• Digital Marketing
  • 9 minutes

Stay Focused On Your Work With a Zero Based Schedule

  • Author
  • Ian Bower
  • Published
  • Oct 27, 2020
9 minutes

Stay Focused On Your Work With a Zero Based Schedule

You have two computer monitors, 75 chrome tabs open, your cell phone in your hand and your children are beating down the door to your home office... no? Ok maybe that's just me...

Regardless, I bet your day is filled with distractions.

Between meetings and phone calls, Project management software, emails, text messages.... the persistent "ding" of new social media notifications, not to mention people dropping by to talk to you and the unending fires that need to be put out.... it's a miracle you get anything done honestly.

Ok.. what about this...

Do you find that your work life unfairly encroaches on your personal life? It's the end of the day and you didn't get everything done and you think "I'll just work for a little longer..." or maybe you sneak in an hour or two of work on a Saturday just to catch up...

I've just (re)discovered the most effective (and enjoyable!) method of eliminating most of these problems and I want to share exactly what it is and how I do it...

Have No Free Time (on purpose)

It's called zero based scheduling (ZBS). I used it very successfully for a few years and then when I transitioned from working for someone else to working for myself I forgot about it...

Then recently.. as I was having an anxiety attack because I had so much shit to do that I decided to just mindlessly browse Facebook for 30 minutes... I remembered how awesome it is.

Use Zero Based Scheduling to stay ontop of your important tasks and bring zen to your life

The premise of ZBS is that you schedule every single moment of your day so that there is no "free" time left over - sounds tedious I know. It's not!

Here's how using ZBS will transform your life...

  • Instead of impulsively checking emails, texts and notifications you can ignore them because the time to check them is on your schedule
  • Instead of panicking because you didn't get everything done today, you can relax knowing that you've got it worked into your plan for tomorrow
  • Instead of listlessly moving from one task to another without rhyme or reason, you take 10 minutes of your day to prioritize your tasks
  • Instead of feeling guilty for working late because you let work take over your day, you'll be home and spending your time the way you want to spend it - because that's how you planned it...
Zero Based Scheduling seems like a lot of work - it's not. Just 15 minutes per day can lower anxiety levels

Sound exciting? It is!

This process only takes about 10 minutes every morning using a free (and beautiful) app. It DOES require consistency, so you'll have to get yourself in the habit of doing it, but it gets easier the more you do it...

How To Create a Zero Based Schedule

Important things - "Stuff" collects in various places in our life... here's where my stuff collects...

  • Email
  • Facebook Messages
  • Internal company chat (we use workplace.. maybe you use Slack)
  • Project Management Software (We use Asana)
  • HelpDesk software (where we manage our design requests)
  • Text messages (Honey-do lists)
  • Physical mail (bills!)
  • Google Calendar
  • My children or other people popping in to make requests
  • My kids school folders

etc... you get the point. Stuff collects in these locations and then we as humans basically just spend all day trying to keep those locations from overflowing and prevent important things from getting missed while also trying to not go insane from the process.

It's very important to understand from the beginning that ZBS does not replace any of these collection places and if you try to make it do that it will stop working.

This is not your new calendar, or project management process or email replacement tool or grocery list...

The Basics

Every morning at a time that is convenient for you (ideally before you start working, but if you're super ambitious it can be right when you wake up... don't make too many rules for yourself) you'll spend 10-15 minutes creating your schedule for the day.

To do this, you review all of the locations where stuff collects. In the beginning keep it simple - emails, projects, messages from customers etc.

Then you'll start plugging these things into your day, scheduling not only what you'll do, but at what time you'll do it and how long it will take.

Make sure to include things like: Meals, Play Time, Gym Time

So a potential schedule may look like this

8 AM - Drop Kids off at School

8:30 AM - Gym

9:30 AM - Breakfast

10 AM - Phone call with John

10:30 AM - Write blog post about ZBS

11 AM - Follow up on that lead

11:20 AM - Generate reports for Mary

12 PM - Lunch

(Fast forward)

5:30 PM Dinner

7 PM Play with the kids

8:30 PM Movie Night with Spouse

10:30 PM Bed Time

The whole point of ZBS is to schedule every moment so that you don't have idle "In-between" time where you mindlessly browse Facebook or have nothing to do or you spend time doing something you didn't intend to and wreck your productivity.

Your schedule is not set in stone - it's going to get derailed, things are going to take longer than you expected. That's all fine, just adjust it, add to it, remove things etc. The goal is just to know what is happening today.

Take it to the next level with software

When I originally implemented ZBS it was in conjunction with Bullet Journaling. And while that was really cool and a lot of fun, I am a tech guy at the end of the day and I am most effective when I can use an app to get it done.

For ZBS I highly suggest you use one of my favorite apps in the world: To-doist. You can use any checklist or task management app that supports adding time to the tasks (Google Tasks does this) but To-doist is my favorite for a few reasons...


Todoist has a gamification system called "Karma" essentially the more productive you are, the more the app rewards you with "karma". For me it's a lot of fun to level up my karma (currently I'm a Grand Master - I know you were wondering)


HELLO - We're a design company and I am a design nerd and the fact that Todoist is one of the most aesthetically pleasing software companies I've ever seen plays a HUGE role in my enjoyment.. I meant just LOOK at their BLOG!


Clunky software is the worst! Todist solves a lot of the problems of clunky software with hotkeys and shortcuts. For instance if you type " at 2pm today" into a task name it will just schedule the task for 2 PM today!

It's everywhere that you work

Todist supports basically every platform you work on including desktop, chrome extensions, Android and Apple

It's beautiful

Oh.. sorry did I already say this? :D

A Todoist blog header by illustrator Yin Weihung

Here's how my ZBS from above looks in Todoist (in sexy dark theme)

The times in red have passed, green is upcoming..

Typing this in took me about a minute using the shortcut from above (adding the time in-line)

To use Todoist for ZBS here's what I suggest...

Add everything to the "inbox" not "today": Todoist defaults to adding tasks to "today" but I recommend that you add them to your "inbox" UNLESS you are doing your plan for today.

Avoid scheduling things beyond today: Eventually you are going to make this system work for you and customize it your way - but in the beginning avoid scheduling things for anything other than today. Things get messy and "stuff" gets lost if you spread it out

The only exception I make is at the end of the day if "stuff" is left over I will sometimes reschedule it for tomorrow (an easy click or two in Todoist)

Use the inbox for certain kinds of stuff: Non-digital stuff can be hard to track. Did your spouse ask you to take care of something? Does your kid need money? Does the car need to get to be inspected? Drop it into the "inbox" with no due date - then tomorrow when you do your planning you can choose to add it to your day or not

Be More Productive!

Now that you have a ZBS you will feel a new kind of freedom - the freedom to FOCUS because the things that DISTRACT you can be neatly planned for and filed away.

Work on the things you have scheduled, one after the other, ticking them off (and getting that sweet, sweet karma) as you go...

Here are some additional little tips and pointers to make your life with ZBS even easier...

  • If your task takes to long, don't sweat it. I will sometimes cut myself off and immediately put the "remainder" of my task into my inbox (or tomorrow) or i'll quickly evaluate if I want to remove something from my ZBS in order to work on my current project a little longer...
  • Plan on your tasks taking longer than you expect. It's just a fact of life, you can't lock your door and unplug your phone and you can't skip bathroom breaks (or coffee breaks for that matter... just me?). You'll still get interrupted, just plan on it and whenever possible try and stop the interruption from sabotaging you... (see the next point)
  • Unless something comes up that is really an emergency, try and deflect it. For instance if an urgent email comes in, or you've missed an important phone call you might go back to your ZBS and carve out some time later in the day to work on it. Just make it part of the plan!
  • If you MUST check distractions like social media, email, text messages etc... that's ok! But instead of doing it impulsively, schedule it. You can plan on checking these things during scheduled breaks OR you can build ten minutes into the top of every hour for checking notifications and managing them.

Tagged With:

Porro Est Ab Corrupti
  • Ian Bower
  • Ian is the owner of Graphic Rhythm as well as other businesses that revolve around design, copywriting and Amazon marketplace selling. He's an expert in communicating persuasively and loves helping business owners and digital agencies breathe life into their projects and ideas.

    He values generosity and attention to detail and strives to make sure these values are apparent in the services he provides and the businesses he owns.

    When Ian isn't working, you can find him outside hiking, camping and spending time with his wife and children

  • Ian is the owner of Graphic Rhythm as well as other businesses that revolve around design, copywriting and Amazon marketplace selling. He's an expert in communicating persuasively and loves helping business owners and digital agencies breathe life into their projects and ideas.

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