
Jake Knapp (04:44):
Yeah. There are a few big ideas from the design sprint that are also in make time that inspired make time and vice versa ideas that we started to see that, that we, we brought into the sprint. And I think the central one is the highlight. The idea of MakeTime is this, this idea of a highlight. So in a design sprint every day of the week has a focal point. So on Monday, the team makes a map Tuesday sketch Wednesday, decide Friday prototype, no, sorry, Thursday prototype Friday tests. And what's cool about that. And that wasn't, you know, sort of the, the initial recipe, we over time kind of figured out that if you had this one big focal point to the day, then at the end of the day, it was really energizing cuz you were, you were done with that thing. You could look back and you would know what you did it wasn't just like, oh, we did a big long checklist of activities or whatever.
Jake Knapp (05:39):
It was like, we did that big thing. Like that's kind of, of the highlight of, of the day and it, it made everything feel better and it allowed us to get the most important things done and, and to bring our attention to the most important things, just to sort of realize there's this one moment that really matters. So what happened was John started to do this in his own day to day life. He started to, you know, when, when we weren't in a sprint, he would write down like, what's the one big thing that I wanna do today. What's the thing that matters the most. And he realized that it, it wasn't just a, a task. It couldn't be a small thing, like a, like a to-do list item. And it couldn't be like a whole big goal, you know, like, oh, I'm gonna, I'm gonna finish this, you know, this design spec or something, or I'm gonna finish, you know, putting together this entire presentation today or whatever it had to be something kind of almost in between like something in between a task and a goal.
Jake Knapp (06:33):
And he kind of narrowed down on like 60 to sort of 60, 90 minutes worth of work is usually about a good, a good highlight. And if you had that focal point, then you knew like that has to come before everything else. That's the thing that I'm most excited about working on today. And that's the thing that as we frame it in the book at the end of the day, if you look back, you'll say like, that was the highlight of the, my day. That was the thing that brought me the most joy or the most satisfaction. So sometimes it might be a work project and that's kind of what, what I've been referring to, but sometimes a highlight might be, Hey, the highlight of my day is gonna be, I'm gonna make the time to hang out with my kids. I'm gonna, the highlight's gonna be dinner with friends. You know, it's gonna be something that's actually just the, the most joyous part of my day. Once you have that highlight, then everything else you do around creating time, protecting time in your calendar for that thing, building the energy for that thing, removing distractions for that thing, they stop being led by guilt and they start being led by what you want to do, you know, it's this instant reward and that's, I think also really powerful.
Eli Woolery (07:44):
That's a fascinating concept. Um, I like the idea of shifting, uh, your, your emotions throughout the day towards something positive. Uh, I, I'm curious though, if we could backtrack, you said you didn't want this book to just be about productivity and, um, you know, seeing that as maybe, uh, a as, as, um, maybe a denigrating word to the process, why, why would it be bad to be productive, um, and bring that productivity to people's lives? Yeah,
Jake Knapp (08:16):
This is a, a new concept for me. And, and in fact it would be interesting to go back to sprint and do like a, a word search and see if it says productive and how often it says productive. But my eyes have been open to the idea recently that productivity is, is really usually reactive. It's it's usually about how can I do the most stuff in and get the most things done and all this. When certainly when I talk about productivity, I, I, I know this feeling of being productive, which is a good feeling. It's like I have a list of things to do, and I'm checking those off. Or I have a bunch of emails in my inbox and I'm really plowing through my emails. You know, I'm having a bunch of meetings with people I'm being really productive because I'm doing a lot of things.
Jake Knapp (09:07):
And it's, I think the word goes back to like the industrial revolution. Like it's like, you know, are we turning out a lot of widgets is the factory productive, which is, it can be a good feeling, but I think it's a very limiting hope for what we do as humans. That we're, that we're productive, cuz you can very easily be productive and actually not be doing the work that matters the most. And so sort of, you know, the, the subtitle of make time is how to focus on what matters most every day. And that's, that's kind of what we're trying to get at. So rather than being productive, just getting a lot of things done, which may not, they may not be important things. They may not be the things that really matter. They may just be you in sort of a reactive state, what we hope to give the reader as a way to figure out what is what's most purposeful.
Jake Knapp (09:59):
So I kind of wanna shift the word from productive to purposeful. What's the one, like the thing that matters the most to you? The thing that often like maybe gets pushed off, certainly for me like the things that matter most often, they're behind a wall of, of, you know, emails or they're behind a wall of these little to-dos instead to put that thing first and do that first and then worry about being productive or catching up later. But, but to put the thing that's really the, the most important to you that becomes the focal point.
Eli Woolery (10:30):
You and John talk in the book about, um, avoiding the busy trap of, you know, just falling into <affirmative> being busy with lots of things. And, and that comes in different forms of being very thoughtful about how you organize your, your mobile device to, you know, reduce notifications and reducing what you call infinity pools of things you can just pull to refresh. There's always more information. Can you talk about that? Um, a bit it's it's uh, I've gotta say it's, it's a slightly ironic, uh, recommendation, uh, two guys coming from Google, uh, you know, who have worked on products who, you know, could probably be classified. These products could be classified as infinity pools. They
Jake Knapp (11:11):
Could. Um, yeah, they should. I mean, they are, they are.
Eli Woolery (11:13):
How did you arrive at, at like, I want to claim this device and space, uh, in my life, uh, you know, setting some boundaries. Yeah. Well,
Jake Knapp (11:24):
I will say that the, this is obviously a big topic right now, right? I mean, people have been talking about the devices are taking too much of our attention and apple and Google and Facebook are all rolling out features to try to help with, with this. And what's interesting is that they're all saying what we're gonna do is we're gonna show you charts of how you use these, you know, these infinity, what we would call infinity pools, just how you use your phone and how much time you're spending on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and, you know, web browsing or YouTube or Gmail or whatever. And then we're gonna give you tools to set limits or to set sort of timers on those apps, which is admirable. It's like an admirable sort of like first step. And it, and it's, it's, it's a big deal because they're admitting that there's, that there's a, that there's a problem.
Jake Knapp (12:16):
And I think that those, all of those sort of set of features, they all are kind of about guilt actually. Like it's like you look at the chart and then you like sort of like, feel guilty with something. We probably all already know that we use screens more than we want to. So we see that we're like, oh God. And then if you set the top timer, then the timer comes up and it's like, Hey, by the way, you should feel guilty right now because you used your thing more than you meant to, you used this app more than you meant to. And then you have to like dismiss it and say, okay, remind me in 15 minutes or whatever, go into the settings and say, give me more time. And, and it's, and it's kind of too bad. Cause I think a lot of this stuff is about guilt and guilt.
Jake Knapp (12:51):
I'll tell you guilt was the, that was the root for me of realizing that there was a problem with the phone. Like I love technology. I love building like software has been a really fulfilling and exciting part of my life. Trying to be a part of making these, these products are new. I worked for a long time on Gmail. So Gmail is definitely an infinity pool. It's definitely a thing that, that strikes us, you know, but it's also a tool and we worked hard to try to make Gmail more respectful of people's time. I worked on the priority inbox feature and our, our metric, our success metric was can we get our users to spend less time in their inbox because we help them focus on the most important email, but there's, there's a point in my life. And it happened in 2012, I've realized that the being productive on the phone and thinking that I had kind of a handle on the infinity pools, Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and everything on my phone was, was something that like, even if I had a on it, even if I had turned down the volume on it, even if I had fewer notifications or even if I sort of, you know, was limiting the amount of time I spent, I still had this relationship of feeling guilty when I used it.
Jake Knapp (14:05):
And I still had this relationship where the phone was like in my brain at all times. Like, even if I wasn't using it, it was like calling to me. It was like kind of pulling at my attention and it was hiding my attention and the need to kind of always be up to date on things to always be up to date on my inbox. I mean, the difference between only having email available on your computer and having it like on your phone as well is, is actually a huge deal. Like when it's on your phone, you could be up to date on your email inbox at any time and 24 hours a day, wherever you are, which is in, but it didn't seem insane at first it was just like, Hey, the iPhone came out and now look, it's, this works great. And of course, like I wanted it.
Jake Knapp (14:43):
So 2012, I had this moment I'm with my kids, we're playing on the, in the living room. And I realize like, I'm on my phone, cuz my son is like, dad, why are you, what are you, what are you looking at on your phone? And I'm like, oh my God, I don't even know how the phone got in my hand. Like I'm just sitting here at the end of the day, playing with my kids. And like all of a sudden I'm looking at my email, like what's going on? And I just decided, because I felt guilty. I decided I'm just gonna delete everything on here. Like this is nuts. Like I I'm just gonna delete all of these infinity pools and as an experiment, I'll try it out. And what happened was that when the apps got off the phone a hundred percent, you know, and I was left with some pretty cool stuff.
Jake Knapp (15:26):
I mean the iPhone without all those apps has still pretty cool. It's still got camera. It's still got music, maps, all these, all these things that are actually pretty amazing without all that stuff. It like cleared up a huge amount of this stress and divided attention from my, from my head. And I felt like I had more attention and I started to see the moments with my family got better. I was able to start on some projects, like writing projects that I had never been able to do. And it was kind of cool because so much of the distraction in the world had it's like, it was like a swarm of wasps into like a roadkill or something. Like it all went into the phone, you know, like everything's gone into the phone from 2007, whenever the, what was it? 2008 when the iPhone came out to 2012, like all that stuff had migrated there.
Jake Knapp (16:11):
And it, that was now like the primary place to, to check all that stuff. You could still do it on the, on the computer, but the, the primary place was the phone by then. And so you took that, all that stuff. You just rip it off the phone sudden, like it was possible to be a lot more peaceful. So it's, it's kind of a counterintuitive thing that you just like turn back the clock, you know, you rip out those apps and the, my world got a lot more peaceful anyway, that's sorry. That's super long winded. It's a topic that gets me excited actually, because I think that right now the companies are starting to introduce these controls. If, if anyone's considering sort of using those controls screen time or, or, um, you know, the, I don't know what Android calls it, but you should actually consider just deleting everything instead because that the difference between zero, like just dialing it down a little bit and actually going all the way to zero is huge. It's, it's really huge. And I really want people and I hope people who read the book will consider doing that. Just ripping it
Eli Woolery (17:09):
Out. Let me, let me play devil's advocate real quick. So there's yeah, please do. Yeah, I see the, the value like of me personally, for the recommendations in here and you know, it's, it's about, um, being conscious of our relationship to our work, but also just relationship to the world and for our listeners who have direct reports, people on their team, they hear Jake and John recommending like read all this stuff. Yeah. Might be thinking, I don't know, man, I, I need you to have slack on so I could keep in touch with you. What's the, what would you say to the bosses? The managers who have these direct reports that they feel like they need to stay connected with?
Jake Knapp (17:53):
Well, yeah, I would, I would push back on them and I think the pushback is like, look, the problem with email and slack is that everything's the same level of importance. So every every message is an interruption. Every message is you see like kinda described in the abstract, what's going on inside slack or inside a work email inbox to someone and said, this is a, this is something you have to deal with in your job. I think people would be like, what are you talking about? So if I said like, I'm gonna, part of your job is I'm gonna give you a to-do list. So you're gonna have a to-do list to work with. And it's have at any time, you know, you might have 50 new items put on that per day, maybe of a hundred, maybe depending on the company, you might have a few hundred new, new to-do list items, but each todo list item, you're not gonna know, like there's no indication whether it's important or not.
Jake Knapp (18:42):
They're, they're all put on there by different people. And they don't actually say what you're supposed to do in order to figure out what you're supposed to do with each to-do list. And you have to open it up and look through it. And those to-do list items can appear any time, wherever you are. You can get a to-do list, including outside of working hours, a to-do list. It can appear. I would be like, hell no. Like I do not want to deal work from that to-do list. But that's what an email inbox is. It's a to-do list. Everyone. We all agree that it's a to-do list, but it's, it's an insane person's to-do list because it's controlled by other people. Other people put its on there and they don't really say what it is. I have to like go through the message and like figure out what it is.
Jake Knapp (19:20):
And then I probably reread it later and reread it later again. It's nuts. So I think I would, what I say to bosses is like, Hey, think about what you're doing to your employees with that insane to-do list. Can you think of a like, if, if what you're worried about is what if something comes up and I really need to contact Jake and it's, you know, it's, it's in the EV like God forbid, like, I, I would hope that people can just shut off from work when they go home. That'd be great. But I know like maybe something comes up, it's an emergency then night before, could you call me or text me instead, because if you have like a different channel that is urgent, that is open then. Sure. You know, and how many of those things can actually wait until the next day or the next time you see me?
Jake Knapp (20:04):
I mean, 99.9% of that stuff doesn't matter until the next day. And there's been studies on this stuff too. There's studies that show. We talk about one of these in the book that I thought was really interesting. They had a set of people and they, they had 'em, they allowed 'em to, you know, check your email as much as you want, as much as you, you know, as much as you'd like to, and another set of folks who they limited to three times per day. So just only check your email three times per day, which is still a lot, but just three times per day. And the folks who checked it three times per day were just as, you know, they, they were able to process just as much email and they actually did it in less times. So they did a better job processing their email and they reported being way less stressed, like as much less stressed as if they had done visualization exercises, which is kind of nuts.
Jake Knapp (20:48):
Like that's just limiting it to three times, which is not crazy. So yeah, the message to bosses, I think is like, we have this expectation. It's just because it's the default it's because the default is, we're always on, like all of these tools are always on and the, the work culture just sort of, without anybody thinking starts to set up, like we're just doing email, but that stuff ends up getting in the way of the most important work. And that's something that we really saw in doing design sprints and working with all these companies. One of the biggest benefits people talk about from doing a design sprint is my God. We were finally able to put away all of the, the noise and focus on what mattered for a week. But if you could do that for a little bit of time every day, I think it's gonna have a big effect on what any team can do.
Aarron Walter (21:34):
That's great. So I, I have not yet been able to, uh, fully take off slack cuz Aaron won't let me take it off my phone. <laugh> but I have been able to start taking on putting, turning off notifications and, and um, the thing I, I really see both through, through teaching and running workshops and it's, it resonates in the book log too, is this, you know, this idea that a phone is really an anti mindfulness device in a lot of ways, you know, it's a, it's gonna take you outta the moment. It's gonna take you away from the people that are in front of you that you're interacting with, especially if it's something in person. And so I really like the sections of the book where you're highlighting these tools like, um, Headspace or during the reflect section when you're, you know, expressing gratitude. Maybe could you talk a little bit more about how mindfulness or, or meditation practice plays into, into the strategies that you lay out here in the book?
Jake Knapp (22:27):
Well, I, I am someone who has gotten a lot out of meditation using the Headspace app. I mean, that's, I wasn't, I'm not able to do it really on my own. I, I have tried, I do try from time to time. I'll like sit, you know, sort of sit there and, and try to do it. And I, I, I have, I have very poor self control, which I think is part of what maybe is the, the real you ask the V what's like, where does the book come from? Maybe the real backstory is I'm somebody who loves technology and you know, wants to do a lot of things and wants to be a good dad and all these things. But I do have like really I'm my attention jumps around. And so I'm not, I'm not sitting here, you know, like in the Lotus position while we're talking, like, it's just, it's very, it's very difficult for me to, to meditate and Headspace made it possible.
Jake Knapp (23:12):
You know, for me to kind of like, like have a way that I could just do it, like, just follow I'm just gonna push play on this app. It's an example of how, you know, smartphones and the technology we have today are so powerful. There are things that would not, I would never have gotten into meditation. I've never been able to do it before head space. So there are, there are all these things that it, that these devices deliver that are actually really quite wonderful, but, but even still even knowing as much as I do that, if I spend 10 minutes or 15 minutes doing Headspace or doing a meditation, I'm gonna feel much more focused. I'm gonna be more effective or whatever word we wanted to use productive or effective or purposeful afterwards, but I'm gonna be more focused afterwards for sure. And I've, I've done this.
Jake Knapp (24:00):
I've like kind of checked myself and said, like, I don't think I should do Headspace. I'm gonna write it down. All like experiment with it. Every time it turns out I do better work afterwards, but it's very counterintuitive the idea that I'm gonna take time away from my work or whatever it is that I'm doing just to, just to be quiet and silent, that that's gonna help me out is really counterintuitive. Seems like I should just get a few, few more things done in those 10 minutes. <affirmative> and so I, I would say to people who are, who are thinking about like, you know, as make time for me, is it something I should check out? Meditation is something that we talk about. That's one of the tactics that can help, but it's, it's not crucial that you do it. It's a worthy experiment. And I think that I have found on through experimenting and kind of like noticing what it does for me that it's worth doing.
Jake Knapp (24:49):
And I try to do it on most days when I can, but I also know how hard it is. And I know what a hard sell it is to imagine, like trying to meditate. And there's a whole, you know, there's like whole folks who like they're writing books just about trying to get us over to the hump of meditating, like the 10% happier, like, right. It's like a whole like podcast series. It's just about like, get us over the hump of meditating. Cause it's really, really hard. So I'm not gonna try to say, look like that's in the package too. You gotta do it. I don't do it every day. I don't think John does it at all. I don't know. You guys should check with him. I might be, I might be throwing him under the bus, but I don't think he does it at all.
Jake Knapp (25:23):
But part of it is just the idea of meditation is like do, are doing a hundred percent. Like, you know, when you're, when you're meditating, you're just like, okay, I'm just gonna try to like watch my thoughts. And then you start to notice that your brain's automatically generating thoughts all the time. And one of the things that I took away from doing a, a bunch of that was just like, man, a lot of the time, my attention is divided. I'm not doing something a hundred percent. So this plays back into the idea of the highlight in saying, there's one thing I want to do today a hundred percent when I'm, when during that hour or whatever, when I'm working on that thing, I want to be a hundred percent focused on it. So how do I get there? Well, I've got to shut off the things that distract me.
Jake Knapp (26:03):
I may have to make those impossible to access. I may have to turn off the internet. I may have to delete the apps on the, my phone, whatever, but once I do that, once I put a little bit of space, if there's something I want to do, then I can get into what we call laser mode. Like then I can be a hundred percent focused. And so for me, that's the essence of meditation and make time is actually not that you have to meditate, but that if you are able to pick a focal point and then you able to turn down distractions and you have enough energy, you have enough physical and mental energy. This just sort of appears this mode where you're locked in, just appears. And it is kind of that essence of, of meditation.
Eli Woolery (26:40):
And that's, uh, you know, to go back to the topic of, of managing teams and what we want for our employees, we want this connection to one another, but we also like lasering is a very valuable thing because if someone can invest their attention on a task and they can, you know, if that's a highlight or maybe it's something else, um, they can, um, achieve that, have that sense of, of, you know, I, I did something meaningful. I did some important work. Yeah. Checked it off the list. I mean, ultimately that's gonna help reduce churn that what's most frustrating at when I manage teams is, you know, seeing people have to task, switch so much, they're all over the place. They're less productive work seems less satisfying. It just feels scattered. Yeah.
Jake Knapp (27:29):
Spent, I think that's maybe back to that point about what do you say to, to a boss about this? It's, it's actually a value proposition to the boss that if you can help your teams help the, the folks who work for you, work with you to have that space and to have more agency in how they spend their focus at work. Because a lot of the tools like email and slack, and even just the meetings that we go to take agency away from us, they, they take our ability to dictate what ought to happen away from us. And we're reacting. We're doing jobs for other people. And it's funny because actually there's so much email. There's so many slack messages. There's so many calendar appointments that we're, we're circularly doing. Each other's work like a lot of times, we're not even actually doing hardly anything productive.
Jake Knapp (28:17):
Cause we're just reacting to everything that's going on. If you can create space and you don't have to give up, you don't have to give up a messagings systems a hundred percent. No, that would be crazy. You don't have to give up having meetings. Uh, you know, that'd probably be crazy, but you can create space every day for the team to have focus time where the team decides what they're doing, where emails may be not allowed and messages are not allowed, but you just are focusing on a thing that's important to you. And I think if you are managing people, it could be scary depending on what the relationship is with the employees. If you don't trust that your employees will use that time. Well, it's better to, you know, kind of bombard them with, with tasks. Chances
Eli Woolery (28:55):
Are, you've got other problems to solve that. Then you
Jake Knapp (28:57):
Have other problems. Exactly. Yeah. And I think that what can happen when that time starts, when people are able to focus is, is probably the reward for that for the, for the team is, is probably much, much greater. And you know, I, I think if I were, if I were thinking about hiring like Jake, you know, um, since I started doing this, this practice, Jake over the last six years versus hiring Jake before like distracted Jake, or I think of it as like bizarre Jake who's, who is constantly, I used to have a reputation for being like so fast on email, right? Cause I was like a hundred percent on my email. I was so productive on my email. If you get me, ask me to do something, I would do it like right away. I was really good about that stuff. And I had to like give that up, you know?
Jake Knapp (29:39):
And I used to be, I lost friends because on, I'm not on Facebook anymore. I just kind of drifted off of it. And I'm not, you can't do Instagram if it's not on your phone. So there's people I lost touch with. If you ask those people, they probably say, well, Jake's a loser, he's a, he's a jerk, I lost stuff. But if I was thinking about hiring or working with Jake, you know, today versus bizarre, Jake, who's still acted by that stuff. Jake today is more unpredictable. If I like I I'm gonna set my own agenda about what I do. But the work I do is so much better. And it's, it's, it's why John and I were able to write books or why we were able to do the design sprint, which people weren't really asking for, you know, but kind of create space to do that. It's because we started to set our own. And uh, and that's why I think the promise of working in this way is being able to set your own agenda. And sometimes really cool things will come from that.
Eli Woolery (30:31):
Hey, everyone, we wanna tell you about our latest free ebook from design better. It's called enterprise design sprints, and it's written by Richard Bandfield. He's the C of fresh tiled soil and partner at heroic. In this book, you'll learn about the five phases of design sprints with insights from Google home Depot and Northwestern mutual on their best practices for running great design sprints. You'll learn how you can reduce politics, increase collaboration, and put the focus on getting to answers quickly, not just creating assets with your team, the book email@example.com slash sprints book that's envision app.com/sprints book goes through the step by step process. So you can run, facilitate or sponsor your own enterprise design sprint and start delivering solutions super fast, no matter the size of your organization. So go check it out and let us know what you think. Thanks for listening. And now let's get back to the show. Can we, can we talk about calendaring because that's, uh, something that sort of touched on there, but I, it is the bane of most people. Yeah. It's that, uh, you know, people can put time on your calendar. Yeah. Which is so crazy. People can put, they can just take, they can walk over to your calendar and just pluck it up like a thief. Yeah.
Jake Knapp (31:59):
And it's your life. It's like a little piece of your life and they're just like
Eli Woolery (32:02):
A piece of your life it up quite literally a, a piece of your life. Tell us about your calendaring strategy and, and how might we make time to be more focused to get that laser time? Yeah.
Jake Knapp (32:14):
Well, I, my calendaring strategy, the <laugh> the, the best thing I ever did for my calendar was to quit my job and be self-employed because now I have a 100, the controller of my calendar. I still struggle with it. Sometimes I still have to remind myself to say no to things and to batch things up, but that's very extreme. And that, that is not, it is not always helpful. I think to hear that like, oh yeah, sure. Just don't, you know, just, just quit. That's that's the best thing for your calendar. Um, but what I, what I used to do and what we, I still actually use this strategy, John and I kind of consciously started doing this at while at Google ventures. And we, we started to, as a team, our design team started, started doing this because we found that with sprints, we would've sprint weeks, you know, and, and that was that's one strategy actually right there blocking off big chunk of time where you're just focused on.
Jake Knapp (33:02):
One thing has, even if you just do that, you don't even have to run the design sprint process. Even if you just block off a, a week of time where the team is focused on one thing, like good things will happen. The design sprint process helps, but good things will happen from there. But then we started to realize, well, actually we should start our non sprint weeks too. And we, we, you know, we realized that it would be much more effective if we batched our meetings onto one or two days and then used the balance of the work week. So the other three or four days to do big projects and not have meetings at all on those days. And so we talk about in the book make time about this idea of a time crater and the idea of a time crater is like, there's something on your calendar.
Jake Knapp (33:47):
It, it, isn't just, let's say of a 30 minute meeting, uh, a 30 minute meeting. Isn't just 30 minutes because there's a cost before that. And anyone who's read the maker time manager time post, um, which is a few years old now it's excellent post and talks about the, the stress that comes up. If you're trying to make something, if you're trying to do individual work and you have that meeting coming up, and then, you know, it's like in 45 minutes, you're like, I can't really get into what I'm doing now. And so you kind of just like do light work or D around and kind of waste time until the meeting happens. And then, you know, after the meetings, I, I might also have like a little bit of a crater afterwards, cause I have to remind myself what I was doing. And so any meeting in the day kind of can, it's like a, you know, it's like putting a rock through a paint of glass.
Jake Knapp (34:31):
Like it's not just gonna put a perfect hole in there. It's gonna shatter a bit. So we tried to leave fully blank days on the calendar whenever we could. It's not always possible, but by default we would block off the calendars every week. These, you know, three days are full already with nothing. So there's a meeting all day. It's just, we're doing focused work. And then these other two days are blocked off and they're gonna be when we try to pack in every single meeting, just back to back to back. So I can get into meeting mode and just be in a batch of doing that. And I think that doing either that, or, you know, blocking every morning, we're gonna have time when we don't do email. Another thing that I've done is to, I use this app called freedom, where you can like create schedules for that block, wet certain websites.
Jake Knapp (35:19):
And so I have a, I block email until, uh, 10:00 AM every day. And in fact, I'm gonna have to up it a little bit further as I go into like a, starting to work on a new book in a couple months here, um, to put a, push it a little bit further into the day, because if you don't do email, if I'm not reacting in the morning, then I'm, I'm being proactive. I'm gonna do something that's important. So it's another way you can design your calendar. And a team can say, we're gonna block off our mornings. We're not doing interruptive work in the mornings. We're only doing focused work. And I think that's another really effective way, but the calendar can be a tool to help you focus. It's just that by default, if we don't take control of it gonna be a tool to push us around,
Aarron Walter (36:00):
Uh, I will say Jake, that that's one of the techniques I've really taken to heart from the book. And I start off every week by really deliberately. Um, you know, there's obviously recurring meetings that can't do much about, but, but designing around those times really blocks to do, to do thoughtful work has been super helpful. And then also those scheduling things around, you know, just making sure I'm out exercising, that kind of thing, and being delivered about that. So I really, really, uh, thank you. <laugh> thank you for sharing that. Um, and then the other thing that comes to mind too, is, um, I dunno if you've read, designing your life, uh, bill Burnett and David, but there there's a lot of really great compliments in that book, in your book. And, um, I'm curious if you thought about that at all or, or the ways that, that they at least express, like, you know, this kind of idea of like balancing out your week with the kind of energy giving and energy draining things reminded me a lot of, of your kind of like energized tactics too. So yeah. Curious about that.
Jake Knapp (36:55):
Well, the idea of energy it's so important and we kind of, it's kind of the last thing that we talk about in the book and it's, you know, it's, I, I'm glad that it's not the first thing we started talking about in the podcast because a lot of these themes are things that are around that. We've, you know, when we say it, we're not saying things that are new people know that size is good for them. People know that sleep is important. People know these things, it it's, it's easy to, to know them and it's very hard to actually do those things. And so we actually, I mean, for if anybody's, uh, a design nerd listening to this seems possible, um, we, the first version of the book started with energized. That was first thing we started talking about because it's, it's like the fundamental thing you, first thing in the morning, like if you can build energy from the start of the day, the way we thought of it in the form of a day, it all flows from your, your physical and mental energy.
Jake Knapp (37:50):
We want to talk about that first, but we realized as we, as you know, sometimes an idea in the abstract sounds good. And then when you see it concrete, when you see the prototype, you start to second guess. So when we started to see how the book read with that in the beginning, we thought, man, we're not really, we're not experts on physical fitness or mental, you know, uh, meditation or anything. Like we shouldn't, we shouldn't lead with this. We should lead with a place where our, our expertise is more interesting and that's in, you know, how you design your I and how you get things sort of done that are important to you and how you manage technological distractions and for better, for worse, maybe because we're hypocrites and worked in the tech field. We do know a lot about how to do that stuff.
Jake Knapp (38:31):
The energized stuff is, is really important. And I think that what is unique about our take on energize is that rather than focusing on sort of the long term benefits or, and again, it's this idea of, we're not gonna tell you, you should do something or you should feel guilty if you're not doing this or that. We're not gonna tell you, like you should exercise every day because you don't want to have a healthy heart, like 30 years from now, or you should exercise every day so that, you know, you're building muscle mass and you're like looking great. And you know, like whatever, like that's not the point, actually, all the point of things we're gonna talk about in terms of what you eat and the way you treat your body and your mind for energizing are totally, you're gonna get the reward right now today because you'll have more energy for your highlight or highlight something you want to do.
Jake Knapp (39:17):
And so if you want be at your, the top of your, your game in terms of focus, whether it's at work or at home in a hobby, whatever, exercising, eating well, resting, well, spending time, face to face with people, you care about. All those things are just geared towards something you're gonna get today. You're up more energy today. You're gonna feel better today. You'll get more out of that thing. That's then gonna be the highlight of your day. And so in all cases, we want people to feel excited about doing those things because of the immediate reward. And so I, I really hope, I mean, all that stuff is just so hard to do. Like anytime we ask somebody to change behaviors or change the way you think about their life, as in the case of designing your life, it's so hard to do. And so I think it's important to have lots of different voices talking about maybe different angles on some of these same ideas, because hopefully for some folks, the way we talk about it or the way they talked about it, or the way someone else talks about it will really resonate.
Jake Knapp (40:15):
And I'll say, oh yeah, actually, that, that works for me. I'm gonna, I'm gonna try this. And, uh, and, and they're good things.
Eli Woolery (40:24):
I love that this book, um, you know, I could read this and I could use some of these tactics to just optimize my life and be more productive, be more energized as you're describing, but it seems like there's a, a deeper undercurrent, um, to this, this idea, a it's a dark
Jake Knapp (40:45):
Undercurrent. It's not
Eli Woolery (40:46):
Dark. It's actually, it's a really bright, uplifting, undercurrent about living an examined life, um, about paying attention to this one, commodity that we all have that is finite, which is our life's energy. Yeah. How will we spend that? How will we spend that in a way that's satisfying? How will we spend that in a way that's meaningful? That makes the most contribution to the organization that we serve to the community. We serve to the, the people in our lives that we serve, uh, to ourselves who we serve as well. And I wonder if you could just talk about your philosophy and John's philosophy, uh, for listeners who don't know Jake and John were, were at Google ventures for a long time. Um, not at the same time, but pretty close in timeframe, uh, left. And I know that John and his wife bought a boat. Uh, they sailed down the, uh, the coast, uh, Pacific coast down to Mexico. And so there's this undercurrent, this, this backstory, that's not in the book about personal freedom. How does that tie into this, uh, the, the ideas in this book and what do you want your readers to, to know about that, that concept? Well,
Jake Knapp (41:57):
It's a tremendously important topic to me, and it is the unwritten theme of the book. And, um, I'm so encouraged that, that you see it there and that you wanna talk about it. I, because it's, it's not, we don't talk about it overtly a lot. Um, and I think it's a, I think we have to be careful in talking about it, cuz John and I have both been very lucky in our careers and being in the right place at the right time and many instances. And, and we don't wanna tell people like, oh, if you just do what we did, you know, you have it all figured out and that's not the case, but I do think also at the same time, we, because we were lucky to be in these circumstances and to be able to, to experiment with our work and to be able to see what happened when you start to break the rules or break the defaults of the way work goes that, um, we do have something maybe interesting to, to share.
Jake Knapp (42:53):
And I speak for John on philosophy of life, cuz that's a personal, that's a personal thing and you know, should get his take himself I'll but I'll tell you about mine. I, I really care about time and about paying attention to it. And I don't know, I have maybe many triggers in my life that started me thinking about this. I can't remember how much we talked about this in a previous episode, but at the risk of being redundant, I, I almost got killed playing basketball. When I was in high school, I ruptured my spleen. I lived on a little island. I had to be helicoptered off and have my spleen removed. And I had almost bled to death by the time that they, um, that they, uh, did surgery. And so having a near death experience that yeah, each 16 was like, definitely like from that moment on, I had a different idea about how tenuous life was and um, my, my father had, uh Alzheimer's and so in my, um, in my thirties, I kind of saw that happen and he passed away a couple years ago that more recently it was a, a very, uh, had a big effect on the way I thought about time and the way I thought about the time that I have left and, and what may be ahead of me.
Jake Knapp (44:02):
And I'm a father and I've been a father for 15 years. I have two sons and having children is another thing I think for anyone will, will have a, a big effect on their, you know, outlook on, on life and what a day means and what an hour means and what it means when you miss that time with your children or what it means when there's a moment and you aren't able to pay attention to it as much as you, you wish you could. So all of those things, aren't unique to me, they're things that happen to all kinds of people. I think lots of folks think about this stuff a lot. And I was lucky enough to start to get into positions at work, where I saw ways to start to experiment with the way we did our work and the way we spent our time.
Jake Knapp (44:41):
And what I saw was that the more, I mean, if you just boiled it all down, the more I could recognize what the defaults were, what were the cultural norms or the things that had just kind of appeared or congealed in the workplace culture or in the technology culture and my expectations of how I use my device or how I spend my day, if I could recognize those defaults and see them for what they were, something that was optional, maybe something that I could challenge or break or something that I could try to push back against or redesign then space started to open up. And once there's a little space and I could start to exert what I wanted to see happen, I could start to exert more of my own attention or focus on things. Then I started to have more freedom. I started to have more freedom at work and the kinds of projects I did and the role that I I could have on those projects.
Jake Knapp (45:33):
And I started to have more freedom really in my life in general, because when your attention is your own, then you're free. When you can focus your attention on what you want to focus it on, then you're free. I mean, that's really, I've talked for a long time. I've always said, you know, all we have in our life is time and it's true, but really it's attention because you can waste a lot of time. You can have lot of time. And if you aren't able to pay attention to what you want to during that time, it's it's as if it's it's wasted. So, so if I could focus my attention, then I'm free. And I think that's the themes in the book are really about making small changes to start, to have more ownership and agency over one's own attention. And I think that once that starts to happen, then a lot of those, the walls that surround us that are made up of defaults when those start to break, or when you start to see how to change those who knows what's gonna happen. And for John and I, as we started to have more agency in how we focused our attention, John focused more and more on sailing on learning how to maintain a sailboat and on spending more time practicing his sailing and, and his wife practicing as well, so that they were able to go on long extended trips and where it led them was taking these long term or they're living on the sailboat trips and, and really, um, traveling. Yeah, traveling down, you know, along the, along the coast and months at a time. And for me must,
Eli Woolery (46:52):
Must have passed deal. I on the way probably he's on the coast. And,
Jake Knapp (46:57):
Um, and for me it was, it was about, you know, a lot of it was about writing and that the more that I was able to control, where I put my attention, I realized, gosh, this is something I've wanted to do since I was a kid, but I always thought I have to put it off for later. Well, maybe I could start now. And I don't know where it will take people who read the book, but I hope it will take them somewhere.
Eli Woolery (47:18):
I, I have a friend, uh, well known designer named James Victoria who says, uh, freedom is something you take. Yeah. You don't wait for someone to drop it off on your doorstep. And, uh, it's so true. I mean, you just take it, you take it, you don't wait for someone to
Jake Knapp (47:36):
Give it to you. Yeah. And you know, I mean, it's another one of those things where it's like, you, you almost hate to talk about the topic because so many folks are in situations where they, they can't take it for one reason or another another. There's a, there are a lot of things that prevent us in society or in the, you know, there, there are things even in the United States where the three of us are, and we're, you know, we're lucky to be we're white guys in tech. Like a lot of things are the, you know, the wind at our back. Um, and so it's easier for us to say that, but <affirmative>, it's still, it's, it's an important message for, for people to remember who are, um, who have the opportunity to take a bit of that freedom back because it is something that I only now realize looking back on my career, like that things started to really change when I could take even a little bit more of, of freedom, take a little bit more of an initiative and start to do things that I thought were important and make the time for them because you can't just wait for somebody else to think that your dreams or your goals are important.
Jake Knapp (48:42):
You've got to find a way to take your attention back. Even if it's for an hour to an hour and a half a day, I think that can make a huge difference. Yeah. And, and what you're able to do and, and how good you feel about how you're spending your life.
Aarron Walter (48:55):
That's great, Jake, and since so much of this, about time and we're at time, I just wanna <laugh>. I wanna clear with you before asking you one really simple question to kind of end things off if that's okay. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, cool. Um, well first just tying into what you just said. I think, I think the book is actually a really great gift for, even for folks who don't necessarily have the types of opportunities we might have in our careers, because it really causes you to examine all the defaults in your life and see spaces that you might just not realize you had and be able to design around those, uh, opportunities. So I think that's, that's really a gift. Um, last question. I was gonna ask to wrap things up. Um, what's the best place for people to find the book?
Jake Knapp (49:39):
Oh yeah. Thank you. That's a, that's a wonderful question. And it's, it's perfect timing. Cuz the book is out. You can go to MakeTime book.com and you can find all the information you might want about it. We have some to tools there and a bonus pack and you can look inside the book if you aren't convinced yet by listening to a stock about it for an hour, but you can also find it everywhere where you would expect to find a book. So you can find it online at Amazon and other retailers. You can find it an audible it's on the Kindle. Um, the audio book is me and John recording it. So you didn't get enough of my voice. You can hear a few more hours of it and yeah, I really do hope that people will, um, will check it out and, and see what you think and uh, and let us know.
Eli Woolery (50:25):
Thanks for making time to talk to us.
Jake Knapp (50:27):
Absolutely. Absolutely. My pleasure. And I'm so grateful to you guys for, for taking the time outta your schedule to do a, a special episode. Absolutely. Our pleasure. Yeah. Thanks Jay. Thank you.
Speaker 4 (50:38):
That concludes this episode of the design better.co podcast, but if you're hungry for more high quality design education, head of over to design, better.co, where you can find videos, eBooks, and articles on design and what it can do for you. If you enjoyed this episode, please rate and review us on iTunes to help other folks find us and to spread the word on what design can do for them. Thanks for listening.