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Lenny's Podcast: Product | Growth | Career
Making time for what matters | Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky (authors of Sprint and Make Time, co-founders of Character Capital)

Making time for what matters | Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky (authors of Sprint and Make Time, co-founders of Character Capital)


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Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky are the authors of best-selling books Sprint and Make Time. They have helped more than 300 teams design new products and bring them to market, including those at YouTube, Gusto, One Medical Group, and Slack. Jake and John are co-founders of the venture capital firm Character, where they support startups with capital and sprints. Previously, they were operating partners at Google Ventures and, before that, design leaders at Google, where John worked on Google Ads and YouTube and Jake helped build Gmail and co-founded Google Meet. In our conversation, we discuss:

• “Busy bandwagon” and “infinity pools”

• Creating one “highlight” each day

• Their four-part framework for productivity

• How to use the calendar to design your day

• How creating friction can help you avoid distractions

• Tips on creating a distraction-free phone

• Strategies for managing email and distractions

• The importance of reflecting on the day and making time for meaningful work

• Design sprints

Some takeaways:

  1. The foundation of “making time” is to define and write down a “highlight” each day. This is the one thing that would make your whole day a success if you get it done. Highlights can be professional or personal. Once you know your highlights, you can shape your days around them.

  2. Try using your calendar to block out the time you spend on different tasks. Firstly, this will help you understand how long things really take (the results may surprise you). Secondly, it will help you block out time for deep work by conveying to yourself and others when you want to avoid interruptions.

  3. Reflect on your productivity with curiosity rather than judgment. Each day is an experiment that you’ll get to run again tomorrow and the day after that. If you don’t complete a highlight one day, instead of beating yourself up, ask, “Why not?” Find the lesson you can apply the next day, and feel free to set the same highlight again.

  4. Be aware of the busy bandwagon and infinity pools that can distract you. The busy bandwagon is the societal expectation that everyone should be busy, leading to stress and a constant feeling of needing to be occupied. Infinity pools are endless sources of content and distractions, such as social media and emails, designed to be compelling and friction-free, making it easy to get sucked in. Understanding these concepts can empower you to take control of your time and increase productivity.

  5. The “Make Time” framework

    Highlight: Identify and prioritize the most crucial task for the day—the highlight that deserves your primary attention.

    Laser: Create barriers to distractions, allowing you to channel as much energy and attention as possible toward your highlighted task.

    Energize: Choose a time when your energy levels are high. Take intentional steps to maintain your well-being, including sufficient sleep, proper nutrition, exercise, and social interaction. This component acts as a booster to the Laser focus.

    Reflect: Consistently reflect on your approach, adjusting tactics as needed. Treat each day as an experiment rather than a judgment of success or failure.

Listen now on Apple, Spotify, Overcast, and YouTube.

Where to find Jake Knapp:

• X: https://twitter.com/jakek

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jake-knapp/

• Website: https://jakeknapp.com/

Where to find John Zeratsky:

• X: https://twitter.com/jazer

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnzeratsky/

• Website: https://johnzeratsky.com/

Where to find Lenny:

• Newsletter: https://www.lennysnewsletter.com

• X: https://twitter.com/lennysan

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennyrachitsky/

In this episode, we cover:

(00:00) About Jake and John

(04:10) Recording the audiobook for Make Time

(06:06) What people often get wrong when trying to become more productive

(11:24) The busy bandwagon and infinity pools

(15:22) Real talk: Jake and John’s productivity levels

(20:10) The four-part framework for getting more done: Highlight, Laser, Energize, Reflect

(25:15) Step 1: Highlight

(28:08) Designing your day with a calendar

(30:52) The Groundhog Day mentality

(35:10) Tactical advice for implementing the highlight method

(39:30) An example of a failed highlight

(48:08) Step 2: Laser

(51:12) Creating intentional friction to avoid distractions

(57:28) Curating a distraction-free phone

(01:07:58) Resetting expectations and slowing your inbox

(01:14:51) Systems over willpower

(01:18:14) Managing email distractions

(01:18:49) Step 3: Energize

(01:22:05) Step 4: Reflect

(01:26:30) Introduction to Sprint


Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day: https://www.amazon.com/Make-Time-Focus-Matters-Every/dp/0525572422

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days: https://www.amazon.com/Sprint-audiobook/dp/B019R2DQIY

• Make Time blog: https://maketime.blog/

• Make Time blog on X: https://twitter.com/maketimeblog

• Character: https://www.character.vc/

• Google Ventures: https://www.gv.com/

• Character Labs: https://www.character.vc/labs

• Strategies for becoming less distracted and improving focus | Nir Eyal (author of Indistractable and Hooked): https://www.lennyspodcast.com/strategies-for-becoming-less-distracted-and-improving-focus-nir-eyal-author-of-indistractable-and/

Groundhog Day on Prime Video: https://www.amazon.com/Groundhog-Day-Bill-Murray/dp/B000SP1SH6

• Reclaim.ai: https://reclaim.ai/

• Feed Blocker for LinkedIn: https://chromewebstore.google.com/detail/feed-blocker-for-linkedin/eikaafmldiioljlilngpogcepiedpenf

The Lord of the Rings: https://www.amazon.com/Lord-Rings-J-R-R-Tolkien/dp/0544003411

• MagSafe charger: https://www.amazon.com/Apple-MHXH3AM-A-MagSafe-Charger/dp/B08L5NP6NG/

• Nanit app: https://www.nanit.com/pages/nanit-app

• Arianna Huffington’s Phone Bed Charging Station: https://www.amazon.com/Arianna-Huffingtons-Charging-Station-Walnut/dp/B0799ZG1LY

• Cell Phone Lock Box with Timer: https://www.amazon.com/Portable-Android-Self-Discipline-Achieve-Addiction/dp/B0CG8V4YG3?th=1

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich: https://www.amazon.com/4-Hour-Workweek-Escape-Live-Anywhere/dp/0307465357

The Economist: https://www.economist.com/

• Odysseus: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Odysseus

• Mailman: https://www.mailmanhq.com/

• Future: https://www.future.co/

• Notion: https://www.notion.so/

• Miro: https://miro.com/

Lightning-round answers:

2-3 books you’ve recommended most to people?

John: Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, Rapt by Winifred Gallagher, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt.

Jake: The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, Listen Like You Mean It by Ximena Vengoechea

Favorite recent movie or TV show?

John: Succession (I’ve seen it three times).

Jake: Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, BBC’s Pride and Prejudice—not recent (1995) but rewatched recently.

Favorite interview question you like to ask candidates?

John: (For founders) What were the biggest risks you had to overcome in building this business, and what are the next set of important hypotheses you need to validate?

Jake: (For founders) Why are you doing this with your life right now? What’s the connection from earlier in your career and even back to when you were a kid?

What are some favorite products you’ve recently discovered that you love?

John: Tiller Money (puts personal finance data into a Google Sheet automatically), Vacu Vin Wine Saver (keeps wine fresh in the fridge up to 5 days), Briggs & Riley Baseline Spinner suitcase (has a compression system that adds 3-5 days’ capacity).

Jake: Notion instead of email, Loom instead of calls, and Descript videos instead of blog posts. Peloton Row (actually improving my posture). Time Timer (classic but essential).

What’s your favorite life motto that you repeat most, either at work or in life?

John: “Everything is its own reward.” —Paul Madonna

Jake: “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” —Joseph Campbell

Production and marketing by https://penname.co/. For inquiries about sponsoring the podcast, email podcast@lennyrachitsky.com.

Lenny may be an investor in the companies discussed.

Lenny's Newsletter
Lenny's Podcast: Product | Growth | Career
Interviews with world-class product leaders and growth experts to uncover concrete, actionable, and tactical advice to help you build, launch, and grow your own product.