As an experiment…

…20 years ago I didn’t watch TV for a whole month.

At the my university housemates thought I was crazy, but it felt liberating and rebellious — a way to stick two fingers up at the way we are supposed to do things.

I got the idea from a book called Get a Life! — a manifesto against wasting precious hours each day ‘staring at a piece of furniture’ — it’s slogan was ‘Stop watching start living!’.

Don’t trust her smile. She’s about to go loco on that TV!

My experiment of a month without TV certainly gave me more time to do other things — which at the time mainly involved keeping the local student bars in business 😉

Back to the present!

Fast forward 20 years and the demands on my time have become a touch more complicated. With a full-time job, a busy wife, three energetic young kids and no extra hours in the day, it seems more important than ever to get the most out of daily life.

Which is why I was super excited when I heard that Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky were bringing out a new book called Make Time — How to focus on what matters every day.

Just in case you missed the other photo 😉

Jake and John wrote the insanely popular book Sprint — which had a huge impact on my mindset and toolkit at work and is responsible for a kazillion (and counting) design sprints around the world. So I was very excited about their new book.

But first, some more experiments…

My attempts to be more efficient and effective with my time and to power up my days didn’t stop with my month without TV.

In the years since I’ve had some big wins by deleting myself from Facebook and Twitter (which is scary but totally worth it!)

I’ve had lots of ups, downs and downright fails.

I’ve tried all of the to-do apps, notes apps, email this way, that way, personal Kanban boards, calendar Tetris and calendar ‘go f**k yourself!’.

I’ve experimented with morning workouts, evening runs, 0 day detoxes, and coffee holidays.

But the one thing I’ve never had is a system that ties it all together. In short, I’ve never really been very scientific about making my time and energy more my own.

Enter Make Time.

Make Time is special.

For me, reading it was like being lifted out of a fog.

For starters, in ways that I suppose only New York Times bestselling authors and Design Sprint inventors can do, Jake and John get to the heart of the matter:

“Most of our time is spent by default.”

They then reframe the complexities of modern life into the two biggest default-enforcing armies we face day to day:

The Busy Bandwagon (the collective demand we face to be productive) and The Infinity Pools (the endless streams of content we consume to avoid getting back on the Busy Bandwagon)

No wonder it’s hard to find time for the things that really matter to us when that’s what we’re up against.

And this for me was my moment of realisation:

Most of my experiments and around time-management and life hacking have only been half-effective. Yes I’d found ways to get things done, focus and kill distractions, but I’d also missed the point.

I’d neglected being purposeful about something that really mattered to me each and every day. And without proper reflection, I’d not even realised it. Until now…

The Make Time difference

The beauty of Make Time is that rather than focusing on productivity or lofty ambitions, you focus on a daily highlight that is meaningful to you, every day.

A highlight might be satisfying, urgent, joyful or just something you really want to do!

A highlight is bigger than a simple task, but smaller than a big goal. It’s something that you can do in 60–90 minutes. It’s something you should be able to make time for, and thankfully there’s 87 tactics in the book to help you do just that.

Jake and John, in a very Design Sprinty way, also have a simple daily process to follow. It looks like this:

The theory is simple

  1. Choose a highlight
  2. Choose your tactics to stay laser-focused on it
  3. Build and maintain your energy throughout the day so you can be on top form
  4. Reflect at the end of the day, practice gratitude, make notes and tweak your own tactics that work for you

The practice is hard

Depending on your work situation, your personal or family circumstances and where you fall on the scale of “yeah I can totally delete my social media apps” to “delete facebook?! are you mad?!” there’s going to be some tough experiments to run when it comes to finding what works for you to Make Time.

Jake and John make some fantastic suggestions in the book for how to go about this, and it’s not for me to tell you what to do.

I can however share where I’m at, and the reason I’m writing this post.

In many ways, I’ve feel like already done a lot of the hard work. I’ve long since deleted myself from Facebook and Twitter, I don’t watch the news — other than an occasional read of the headlines every now and again. I’ve engineered ways to take more control of my time at work, and I’ve battle tested a lot of tactics that I know help me to focus, build energy and reduce distraction.

In short, I’ve got a lot of the tools, but…

I’ve never really used them fully to be truly purposeful with my time!

The secret reward of reflection

Reflection is for me is the secret reward of Make Time, a key activity I was missing before reading the book.

It’s what separates just blindly getting on with things from having a plan.

Daily reflection is about pressing pause (literally, from Netflix, Instagram and whatever else) and recognising the little everyday stories that are making up our days, weeks, months and years.

It’s about grasping the wonderful opportunity we have to shape the path of our lives.

Make Time has given me the missing pieces I needed – the framework and opportunity to make that choice, and to make it consciously, every day.

Why Make Time is just the beginning…

Make Time is full of great tactics. I also came to it with a bunch of things that I already did too. When I posted these on LinkedIn, Jake asked me to write this Medium post – as he said he and John are super keen to hear from readers on what works for them.

So wherever you are on your Make Time journey, you’ve got the framework and an Avengers sized armoury of tactics in the book. So experiment away, have fun, don’t worry if it all goes horribly wrong on a given day, there’s always tomorrow, and please share what you learn along the way.

Here’s wishing you every success in making time for whatever matters to you…

…and just in case 87 things to try aren’t enough, here’s 3 more tactics from me!

1. Highlight tactic: The Switcheroo…

Sometimes your highlight can be making someone else’s day, or their own highlight extra special. If you’ve got kids you’ll know how valuable and rewarding giving someone else your full attention can be.

Like Jake’s story in the book, I this the hard way by noticing the fleeting looks of disappointment from my kids when I was paying more attention to my phone or laptop than in them. I’d give myself an excuse that I was doing something important, but in reality I could have made time to do whatever it was another time, or not at all.

Now there’ll always be times when you want to concentrate on your highlight, it is after all something that’s meaningful to you. But there’s always an alternative…

One afternoon this summer, my wife and I finally got chance to have some down time in the garden. The kids seemed to be entertaining themselves, so we settled down with a book each — finally some time to just, relax.

But before long our youngest daughter started asking for us to play a game with her. If you have kids, you’ll know how this goes! Because I was aware of the times when I hadn’t paid full attention, and even though I really just wanted to read, I did something different…

For the next couple of hours we held the Greenfield Summer Games. We set up all sorts of events and activities in the garden for our kids to test themselves at. We had them earn points and finished with a medal ceremony and certificates. It was one of the most enjoyable and memorable afternoons of the summer.

This was a big lesson for me in trusting my gut. I’m not saying you should always be looking to switch your highlight. But be open to signals to flip your priorities and get fully onboard with something you weren’t expecting. Since then, I’ve found some of my fondest memories have been written this way. And after all, you can always go for your highlight again tomorrow.

2. Laser tactic: Surf and songbirds…

When I want to focus I often reach for my headphones. But instead of agonising over the right music to fit my mood and task at hand, I use the Naturespace app to simply listen to a natural soundscape, be it first light or sunset surf. It’s natural ear candy!

The app is also awesome for creating some headspace on a crowded train, tram or plane etc. I don’t travel without it.

3. Energise tactic: The James Bond Shower…

This one takes some willpower! As an experiment in boosting my energy a few years ago I tried the 30 day total detox by Jane Scrivner. It was fairly hardcore, so not many things turned into new habits for me.

One that did though is taking an ice cold shower every morning, or as it’s also known; The James Bond Shower! (Just google it)

It goes like this:

  1. Start your morning shower as usual
  2. Once you’re ready, slowly reduce the temperature all the way down
  3. Scream!!
  4. Hold on!
  5. Get your breath back…
  6. Hold for 30 more seconds…
  7. Get out and feel AWESOME!

I’ve been doing this for so long now I flip the temperature to ice cold for the final minute — It keeps things dangerous — especially if you try it whenever you travel someplace different. It turns out for example that the water temperature in Switzerland is WAY colder than the UK. I’ll never forget that morning!

So that’s it from me — I hope you found these tips helpful!

Believe it or not I’ve been meaning to post something on here for a while…

I just needed to Make Time to do it 🙂

One last thing: If you’re feeling generous please give this story some claps 🙌 so other people can find it too — thank you!

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