Whether you’re a high-achiever hustling for some big goals, or you just want more time in your day for self-care, kids, or hobbies, zero-hours scheduling is for you.
This powerful productivity tactic gets you organized, maximizes your time, and helps you get more done faster and with less procrastination and delays.
In fact, if there’s one productivity principle that’s going to skyrocket your daily output, THIS IS IT!
Best of all, it’s not hard to use. In fact, zero-hours scheduling is so easy, you can start this practice now.
So keep reading… In this in-depth guide, I’ll reveal how to use this powerful planning technique to crush goals, dissolve overwhelm, and create work-life harmony.
Who is zero-hours scheduling for?
Zero-Hour Scheduling is for you if…
- Your day feels scatty, bitty, and not as productive as it could be.
- You don’t achieve your goals because you don’t have the time, energy, or bandwidth to tackle or schedule the actions necessary.
- You get a sense that tasks take you too long - somehow they swallow up way more time than you planned or intended.
- You never find time for your hobbies.
- You never have time for health and fitness.
- Your relationships take a back seat because you’re always too tired at the end of the day or you never have time for them.
- You’ve got a to-do list that never seems to become a done list.
- It always seems like the day flies by - yet you can’t account for where you’ve spent your minutes.
- Work hours bleed into your private life.
- Your to-do list overwhelms you into inaction.
- You procrastinate and waste time gaps in the day because you don’t know how to fill them
- You work best with a little pressure and focus.
- You want to feel more accomplished.
- You’re ready to achieve work-life harmony and for your life to be about more than work
If that sounds like you, keep going!
What is a zero-based schedule?
Only meetings scheduled
Length of time is undefined for tasks so tasks expand to fill the time available
Work time bleeds into personal time
Time squandered between meetings
Daily to-do list is unrealistic to finish
Easily derailed by distractions or procrastinate on low priority tasks
Tasks, meetings & leisure time scheduled
Every task is assigned an allotted time based on how long it’s estimated to take
Hard stop at the end of work activities so that personal time and other commitments can be scheduled
In-between time filled with small tasks to maximize your minutes
Super clear on exactly what you’re going to accomplish that day since each task has an estimated time window
Daily schedule is aligned with your daily goals
Feel in control, competent, accomplished, and productive
Personal time protected - work-life harmony is an everyday reality (you rock!)
This picture reveals what a zero-based schedule looks like compared with a normal calendar.
What tasks should you schedule?
The short answer is ALL OF THEM!
But don’t worry, this doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
Lots of people say they don’t have enough time, but that’s not necessarily true.
There’s a good chance you move through their day without paying too much attention to how you’re filling each hour. As a result, it’s easy to waste time on low-level priorities [hello sneaky social media peek!] and not enough on the tasks and activities that move the needle across all areas of your life.
With zero-hours scheduling, you don’t leave time to chance.
Instead, you budget your minutes - in the same way you do your money.
As well as scheduling work tasks, you also diarize:
- Time for your hobbies
- The gym
- Conversations with your loved ones
- Self-improvement courses
- Catching up on emails
- Social media
- Even time when you’ll do absolutely nothing!
When everything is scheduled, nothing gets missed.
No longer does work get the best of you - leaving the leftovers for everything else. Instead, you move closer to work-life harmony by filling your calendar with ALL the things you want to do.
Not only do you feel more productive, but you feel more fulfilled too.
Benefits of Zero-Hours Scheduling
Zero hours scheduling works because it completely transforms your relationship with time.
Instead of seeing a day, you’re forced to get granular and chunk down to hours - even minutes. In turn, you become far more conscious of your time and a lot less wasteful.
Remember, time is the biggest equalizer. We ALL have the same 24 hours a day. The only reason some people accomplish more in a day than others do in a week is that they’re purposeful with how they’re using their daily allocation.
Important! This isn’t about being more productive at work alone.
If you’re able to stretch time, the benefits roll over into ALL areas of life. Suddenly you can start to do all the things you previously thought weren't possible. Not because you got more time, but because you made a lot more of what you already had.
This point is so important it’s worth reinforcing.
Time is your most valuable non-renewable resource. It’s yours to turn into anything you want. From successes to experiences, to feelings and magic moments - the possibilities are endless. But once you’ve spent it, it’s gone. There is no replay or rewind!
But spend it wisely, and you don’t have regrets. Instead, you’ll feel fulfilled knowing you’ve done all you could to create a life you’re proud of.
It’s as Jim Rohn famously said - “You can always make more money, but you can’t get more time.”
Here’s how zero-hours scheduling gives you this extra time...
Plan, don’t squander
With zero-hours scheduling, you can see your whole day before you start. This in itself reduces decision fatigue because you don’t have to waste time figuring out what to do next when one task is complete.
If you don’t plan how you’ll use your time, you’ll probably squander it. Don’t believe me then remember how an unchecked glance at Facebook or Instagram can become hours!
Without a clear plan for your day, it will run away from you and you’ll hit the pillow wondering what you actually accomplished. That can be a big source of frustration for people who want to achieve goals. But get a plan and you can stay focused ensuring you get more of the things you want to get done checked off.
Complete tasks efficiently
With zero hours scheduling, you give each task a finite window for completion. In the same way, you schedule an appointment or a meeting, schedule a dedicated time block to:
- Write an email
- Complete a blog
- Do your yoga practice
- Read etc.
In this way, you create a deadline for each task - and deadlines keep you motivated and focused to complete on time. This doesn’t need to create overwhelm or stress you out. Instead, apply just enough pressure to keep you focused on the task at hand. Do this and your day is more likely to stay on track.
Consider the alternative - no time window.
In this case, you make yourself vulnerable to Parkinson’s Law. This is the phenomenon where tasks expand to the given time window [yes! It’s a real thing!]
You know how this works. That email may only have needed 30 minutes, but because you didn’t have a deadline, you took an hour - and didn’t even notice! When you fall victim to Parkinson’s Law, not only do you work less efficiently, but you strike out minutes from your day that you could have invested elsewhere.
Then you complain that you don’t have time for a workout or to put your kids to bed!
But the consequences don’t stop there. When tasks take longer than necessary, you create a backlog and get behind. Worst still, you end up playing catchup - which is why so many people see their work bleeding into their family or personal time. This causes even more stress and frustration!
In comparison, with the help of this practice, you can create clear delineations between the various parts of your day, so you're better able to establish and abide by boundaries. Then when you know you've accomplished your assigned tasks for the day, and that your "dinner" or "date night" block is about to start, you can transition into a more restful state knowing you completed what you set out to that day.
Work more mindfully
Zero-hours scheduling works best when you get tuned into how long different tasks will take.
I promise this knowledge will change the game when it comes to your productivity.
When you know a blog post takes an hour, meeting notes take 30 minutes, and a sales pitch needs two hours, you can optimize your day to the max.
- You don’t create an unachievable plan, which leaves you deflated
- You don’t underestimate what’s possible and so make faster progress
Instead, you can consciously use your time to get a lot more done.
[Remember, getting more done doesn’t apply to your work alone. This is about spotting opportunities to slot in all those other things that usually get pushed.]
What’s more, you learn more about your personal work patterns by getting clarity on how long different tasks take. This means you can get smart with your positioning of tasks.
For example, if you’ve got a 30-minute slot before a meeting, this doesn’t have to be dead time. Instead, you can fit in a task that will fit this time window. It’s a little like fitting together the pieces of a jigsaw - and it all adds up to a highly productive day.
[A graphic of what this looks like in reality would be ace.]
When there’s a packed day on your plate you’re less likely to get distracted, procrastinate, and diverted down a tangent. With a clear plan of what’s needed (with deadlines in place), productivity inevitably soars.
This is how a zero-based schedule ‘forces’ you to do the work. It doesn’t give you any leeway to slack off because you have things to do at specific times.
As a result, not only does this practice boost your productivity, it leaves you feeling more successful and fulfilled too.
How to zero-hours plan your day
- 1. Create your master to-do list [the Weekly Action Pad is a great tool for this]. Remember to take note of your priorities and also estimate how long each task needs to be complete.
- 2. Choose a planner that breaks the day in 30-minute time slots - both the Self Journal and the Self Planner have this feature. 30-minute slots allow you to get granular with your day and plan in more detail. It’s a simple tactic to get more done in less time.
- 3. Start by mapping out any commitments - such as meetings and appointments. Also identify the things you want to see in your day such as working out, journaling, and meal prep etc. Add these in. Even better, create set times in your day when these activities will happen.
4. Next, look at your master to-do list and map tasks onto your daily planner. Consider:
- Priorities - what needs to be done today and what can be done later
- Which tasks will energize and which tasks will drain you. Get in the habit of doing draining tasks where your energy is high. You’ll do them quicker!
- Eat that Frog! Which is the toughest task of the day? Do this first, and get it out of the way. You’ll feel a weight lifted off your shoulders and free up a ton of bandwidth as a result.
- Plan smart. Remember the jigsaw analogy - how can you slot in tasks and activities to make your minutes go further.
- 5. Prepare to get better over time! If you’ve never taken note of how long things take you to do, you may find that your time estimations are way out. This can be frustrating in the beginning - especially if you take longer than expected and fall behind. But persist. The more you do this, the better you’re going to get.
6. Reflect. What worked? What would you do differently in the future? Take an organic approach to this practice knowing you can adapt and perfect as time goes on.
Implementing zero-based scheduling - PRO-TIPS:
Tip #1: Take into account your energy levels. Don’t schedule tasks that require intense focus during your post-lunch slump.
Tip #2: Break down your tasks into 30-60 minute segments. If you find tasks on your to-do list that take over 2 hours to complete, break them down into smaller sub-tasks to avoid overwhelm.
Tip #3: Remember to schedule in travel time for meetings or appointments - otherwise you’ll squeeze yourself into an unrealistic day.
Tip #4: Use this as an opportunity to get more tuned in to how long tasks really take.
Tip #5: Schedule in the important things (or non-moveable things) first and then fit the little bits around them.
Tip #6: Make sure you plan in break times - whether that’s time to eat or do nothing, weave in this time. It’s a sure-fire way to succeed with this technique.
Tip #7: Batch similar tasks together - for example, responding to emails, calls/meetings, and writing tasks. This reduces the amount of switching which helps you get things ticked off faster so you can free up time to use elsewhere.
Tip #8: Eat that frog FIRST! Schedule your biggest, most complicated and challenging task first thing in the morning. You’ll be amazed by how much bandwidth and energy this frees up. Not only will you clock up an early win, but it won’t be looming over your head all day. It’s a smart practice that will boost your productivity.
Tip #9: If you know you consistently compromise a particular area of your life, make sure you schedule this in. Break the chain and make a new habit.Tip #10: Be patient! If this is a new technique to you, don’t be put off if it doesn’t work out right away. As with any new habit, this can take time to bed in as you figure things out.
Myths and mistakes. Overcoming the pitfalls to zero-hours planning
- Don’t mistake a zero-based calendar with packing out your day.
This isn’t about creating overwhelm and stress. This isn’t about overstretching yourself to get even more work-stuff done. Instead, this is about working efficiently so you have time for more of the things you love.
How many of us push off the stuff we enjoy because we’ve run out of time? A zero-based calendar helps to address this. This isn’t about stopping things either. For example, we’re all guilty of falling into the social media abyss. But instead of ‘just taking a look’ and emerging hours later, a zero-hours schedule ensures you stay in control of the time you spend.
- Be discerning with what you schedule
High productivity isn’t about doing lots of things; it’s about doing the right things (there’s a big difference). In short, don’t confuse busyness for productivity.
Here’s a simple practice to try that helps instil this mindset:
Each day, identify your three most important tasks and do those first.
These tasks should be your biggest levers - the to-dos that move the needle. These are the targets that if you do nothing else, you can still end the day feeling accomplished.
- Block similar activities together
You can get even better results from a zero-hours schedule if you timetable similar tasks together.
For example, if you have a lot of calls, try experimenting with call days - rather than appointments spread across the week. Back-to-back calls and meetings are much more productive. With a fixed time span to work with, you don’t waste time needlessly. What’s more, you don’t create so much dead time [that you inevitably fill with unproductive or low-level tasks.]
There’s a secondary benefit. If you create call free days, you create time and space for deep creative work. With fewer interruptions, you can plough into bigger projects and tasks without having to stop to speak with someone. Not only will you boost your productivity, but you can increase your creativity and problem-solving skills too.
Bonus tip! On your call days, make a note of ‘in-between’ tasks you could get done if you had time. Then if a call is cancelled or finishes early, you’re not left twiddling your thumbs or searching around for things to do. Instead, you can dive right into a bonus task and end the day even more accomplished.
- Schedule in nothing time too
Having no free slots in your day doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Remember, to schedule in time blocks to DO NOTHING!
If you have planned downtime, you can enjoy it guilt-free [imagine how much better that will feel].
Products to start zero-hours planning today
If you want to get more done in less time and have space for more of the things on your wishlist, then zero-hours scheduling is for you.
What’s more, we have the tools to help you master this practice.
If you want to create work-life harmony and you’re keen to keep track of improvements across your life, the Self Planner is for you.
Both will help you win the day - whatever that means for you.