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How A “Zero-Based” Calendar Can Supercharge Your Productivity

Blank space on your calendar could turn into wasted time.

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BY Melanie Deziel - 02 Dec 2017

How A "Zero-Based" Calendar Can Supercharge Your Productivity

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

As a solopreneur, I create my own schedule and my productivity is limited only by the hours in my day and how I manage them. To that end, I'm always looking for better ways to keep track of tasks, arrange my days, organize my To-Dos and decide my priorities.

I was intrigued by the "Zero-Based Calendar" approach promoted by Cathryn Lavery and Allen Brouwer, co-founders of BestSelf Co. The pair met in an entrepreneurship program and spent a year researching success -- reading 150 books, attending more than a dozen conferences, and listening to thousands of podcasts. The result was the launch of their 13-week productivity planner: The SELF Journal, which launched on Kickstarter, exceeding its $15k goal in 28 hours, and ultimately raising $322k in 34 days.

This "Zero-Based Calendar" approach is essentially the principle of accounting for every hour in your day, leaving no blank space on your calendar or agenda, such that everything you need to do has time booked and assigned to it. "Zero white space changes your relationship with time," Lavery says, creating more focused work, but making you more aware of how you spend your time.

Lavery and Brouwer shared some tips for implementing a Zero-Based Calendar, and the benefits it can create for entrepreneurs striving to get more done.

Book Everything (Yes, Everything)

Traditionally, we only use calendars only for tracking our time-bound responsibilities: calls, meetings, presentations, appointments. In order for this to work, everything you need to do needs to be booked on your calendar, professional and personal alike. This includes things like commuting, the gym, showering, eating, date night, and everything else that takes up time in your day. When you log all of your tasks, you'll get a better sense of what you need to do and be better able to track your progress and accomplishments. "You become more conscious of your time and less wasteful," Brouwer adds.

Get Clear On Time Estimates

The idea that tasks expand to the time allotted isn't a new one, but it is important, especially for more amorphous tasks like "adjust my retirement savings" or "look into hiring a graphic designer." Without dedicated time blocks to complete these sorts of tasks, they get pushed off or take longer to complete than we might expect.

"Without a clear start and finish time, tasks will eat up way more time than necessary," Lavery says. By adding all tasks to your calendar with specific time blocks, you'll start to become more aware of how long various tasks actually take. This means tasks are less likely to fall through the cracks, and it also improves your ability to estimate task completion timelines moving forward, and allows you to give more accurate estimates of your delivery times.

Reduce Wasted "In-Between" Time

When your day gets filled with sporadic calls and meetings, you often end up with small blank blocks of 30 or 60 minutes between commitments, which can make deep and focused work difficult. Without something slotted into those times, it often becomes wasted, as you spend that time trying to decide what to do, or get sucked into your inbox, Facebook, or cleaning your room.

"When you allocate your time consciously, you stop squandering your time," Brouwer says. When you consciously assign a task to every space on your zero-based calendar, those small blocks are less wasted, and you can get more done with the same amount of time.

Protect Personal Time

When we define our own schedules, it's easy for "work" to start bleeding over into "personal" time, with the excuse that we're "hustling." When we haven't established clear boundaries between the two, we may not even notice that work slowly takes over our lives. "How many of us push off the stuff we enjoy because we've run out of time?" Lavery asks, "A zero-based calendar helps to address this."

A Zero-Based calendar requires you to create clear delineations between the various parts of your day, so you're better able to establish and abide by boundaries. 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.