Create Highlights for Your Day

Create Highlights for Your Day

Own Your Calendar

As a product designer, I am always keen on making sure my day is under my control and not the other way around. I love calendars, but I’m also intimidated by them.

I like the idea of planning ahead which gives me a sense of perspective on the range and bandwidth of my daily tasks. In the past few years, my obsession grew in monitoring how I spent my hours on tasks and running errands efficiently. I wanted to zoom in on every hour and lock-in the time to build, write, read, create, relax, join meetings, get on calls, eat, exercise, and have some time left for Netflix.

I’m definitely not perfect and I try not to be hard on myself if a day goes by without all plans being completed. If I block in time for a task but didn’t get to it, I make sure I edit my calendar as I go. I try to stick to what I initially had planned, but life gets in the way and it’s ok to move things around several times throughout your day. Always choose your ease of mind over reaching perfection.

In our current hyper-active-online-society, we’re being gnawed at to work a little harder, spend more time on social media, scroll more, post more, argue about worldly views, and stay in the loop with all the noise caused by the president’s Twitter account, we barely have time for ourselves to just be.

Most of us carousel through our days and weeks feeling frustrated by ourselves and productivity levels for not finishing assigned work or completing regular life tasks. The voices in our heads keep telling us that we’ve amounted today’s work-frame to a few meetings, responding to emails, calls, attending sessions, and then maybe for the remaining time, we try to find the energy for designing, developing, and deploying our actual work that yields to great potential.

This discombobulated feeling of incomplete tasks has consequences. Our sleep is affected by it, our attention to detail becomes blurry, and mostly, our relationships with close ones start to dwindle. Distractions are a huge cause of procrastination, with cultural and fashion trends flying off from screens to our shopping carts. With platforms that use infinite scrolling techniques to level up our engagement, time spent online, and stay on top of trends, Jake Knapp has the solution and identifies these time-blocks as ‘highlights’.

Jake Knapp on Highlights

I’m always on the lookout for new techniques and time management hacks for my life and I’m happy to share my take on this topic. Designer and author, Jake Knapp was invited to talk about the topic of time management and creation in one of IDEO U’s webinars. I strongly encourage you to sign up for these interesting Facebook live sessions, they usually they take place at 9:00 am P.T., and are as frequent as once every few weeks. I find watching them a great way to start my work day, I play them on my second screen and dedicate the 45 minutes of the video to learning from the top industry leaders in design thinking and product design. You can find the series @ideouonline on Facebook.

This particular IDEO U session is called Make Time with Jake Knapp who is a best-selling author and co-author of two of my favorites books Make Time, which this article is about, and Sprints, a best-selling book that is used a guide and technique for companies to produce design deliverables in one-week increments. I plan on reviewing both books in-depth in upcoming posts.

Jake Knapp worked at Google ventures for over ten years, he worked on projects that the whole world uses and operates with today. Knapp was on the team responsible for building Gmail and Google Calendars. Consequently, he’s pretty knowledgable on topics of time management and how to be in control of your day. As Knapp describes,

A highlight is the one activity that you hope to be the bright spot of your day. It is the most pressing, satisfying, and/or joyful thing in your day.

I wanted to share Knapp’s methods on keeping his day productive by proactively and intentionally designing his daily tasks and how to scale them. Knapp talked about a critical topic that seems to be overlooked today.

How can we make time for projects that matter and get to the point of making decisions based on importance not on urgency? Knapp explains,

Creativity doesn’t happen in 30-minute increments between meetings. To be a great creative problem solver, you must be intentional about making time for the things that matter.

Let me breakdown the question. Knapp explores with his audience ways to better categorize our tasks based on importance, and not based on deadlines. Knapp talks about many interesting time consuming factors and distractions in our life. I wanted to share here is the concept of creating daily highlights that definitely should be completed by the end of the day.

Tackle Your Highlights

Here are a few steps to creating an effective highlight:

1 - In the beginning of everyday, grab a sticky note and a pen and write only one big thing you want to get done today. Have one goal for the day, dedicated to your highlighted task. Block your calendar, one hour or ninety minutes (more than 90 minutes is unrealistic, putting too much pressure on our focus). When you work on this goal during your pique energy, try your best to stay true to these holds–avoid deleting or booking over them. The priority is to make sure that by the end of the day you’re done, so don’t overwhelm your highlight.

2 - A highlight is different than a to-do list, highlights make you rethink your day and reengineer the way you want the day to end. Create positive pressure by committing to a deadline.

3 - In order to create a laser focused work mode, shut off the busy bandwagon and infinity pools, these are references to social media applications that use infinite scrolling methods to consume user’s time. Be in an environment that helps you reach this goal. As Knapp explains,

Being busy doesn’t equate to being productive. Choose one thing that matters to you today, and make time to get it done.


When we are motivated to work we are not only productive by also purposeful. We grow a sense of habit creation which is a powerful tool in personal development.

Creating highlights is not an easy task, don’t think that if it doesn’t work out today, then it’s not for you. You got to try again the next day using iterative measures, maybe compartmentalize the big highlights into smaller chunks, that way you have actionable next steps.

The trick is to write down all the projects that are going on in your life. Let’s say you have from 5 to 10 important professional and personal tasks you want to complete this year, list them and then re-organize based on priority or where you are next. If your list has more than ten items maybe you can edit it to be manageable. By organizing our tasks we are able to recognize what we finished by the end of the week, giving us a “spectrum of manageable tasks that lead you closer to your goals”, as Knapp explains.

If you have more thoughts on this topic, don’t hesitate to leave them below, or tweet at me. I am always happy to chat about productivity and time management.

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