Making Time

Jo Mahadevan
5 min readMar 28, 2021

A few years ago, I had read a book by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky; “Make Time — How to focus on things that matter”. The book’s contents were particularly intriguing to me, and one of the central themes of the book is the idea that two different forces compete for every single handful of our time — namely, The Busy Bandwagon and The Infinity Pool.

To provide some context, The Bandwagon effect is a psychological phenomenon whereby people do something primarily because others are doing it as well, regardless of their own beliefs (which typically become abhorrent to those under the influence of the effect). Most of us in the 21st century have the bandwagon mindset — in that we see it vital to consume every minute with productivity — in order to present oneself as a functioning member of society and meet the demands of a modern workplace.

The Infinity Pool consists of apps and social networks of endlessly replenishing content. This always-available, always new content is the reward for your exhaustion from constant busyness.

Both of these forces desensitise us and make us indifferent to whatever ‘defaults’ are imposed upon us.

Our lives seem to be driven by defaults — things which are accepted without question, that nobody seems to challenge — For example, by default we are okay with back to back meetings; we are notified for even insignificant messages; our phone apps are set up to do what is best for the manufacturer and the data provider, rather than us, the users. To further elaborate on what I said above, both the Busy Bandwagon and the Infinity Pool both make us default to adverse stuff: while the former defaults to making us feel like we’ve to do endless tasks, the latter defaults us to perpetual distraction.

I didn't follow everything the book recommended to make time — as I felt that I had to commandeer my own life, and what was best for me was not what was written. Below is the steps I took in my journey towards making time — which I’m still finding my way across.

Not using To-Do Lists

You would think that to-do lists gave us a means to achieve a better work life balance. However, that could not be farther from the reality: To-Do lists lie to you — not in the literal sense, but in the sense that the tasks which we regularly update in our lists are often other people’s priorities, rather than our own. The highs that we get out off crossing off a task are extinguished by several more tasks cluttering our backlogs. While keeping lists for the purpose of memory are usually effective, To-Do lists give us neither reason nor a process in which to minimise The Busy Bandwagon mindset.

Bullet Journaling

Bullet journals (Bu-Jo) are a serious technical innovation, giving a method to sort information in any order into even an ordinary notebook and be able to easily find it later on. Whatever you call it — a planner, journal, diary, or otherwise — creator Ryder Carroll says this method will help you live a more productive and meaningful life.

The artistic element of Bu-Jo allows the inner artiste in us run wild, and gives us a sense of mindfulness. While my Bu-Jo improved my ability to visualise stuff, helped me focus on a given particular problem at hand, it neither aided me in better organising my daily life nor in prioritising my goals.

Highlights of the Week and the Year

When tasks feel too repetitive and goals seem unreachable, Highlights seem just right. The book that I mentioned above talks in detail about the highlights, this is that one thing that I adapted to make my time more meaningful. Highlights help you focus on the brightest spot of your day. Imagine this: hypothetically, if someone asked you the question; “What was the highlight of your day?”, think about what you would like the answer to be. Highlights may be a form of To-Do lists; however, they are much more effective as you can prioritise and choose tasks based on:

  • Urgency — What’s the most pressing thing that needs to be done for the week?
  • Satisfaction — Tasks which would give you the most satisfaction, like preparing for a presentation or a meeting.
  • Joy — Tasks that you would find fun to do, such as spending time with family, exercising, or reading a book.

I also started having highlights for the year: Picking one major change that I would gradually take steps towards throughout the course of the year. Last year was taken by storm from COVID — as you know, many of us were stuck at home in lockdown. Thus, I set my highlight of the year to focus on my health and nutrition, so that my health would not deteriorate by being stuck at home. I took more calculated, strategic, gradual steps towards my transformation into plant based nutrition, rather than going cold turkey.

I was still using my Bu-Jo to track my highlights of the week and the start of this year I decided to start using personal Kanban as my weekly highlights tracker.

Personal Kanban

I have been trying to master the art of being more organised for a long time. Although for the last few years, I had started taking this more seriously; as both family and work commitments increased. This year, I felt that I was ready to have a more sustainable personal Kanban, as it would no longer be my To-Do list tracker, rather, it would actually be used to track my highlights of the week while my Bu-Jo would still help me with my visualisation, doodling, journaling and other creative measures.

For the personal Kanban, I grouped all my key priorities as themes.

As the week goes, I’d capture all the tasks that I needed to do under these themes and record them on sticky notes. I’d refine my backlog of tasks that I had captured through the week, at the same time every weekend. The tasks that would go into my To-Do column would be based on the priorities I had outlined. I have WIP limits of not more than 2 in the Doing column. Should there be any new tasks that needed to be prioritised over the one I had already picked, I would re-adjust my To-Do and Doing columns.

In conclusion, I fail a lot in mastering the whole Making Time process. However, it took 6 years of taking small steps to get to where I am now. I have improved in many aspects of managing my day-to-day; but ultimately, when it comes to making time, it’s not about crossing off tasks or setting far-fetched goals — it’s about mastering the system.

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