Oct. 6, 2021

Make Time to Find Your Element

Make Time to Find Your Element

What do you want more of? Terri speaks with Connor Swenson about the Make Time framework for how to focus on what matters every day.

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Connor Swenson discusses the Make Time Framework to manage the forces that compete for our time. 


MAKE TIME by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky | Core Message 




In my career, I never had black white answers. But in school, it's always this is right, this is wrong. So I think they also have to embrace the gray a little bit and allow kids to realize that it's not the real world is not black and white in any way, shape, or form.

Terri Novacek  0:28  
Hello, everyone, and thank you for listening. I'm excited to tell you about this book I came across last summer. It's written by two young new authors, Jake Knapp and john Zaretsky. It's called Make Time How to Focus on What Matters Every Day. I have no idea how I even came across the book, or what drew me to it. Maybe it was my subconscious telling me my time management needed a reboot because it occurred to me after reading the book, that time management changes with time. Of course, there are the staples of time management, like avoiding procrastination and the necessity of focus. But the causes the cures, and the priorities change with each generation. When I began my current career, 20 years ago, I was all over the time management books. I was already homeschooling first in third-grade children and managing a home. How was I ever going to take on this new role as an executive overseeing a school that operated in three counties? Add to that the location of the school's office was an hour and a half from my home, way down at the south end of where the school operated. Now, keep in mind, this was long before COVID and zoom, I needed to figure out a way to stay connected with staff and ensure our administration was running smoothly in meeting all our requirements as a public charter school. The book that offered the most useful advice for me at that time was Work Less Make More, it was published in 1999. I still have the book and I continue to cherish it, not only because it saved my sanity, but because the cover page has the scribbles of one of my children practicing the alphabet when I wasn't looking. That book was also the first book I ever wrote. And up until that time, I had a mark in book phobia, which of course was influenced by teachers who told me it is bad to write in books. For the first time in my life, I underlined and wrote notes in a book. After chapter one, I sat back to see what would happen and nothing. There were no negative repercussions at all. No one yelled at me, no one find me. It was such an enlightening experience. Books are meant to not only read but to be used. And if it takes some lines, scribbles notes, and page bending to get more out of it. Go for it. And as a side note, yes, it was my own book, not something I borrowed from the library or the school or someone else. So anyway, I'm kind of digressing here. But Fast Forward 22 years, I have a library of what my teachers would have referred to as soiled books. And I continue to use them to this day. So today, we have the privilege of hearing from Connor Swenson who heads the make time at work program. And before you turn this off, because you're thinking to yourself, I'm not working right now. Remember, work does not just mean a job that earns income. We all engage in work. As a student, our work is our studies. As a parent, our work is our children. As an unemployed person wishing we were employed, our work is preparing for our next employment. So let's see what Connor has to say. And be sure to check out our show notes. On the element is everything website for more information about the book, the program, and Connor.

Terri Novacek  4:25  
Nice to be introduced.

Connor Swenson  4:26  
Nice to meet you, too. Our podcast is about finding your element. And even though we operate two schools, you know, k 12 schools. We believe that finding your element is something that you're it's a lifelong thing. It's allowed to change. You know, our priorities change. But regardless of our age, there's always something we want to focus on. Yeah, whether it's your studies or your career or you know, even just managing a family Yep. And so I was hoping to get some information from you as far as the make time model, where it came from, and how it works.

Connor Swenson  5:13  
 Absolutely. I love it. You know, my introduction to making time came when I was working for Google. And I started my career at Google in New York in 2013. And spent a year there before transferring out to sort of the HQ and in California, I live in San Francisco and work down in Mountain View, where Google's headquartered, and I think, like a lot of people that, you know, join a new job, especially at a place like Google, you know, I didn't come in that traditional application process, I kind of got in the back door. So I felt that I was surrounded by brilliant, motivated ambitious people doing amazing stuff. And, you know, as much as you know, I might have critiques of Google these days, I think there's still just so much amazing innovation at the company. And like, lots of people, I think I, my first reaction was to work as hard as I could. Right? Right. So I, I think it's a natural reaction, you just think, okay, if I'm going to keep up if I'm going to be, you know, promoted, if I'm going to get on to the fun projects, I've really got to lean in. And for most of us working hard means longer hours, staying nights. You know, when I started in New York, it wasn't uncommon to come in on the weekend, and there'll be plenty of people toiling away. And I started to realize pretty soon within a year or two, that there was a downside to this mentality, this sort of always-on sort of constant responsiveness. And this sort of culture of immediacy, which I was kind of creating within myself. And when I was president at Google, I started to see that the more I lean on, sort of like productivity ideas, the more I tried to get faster and more efficient, just so I could do more. That kind of quicker, I was running on this sort of hamster wheel. And it didn't really allow me to make time for the things that mattered. And I was really fortunate because when I moved to San Francisco, I was working for a team called Google for entrepreneurs back then. And it was housed within the larger Google Ventures team, which does startup investments on behalf of Google. And I met Jake and John. So Jake Knapp and John Zaretsky are the co-authors of Make Time. And they hadn't written the book yet. But they were spending a lot of time with startups that Google had invested in. And they were doing these design sprints, these five-day sprints, trying to help them solve big problems, problems that teams would spend weeks or months or years on, can you do it in five days, and Reese resetting the defaults of how teams work? Right, instead of trying to put a big project amidst all the meetings and the status updates, and the quarterly reviews? Like what if we just brought everyone together for five days, you know, put the laptops to the side, and we just sprinted on this? And they had huge progress. Teams loved it, but people were like, but you can't do a sprint every week, you know?

Terri Novacek  8:12  
What does that look like? Are you talking like basically 24 seven, you're, you're all locked up together.

Connor Swenson  8:19  
It's not quite that although when they started because you're working with startups, that the inclination, the default, the automatic kind of thinking was, look, we're gonna work as hard as long as we can on these days. But they started to realize, by Wednesday, Thursday of this five-day week, if they were working late, if they weren't fueling up with healthy foods, they weren't taking breaks that people just started to fade, right? It's not like you're just tired physically, but you're mentally creatively tired. And so they learned, okay, actually, we need to break these days up, you know, we need to have a real lunch break, we need to get people outside, we need to energize. And we need to really respect that. It's not always about working harder and longer. So Jake and john had this big, kind of like a laboratory for redesigning time. And they were learning a lot and they were trying to think, Well what if we could apply everything we're learning from the design sprint to your day-to-day instead of thinking about redesigning a week, right, where the whole team is all together? What if you just redesigned each and every day and use some of what they learned from the design sprint and so this is how the kind of make time model was born. And it was born while we were at Google Ventures together and I was lucky enough to be friendly with the two of them and they call themselves the time dorks and, and we're, we're very, I think Kindred souls in that in that aspect. And so I was taking some of what they were learning and thinking, you know, instead of living your life, on this never-ending to-do list where you're constantly just trying to check off small towns. They came up with this thing called the highlight. Right? And it's not maybe the new or novel concept, like you said, right? These ideas have been around. But it's, it's that one big thing that you kind of structure your day around, you plan it, and you protect and prioritize it. And I started using a highlighter every day, you know, 60 to 90 minutes trying to get that thing that was really going to need to get done or something I just really wanted, you know, even though it wasn't urgent, it was important to me, I wanted to spend time on it. And I started to really notice, feeling more satisfied more, getting better results to be more effective. Then I started doing some of the tactics that they call laser, which is about kind of resetting the defaults of technology, specifically removing a bunch of apps on my phone. We were talking about our phones, is that going to go right, right, taking social media, you know, turning news and notifications off and started to really realize wow, even you know, helped me while I was at work, but then I was just more present and engaged outside of that because my phone wasn't constantly playing tug of war with my attention and then energize you said, you know, where are they sprinting, 24, seven for the five days, but knows, they're learning. Yeah, take breaks, you gotta go outside, you gotta move, you got to sleep, you got to have quiet time. And, and all those little pieces kind of made this make time model and changed, changed my life in such a huge way. I was just caught constantly kind of on the edge of burnout and exhaustion when I joined Google, and then I started using these tactics and these ideas. And it's a, it's worked for me, it works for lots of other people. It's not the be-all end-all. But I think it is a really simple and friendly toolkit that people can rely on.

Terri Novacek  11:46  
I really found it interesting, the energize section when they talk about eating right and exercise, because a lot of people are going to read that and think, wait a minute, what you're asking me to add more to my list of things to do. Right? So you work with a lot of companies? Is it a one-time presentation? You know, here's our model, or do you check in with them afterward?

Connor Swenson  12:09  
You're right, you know, if you can read a book, like Make Time, and think, Oh, I view all these other things. And it's really not the philosophy that we believe in where it's not saying you need to adopt a new diet or a new workout plan, or you need to add all these things to realize we think it's these small shifts to your defaults. This is this kind of word we keep coming back to what we really aim to do is to have workshops where we really not just teach you the framework, but it's really engaging, we apply it, we break it up into three, four sessions over a number of weeks. So they're short and sharp, and actionable, and you got some homework, but you don't just have more things to do, you've got your teammates helping you and you're trying to kind of focus on one, one bit of the puzzle at times at a time. So we usually start with the highlight and we send people back and say okay, just try to do a highlight every day, try to get on your calendar, see what gets in the way. And then take notes, which is the fourth step. So the four steps are a highlight, laser energizes, and then reflect and reflect is so important because you might realize I'm a morning person I love to highlight, you know before everyone else is logged into their computers. Whereas I might think actually like to do the highlight you know, later in the afternoon when people have started checking out and I feel like I've got some space so we really try to allow people the space to test it out. Then to come back together you know in week two and digest it and share with each other what happened. I like to think I'm a decent facilitator but I think it's more important is the reflection amongst the groups right because we often learn so much about ourselves in conversation as you probably know hosting a podcast we learn so much about ourselves, hearing other people share similar reflections right and we fall off you know, we things get in the way and then what's important is not that you know, being perfect. What's important is when you have a day or a week or a month that's off you kind of go Okay, that was yesterday that was last week. Today's a new day. And this is writing make time is great because it's a daily framework. It's not a, you might have used other plant productivity and time management tools that are kind of a job in and of themselves to maintain and manage. And if you get behind on your special style of journaling, it feels like you got to catch up Make Time, there's no catch-up, you just start each day, you pick a highlight, you block out some of those things that are going to distract you. So you have a supportive environment you energize you take a couple of notes and you try it again the next day.

Terri Novacek  14:45  
Reboot is the natural part of it. 

Connor Swenson  14:48  
Yes. rebooting

Terri Novacek  14:50  
 The people that you've worked with any stories that stand out for you as far as aha moments that people have had.

Connor Swenson  14:56  
Oh man, I have to I mean, one Right one of the group and a woman in the workshop is from Israel. One of the tactics we have is called distraction kryptonite. Okay so it's like Superman, your listeners may be mostly Americans that will know sometimes I have to eat a Superman is international I'm in London besides I have to explain you know, Superman is powerless when faced with kryptonite, right? This is his Achilles heel, if you will, you know our hypothesis is that we all have our own distraction. kryptonite, it might be a website might be an app, whatever it is, there's that it's that thing that you open your phone to check the weather and then 30 minutes later, you're kind of scrolling through this infinitely going What am I what happened here. So we have this tactic, which is like, just remove it. Don't try to fight it every day. Don't try to resist it with willpower doesn't work. Just take it, take it off your phone, see how life is without it. And so hers was Instagram. Common for lots of us these days. And she removed Instagram and that weekend, she spent it visiting the Dead Sea in Israel, which is just a magical place. If you've ever had the chance to visit and float, it's something else. And she came back next week. And she said, You know, I didn't realize but for years now, every time I'm traveling, even on a small trip, you know, just within like, a couple of hours to go see and go for a swim of constantly feeling this urge to just document and to make, to capture everything that happens. I'm so obsessed with that. And this weekend was the first time in probably five years that I had that urge and I realized why don't I don't have Instagram and like, I'm just gonna enjoy what this is. She's I took a picture on my phone, put my phone away. And I was just there and she came back and she's just I just such a simple shift, right but she was just I just so much enjoyed and was so much more present and so much more engaged. And so got the value still took a picture but didn't have to you know, create a 10 different videos for the story and document everything. And so that was nice and 

Terri Novacek  17:14  
good point. 

Connor Swenson  17:15  
Yeah, yeah. And then a short, someone just shared just recently in a workshop we wrapped up in September that they have a couple of kids at home. And I realized that when they felt time-stressed right when there was just too much to do, they got short with their kids. And they realized that over locked down and the pandemic that it's been more like that work had piled up, felt like there was constant, a constant backlog and the kids are around a lot, which was great. But also they're demanding a little bit more attention and time. And she had this big realization throughout the series that was like, Wow, it's when I feel like I need to be checking things off my to-do list and my kid comes and they need something that I can feel short. And by practicing that different that shift, I'm going to do the highlight every day, getting away from that to-do lists that are kind of in being a little bit more forgiving, that like hey, you can't be perfect every day, you're not going to finish everything, you just got to pick your top couple things, focus on them Do your best, she started to just realize a huge shift and how she was kind of experiencing being with her children. And I thought that was you know, there's plenty of people that I've created finished a project or done a professional thing with the ones that stick with me, or, you know, the weekend in the desert with your friends or that changing relationship with your kid that I think this is what, what it all comes down to right, the stuff that really matters,

Terri Novacek  18:40  
right? I like that the, you know, there's the work that needs to be done. And then there are the things that really matter, and sometimes they are one in the same. If I'm understanding what you're saying. We're making them be one in the same a little too much.

Connor Swenson  19:03  
Yeah, some of us it's it's certainly been something I've had to pick apart. And, you know, living in the UK for five and a half years now and experiencing lots of cultures traveling and I used to work across Europe, Middle East, and Africa for Google. So a lot of different attitudes about work and professional, you know, advancement and how that fits into our lives. I started to kind of see a little bit all like, you know, my attitude being raised in the US we are a real work-centric culture, right. And your job can really become who you are to an extent and, you know, especially if you live as I did in New York City, where it's kind of, 

Terri Novacek  19:46  
Oh, yeah, 

Connor Swenson  19:47  
a defining attribute of people who what do you do, right? And it's not to say as you know, as long as you're I think as long as you're, you're conscious, you're choosing that you're, you're recognizing it, go get it, you know, but it's kind of the de Fall where we're, we're taking every you know, work is paramount to everything else that happens in our lives. And we're not here to tell you what's important. We have, you know, a great exercise that we do in the workshops, where we help people think about what's important. But I do think for a lot of us it is it's much more common. And I've taught the make time framework to, if I affect it, maybe four or 5000 people in the last year, I'd have to say, 80%, at least when I say what, what matters most, and they rank it by where they're spending their time. And I say, Terri, what, what is actually out of alignment? What do you really wish you're spending more time on Eight, Nine times out of 10? It's not a professional, it's not something that they're just sometimes it's exercising? You know, it's getting outside, it's gardening, or, you know, with my kids spending time with an ailing grandparent, you know, anything that it could, it's on that list. And so I think for most of us, it is likely that the things that matter, for a lot of us, is stuff that's outside of work, the balance tends to be a bit skewed, I think these days.

Terri Novacek  21:07  
Yeah. Well, so what I hear you describing is the new work ethic. Yeah. So with you and Jake, and John, you guys seem to have what I refer to as found your element through this whole process. When you guys were at Google, and you were going through all this, and now you guys are in this really good groove, you're finding a lot of balance in your life, have you come across other people that have gone through this whole framework, and said, I need to go in a different direction?

Connor Swenson  21:38  
Yeah, you know, I, I have definitely had some folks who got connected to our work. And over time, they had a slow realization that actually what I'm doing right now how my life looks is not exactly how I want it to look. And you know, I've been kind of leading the make time and work program since February of last year. So I left Google two weeks before the pandemic. And this has been an interesting journey. So I have to say as well that my experience and hearing those stories, it takes place in a broader cultural moment that we're in we sometimes called the great resignation, it's been termed in the Twittersphere and elsewhere and I think the pandemic has given people a moment to stop, slow down and reflect and some of those people have done that while using a sort of make time and it has been a really profound moment for people to think what am I doing where am I living? You know, what is my relationship to work? Do I want to have a family if so when you know it's like I know so many new families getting started in this last year so many moves across the world so many jobs which are so I think burnout and overwork are a big part of it? They did a study in Canada, a few 1000 executives, I think the Globe and Mail I think is the paper that published this but something like 75% of sort of mid to senior level executives 79% was looking for a new job wanting to quit their job in the next three to six months basically immediately and they cited the number one factor was exhaustion and burnout so I think people are having that moment especially in really high paced high stress demanding jobs thinking maybe this isn't all it's cracked up to be you know, maybe I'm climbing a ladder but the ladder is you know, on the wrong wall as it said sometimes so yeah, there's definitely been a lot of folks that have had that and talk with us about that and make time has helped people get a sense a little bit on what's important and you know, we're not saying that by going and say look, guy, quit your job, often, often small, marginal tweaks to how you spend your time every day can make a huge impact over time. So that's my approach is always these 1% changes you know, just slow steady, sustainable, but sometimes, you know, you got to do the one ad and change direction for the lawn so it's, it's to each his or her own.

Terri Novacek  24:29  
Right. Well, you know, and you're talking about making the changes in your personal life to balance it, but I'm also hearing about people making those tweaks even in their work life, you know, sitting down with supervisors and saying, you know what, I'm getting a lot more done at home, and, and they have something to show for it. And or changing their, their hours and even changing their roles and realizing the only reason we're doing This is that we've always done it this way. Yes. But we either don't really even need to still do it, or there are better ways to do it. Yeah. Yeah. Even within your work, yes changes.

Connor Swenson  25:14  
And this is something we are working on with teams all the time and thinking, what are those things you've always done? You're doing them that way? Because you've always done it that way. How do you shift that and hybrid working? Right, this kind of, you know, little in the office, a lot of the office companies going full, the remote, we've had our work this last 18 months has taken place and missed that and so is a tremendous opportunity to kind of rebuild the scaffolding and to think, okay, like, maybe taking eight hours in a row of back to back zoom meetings, when I don't even schedule a time to have lunch or go to the bathroom. isn't a sustainable, long-term strategy for how I want to be my best self at work. There we go, okay. No, maybe I need to think about a lunch break. What's that look like? And then teams going, Okay, maybe we don't need to do these for all hand meetings every week, maybe we do too. And then we send email updates. And so people can asynchronously read about what's going on, instead of having to have, an hour amongst eight or 10 people where you're all just sharing updates. And so there's, there are all these small tweaks. And you know, my favorite personally is, can we Why don't we just take this meeting on a walk, let me just give you a ring, right? That when someone says, hey, let's see this meeting, I go, Hey, can we also maybe do it on the phone and not on zoom? So I can step outside? Because it's beautiful in London this afternoon? And people say, Yeah, okay. Let's do it. Do you expertly utilize that for your own? Good. So

Terri Novacek  26:47  
so you work with businesses? Yeah. And I work with K 12 students. If I was clean, we would completely revamp what we do with our high schoolers. Yeah. Because you are younger, and you have you were a high schooler, more recent than I have been, and you are, you know, coming into this work world. If you were King and could design High School, what would be some changes you feel would better prepare teens for adulthood?

Connor Swenson  27:21  
That's a great question off to send to me, my principal was at a high school back in Minnesota. So to me, I think the number one goal of education is to ignite or to inspire the curiosity and the desire to learn and as students, like that's it, in essence, because you surely learn some practical things, and you learn how to read and how to write and, you know, you learn helpful, basic ground rules of how the world operates. But most of what I do today, I didn't learn in school, you know, this is about relearning, and being interested in and curious about how to improve and how to correct certain failures and how to improve strengths. And I was getting a bit emotional talking about the high school. But I think what's really hard is in most schools, mine particularly it's like, you know, you have a set curriculum. And the deviation from that is extremely minimal. You know, maybe you get a little leeway on a term paper to say, hey, you can pick you to know, pick the president you want to write a paper about or, you know, pick a military conflict that you want to dive into, or a science experiment that you want to understand run. But I think a lot of it, it's tough, because it's individualized, and I think schooling, I graduated high school at 900 students, and so you know, they're doing their best, but you're off. It's industrial education at some level. They're trying to make sure everyone can get through the grades and pass the tests. And I think the the people that I've seen that I've done the most interesting things that have been, you know, successful in a broad sense, not just financial, but just in life have been the ones that have never stopped learning, right? And so I don't know what that looks like in practicality, right? That's probably giving people more of a self-directed option to say, hey, if you have a big curiosity in something like we're gonna let you design, your learning experience around that, you know, I was incredibly interested in international relations and foreign affairs. I didn't have a lot of that in my high school, so to say, Okay, cool. Why don't you tell us like what does this look like you want to draft a un bill and tell us how it's gonna work and tell us the countries that need this, you know, whatever it is giving people giving kids are just so endlessly creative and curious and if you let them be themselves, I think there's a lot there but I think the hard pieces how Do you do that, but also make sure that you know, I guess people progress along a similar pathway because it's it ultimately they're trying to move, move kids through the school system and get them out and test it out. So somehow it's about inspiring creativity and getting rid of all the testing. It's almost nothing I did at Google was right or wrong. There's very, very, very few things but seven years there that you could actually say, Connor, this is true, this is false, your decision at work, everything is gray. Here, when you're working with ideas and in the knowledge economy and creating things, it's all a judgment call. It's all this is how I thought about this. And this is why we're going to do this for this marketing campaign. Or this is how I'm evaluating this partner. But you almost in my career had never had black white answers. But in school, it's always this is right, this is wrong. So I think they also have to embrace the gray a little bit and allow kids to, to realize that it's not the railroads not black and white in any way, shape, or form. So that's what I got. That's what I got.

Terri Novacek  31:07  
Thank you. Thank you. That's, that's perfect. That's exactly what our schools strive to do. 

Connor Swenson  31:11  
So wonderful. 

Terri Novacek  31:13  
That's why I can't wipe the smile off my face right now. Yeah. Connor, thank you so much for your time, and for sharing the make time model with us. Thanks for the work that you do. This is very timely, as you mentioned, with COVID. And so it's great that there's a resource for people to turn to

Connor Swenson  31:32  
thanks, everyone that listened. And yeah, there are tons of tons of free resources on the make time website that will link out to lots of articles and Yeah, got my own site and publish some articles myself. So we'll share all of that. But yeah, thanks for the opportunity. It's fun to connect. And thanks for listening.

Terri Novacek  31:50  
Connor touched on the daily highlight where you start each day by choosing a highlight to prioritize your day, then you make sure you stay focused on that highlight, and then later reflect on how well you did at the end of the day. The process helps us see what ways we are or can make sure we have at least one thing we do each day that gives us a sense of fulfillment. I've tried it and I'm telling you it has made a world of difference for me, it's really nice going to bed each night with a sense of achievement. Rather than being focused on the unchecked boxes of the list. Sometimes the highlight is something big, like the completion of a big project. And sometimes, even if it's small, it feels like something big because it's been something that's been nagging at me. And sometimes it's just a sense of joy, reminding me of the things that matter. So the reflect and connect challenge for this episode is to practice the daily highlight. But first, I have an extra challenge for you this time, I could really use your help to spread the word to others. Share our podcast on one or more social media sites, tag element education, and include the hashtags, find your element, and add chat. Each post will be worth one entry into our drawing for a free copy of the make time book, which will take place Friday, October 15. We'll notify the winners through your social media site. Okay, back to the daily highlight. Make time by creating your own data each day, identify a highlight. Think of what it is that's giving you a sense of urgency, or what would feel significant. Or maybe what would just simply bring you joy. At the end of the day, reflect on whether you made time for it and how well you were able to focus on it. Then at the end of a week, look back at your data. What is helping you achieve your highlights your mindset, your environment, your habits, and then what might be getting in the way? If you need to work on it more, what adjustments Will you commit to making. The more data you create, the more clear the picture gets, and the more you realize how you can make time to find your element.

Joseph Porter  34:40  
Thank you for listening to this episode of Element is Everything. If you found anything in this podcast worth knowing, please share it with a friend, a teacher, a business leader or other decision-maker. If you haven't already done so be sure to subscribe wherever you are listening now to be notified of future episodes. We appreciate your suggestions and feedback, which you can provide through the element is everything website under contact, or you can simply email element is everything at my element.org. Our hope is to help listeners discover the path to their element, who will then help others do the same. live life to the fullest, live life in your element.

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Connor Swenson