At Woven, we consider the calendar to be one of the most important productivity tools in your arsenal. This idea may seem fundamental, but it’s hardly new.
Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky are two Google alumni who are as passionate about time and calendars as we are. They think about time a lot; particularly the day’s ebbs and flows of energy, productivity, and motivation. Knapp and Zeratsky are co-authors of the book Make Time, as well as the creators of the email newsletter Time Dorks. I talked with Knapp and Zeratsky about how they’ve learned to spend their time better.
Solving for “Time Idiocy”
Neither Knapp nor Zeratsky set out to become time-management wizards. Knapp remembers being especially skilled at procrastination throughout college. “One of my standout memories is when we were assigned to read Anna Karenina, which is roughly 1,000 pages long, and write an essay about it. I put it off until the night before the essay was due. Instead of reading the book, I rented two Anna Karenina movies, read the Cliff’s Notes, and stayed up all night working on the essay. It was your classic idiot college thing.”
“When my son was born, I became more aware of what a time-idiot I am," he says. "All these [time-management] mechanisms are ways for me to try to combat my incurable time-idiocy.”
"When my son was born, I became more aware of what a time-idiot I am" - Jake Knapp
Zeratsky adds: “Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my pre-Internet, pre-computer childhood, when I’d spend hours and hours immersed in a project or hobby. There was nothing else in the world. I could pour my energy into that task. I’ve been trying to recreate that feeling ever since.”
Working in Teams vs. Individual Time Management
In trying to cure their own “time-idiocy” and find their focus, Knapp and Zeratsky have unlocked powerful time-management techniques embraced by teams and individuals alike.
In their first book, Sprint, Knapp and Zeratsky laid out their five-day process for building and testing a prototype with a team. Each day is dedicated to a specific stage of the design process: Mondays are for mapping, Tuesdays are for sketching, etc. The same approach of focusing on a single activity can be helpful for individuals.
Knapp explains it this way: “Simplifying and reserving your peak energy for one thing — the day’s ‘Highlight’ — works well. I’ve found that by having a headline, at the end of the day you feel more satisfied. The singularity of focusing on one thing leads to a sense of doneness. It also helps you prioritize; you can avoid distractions that have nothing to do with the day’s theme.”
I’ve found that by having a headline, at the end of the day you feel more satisfied. - Jake Knapp
Zeratsky wields his calendar as a shield against the day’s myriad distractions. One thing he’s learned from his work in teams is to block together. "Decide as a team on some blocks of times that are reserved for real work. Keep the blocks relatively small to make them easier to protect. Likewise, set aside times when it’s OK to be interrupted by scheduling ‘office hours.’"
Today, much of Zeratsky’s projects are solo ventures, but he still makes sure to spend some time designing his days. “When I see a day with no meetings on my calendar, I try to avoid getting seduced by dreams of everything I’ll get done, and instead, buckle down and create a plan for myself,” he says.
Making Time for What’s Important
Our team at Woven is on a mission to help people spend time on what’s important. Zeratsky and Knapp’s own experiments have taught them just how vital time management is to recognizing what things are important — and what things are noise.
“It can be very difficult to know how you want to change when there’s no space in your life. It’s like treading water in rough seas — you can’t see past the waves on the surface. Only when you get your head up above the chop can you see what’s possible. For me, 10 years ago, life was good, but it was also busy and stressful. My attention was scattered and my time was fragmented,” says Zeratsky.
“I didn’t have a vision for how I wanted to change or what I wanted my life to look like. But I started small, and little by little, I created the space that allowed me to see what was possible.” Zeratsky uses this newfound time to travel, sail, spend time with friends, and pursue new projects that didn't fit into full-time professional life.
"Only when you get your head up above the chop can you see what’s possible." - John Zeratsky
Knapp looks to his calendar to help him preserve energy for those important things. “There are better hours in the day for a meeting or call than others. Just after dropping my son off at school is a good slot for me. Then, if the rest of the day is free, hypothetically I can work on some big project. But sometimes I overload this slot and I find certain activities drain energy from the important things I need to work on. When emails and meeting requests come in, those seem more urgent. Before I know it, the day is gone.”
Woven’s ability to schedule meetings without switching back and forth to email, cuts down on those buzzy distractions. The Woven Assistant and other features manage availability, scheduling, and event updates across both work and personal calendars — and we’re just getting started. Keep your eyes on this blog as we announce new ways that Woven will help you get the most out of your day.