Stay Focused On Your Work With a Zero Based Schedule

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? 😀

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.
Minimum Viability – An Antidote For Perfectionism

Minimum Viability – An Antidote For Perfectionism

Most businesses owners I've met tend to have perfectionist tendencies, at least in some areas of their life or business.

For instance: In general I believe that a new project is not worth starting unless I'm able to make each part of it perfect from the beginning.

In other words: It's not worth even bothering to write a blog post if I don't also have a plan to send it to my list, promote it, have an opt-in form with a good lead magnet, etc.

In my last post: How To Overcome Analysis Paralysis I shared this graphic:

This type of thinking has sabotaged me in the past, and I've developed a method for getting through it. Here are some of the ways I've sabotaged myself...

... I can't advertise my services unless my website is perfect...

... I can't offer this product unless the UX is perfect...

... I can't create a Facebook community unless I have at least 3 months of content prepared...

... I can't write a blog post unless I understand how to optimize it for SEO...

Sound familiar?

The Online Business Culture Is Toxic (Sometimes)

Online businesses are great (obviously) - My success, and a lot of other peoples successes are owed to the ease with which people can do business online.

But when you immerse yourself in the culture of it, you naturally begin to expose yourself to a LOT of marketing. No doubt, you are subject to daily emails, advertisements and advice from friends and "Gurus" alike.

You just HAVE to join a mastermind, and Facebook group, where you interact with other people who want to build an online business, and who want to help you do it, so of course they've got advice for you about who you should follow, listen to, subscribe to...

You probably listen to some podcasts in the car, you've probably bought at least one course, coaching program etc.

The result is that you don't have to look very far to find a perfect example of someone being super successful with whatever business, marketing plan, or product you're thinking about developing.

I'm deliberately avoiding examples in this section so I don't create a bigger problem for you 🙂

The problem is there are plenty of people who want to sell you their model of success, but not enough people who are talking about what it's like exactly where you are in the process.

There are a lot of Mike Tysons out there who want to teach you to be the next Mike Tyson, but aren't talking about what it's like the first time you put on your gloves and step into the ring.

Because you've seen what an SEO strategy looks like, or a product launch, or a Facebook ad campaign - you assume (naturally) that this is the best way to proceed - and you forget that the people teaching you didn't start this way.

The point is that there is often a minimally viable version of whatever you are trying to do, but you've talked yourself out of it because you know that it's not "The best" way to do it.

Here are a few tips I've learned that will help you find the minimum viable version of whatever you're stuck on...

Focus On Where You Are

You might not need to pay for email marketing software right now. The amount of revenue you're generating might not warrant software to manage it.

You don't need a custom designed website.

Focus on what you need to do right now, not what you will need to do in the future. "Future Planning" is something I am really guilty of... It's when you're unable to get started with something because you know that at some point you will need to change.

For instance, the way we handle design requests at Graphic Rhythm Designs has been (And continues to be) a work in progress. We started by just having clients message me in Facebook messenger. Then, we had them create tasks for us in Asana. For a brief period of time we had an official form with Airtable, and most recently we retrofitted a helpdesk software for the task.

But the goal has always been to have a custom software dedicated to the task. Our current solution is an imperfect custom software and I know that in a year we will need to change yet again.

Do Things That Don't Scale

Being small has a few advantages and one of them is that you can do things that you know you'll never be able to scale. That's Ok!

This is the time in your business to do those things. If you're holding yourself back because you know it won't scale, consider whether or not it NEEDS to scale, or if you can consider it a competitive advantage for the time being.

For example, personally getting on a call and on-boarding a new customer or client may not be something you can do forever, but the value it provides to your clients right now in this stage of your business is immense and is a competitive advantage.

Find Your Minimum Viable Audience

The definition of a minimum viable product is a product which only has the features necessary to attract early adopters.

You can serve a small audience with a very niche product that doesn't have every feature possible. This audience is your minimum viable audience, people to whom your imperfections will be overlooked because you have the specific thing that they need.

Automate - Only When Necessary

I can't tell you how many hours I've spent trying to automate processes which I haven't even done one time yet.

Things like figuring out how to automatically update customer profiles, or how to automatically move files around.

The fact is that until you have enough volume, it's probably easier to do things manually and figure out how to automate it only when it becomes necessary.


"Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction" is a favorite phrase of mine. You've probably heard it before, but consider all of the things it implies...

... You have permission to do it wrong...

... It's ok if you fail...

... No, it's not right, but it's going to be ok...

... Failing is learning...

... The best time to start was last year, the next best time is now...

One of the things that routinely holds me back is this: I don't like starting something if I can't see from the beginning how I can eventually get someone else to do it for me.

In other words: Outsource.

Outsourcing is basically my favorite thing, and I use it enthusiastically to get unstuck and to get through analysis paralysis... so stay tuned for more information on how I pull it off!

Analysis Paralysis - How To Power Through It

Analysis Paralysis - How To Power Through It

Guilty confession: I haven't sent an email to my list in over a year.  ???

Why? Well, in short:

- Fear
- Analysis Paralysis
- Indecision
- Loathing (Not for my subscribers, for writing)

We will get into the details in a bit and how I am getting myself out of this rut. But why have I decided to do something about it now?

Well, in part because I was inspired by Tim Urban over at Wait But Why. If you're not familiar with Wait But Why - it's just the best blog on the planet. But here's the thing... Tim didn't write a single thing to his subscribers for OVER 3 YEARS!

I'll let Tim explain why and what happened, but for my purposes... if Tim can rally after 3 years, I feel pretty confident that I can rally after one!

The other reason why I am starting up again after a long silence is because I genuinely believe in serving, I just haven't felt capable of it... but that's changed.

Here's what we're going to get into in this post and follow up posts... 

- Analysis Paralysis... what it is, how I got over it, how you can too
- What you should do if you hate doing something (even if you know you should be doing it)
- How I came up with my content strategy and minimum viability

If you don't have time to get into this article - just read this bit below:

Our new content strategy is based on building a business and living a life By Design (Catchy right?)

We're all business owners, entrepreneurs (some may relate to the term "Hustler"). We're doing this because we don't want to punch a clock, we don't want a boss. We want a life of freedom, we want to work when we want, how we want, doing what we love.

If this sounds like you, and you want to connect with like minded business owners, then you need to do a couple of things right now...

  1. Answer this two question survey that will help us create content and material that will matter to you
  2. If you feel like you can help other business owners build intentional businesses that pave the way to freedom and you want to teach our audience then we want to hear from you! Fill out this form and we will get back to you.

How I Got Over Analysis Paralysis

Analysis paralysis is when you have unintentionally piled on so many possible paths going forward that you can't figure out what you're supposed to do, and you do nothing.

Sometimes, it looks like circular logic, or a catch 22. i.e.

"I need to grow my list!"

"Before I grow my list I need to write content!"

"I can't write content until I know what my audience wants!"

"I don't know what my audience wants because I don't have a list!"

"I need to grow my list!"

"Before I grown my list I need to write content!"

You get it. 

I talk to a lot of business owners and entrepreneurs and this problem is something every single one of us faces. We are in an internet culture where new strategies, tactics, plans, coaching, consultation is constantly hitting up our mailbox. 

Just when you think you've sorted out what you are supposed to do, something changes and everything gets thrown into disarray, or someone else comes along with a better tactic. 

Compound this by the fact that you are probably a perfectionist (most of us business owners tend to be) - you don't just want a direction, you want THE BEST direction. The definitive, end all, be all, best way to move forward. 

So how do you get unstuck? 

At the heart of it, Analysis paralysis is a decision making problem... So to get unstuck you need a better way to make decisions.

At the heart of it, Analysis paralysis is a decision making problem...

All of the things you are considering will work. So pick one.

It doesn't matter if you are picking a business model, a marketing strategy, a product idea... chances are very good that everything that you are considering is completely viable and will work if you stick with it.

Of course, do your due diligence, especially if you are going to be spending money, but the point is that follow through, more than anything else, is the key to success.

I look at all business en-devours like climbing a mountain... they are ALL mountains. And the first mile of any mountain is pretty easy walking. But inevitably, the mountain gets steeper, the terrain gets tougher, avalanches become a thing... you get it.

In honor of Tim Urban and Wait but Why, we will be demonstrating this using stick figures.

Here's what happens with a lot of business owners... they walk that first mile and are like "Oh, this is fun! I can do it!"

And then they hit the hard part. They experience a few set backs. They aren't making as much progress as they would like. They start to lose faith that they can actually keep going or get to the top or that there even IS a top.

When that happens, they say "Oh! The is really hard, I don't think this [business model, marketing strategy, product idea etc] is the one for me!"

They go back down the mountain and start walking up another one... rinse and repeat forever.

The fact is that all of the mountains are hard to walk up - so you need to pick the one that makes the most sense for you, your personality, your vision of your life and your business and stick with it.

Here are some questions to get you started - these apply to most of the challenging decisions you can make in business. Including what business is best for you. (Side note: here's a fun quiz to discover your business personality type)

What is my risk tolerance and does this match it?

Everyone has a different risk tolerance. If you tend to be more risk adverse, you may not want to spend a few thousand dollars learning how Google adwords work. By understanding your risk tolerance you can eliminate potential choices that don't match and make your decision easier.

Is this something I will enjoy doing? If not, is it something I can have someone else do?

In life and business, there is only the journey. You never arrive. Every time you think you have arrived, you see the road on the other side of your destination and realize you've got more walking to do.

So, if you don't enjoy what you are doing, you are going to be miserable doing it. If you're considering offering a product that doesn't get you excited to produce, you will lose interest in it and it will fall by the wayside.

But, that doesn't mean you have to enjoy everything you do. If the solution you're considering isn't enjoyable, can you hire someone else to do it for you?

FYI - this is totally how I feel about content creation. Content marketing matches my profile for marketing strategies with the exception that I actually hate writing blog posts. So I hire other people to do it (I'm writing this one, but I can't guarantee I'll be actually writing others)

"The fun part about doing something new is imagining how successful you'll be and what that will feel like."

Do I understand the obstacles and will I be motivated to overcome them?


The fun part about doing something new is imagining how successful you'll be and what that will feel like. The fact is that you will 100% fail fully or partially and meet challenges along the way.

Take a minute and list all of the ways this can go wrong, all of the problems you're going to face and have a real conversation with yourself about how you'll do getting over those challenges.

If you know that cold calling is going to be a big part of how you'll get clients - then you should come to terms with the fact that you are going to hear "No" a lot.

Is that ok? If you've been told no 19 times today, are you still going to pick up the phone for the 20th time?

How does being successful at this align with my overall goals?

Ah - The hollow victory. You've achieved success, you've overcome the obstacles and.... you hate what you've created.

There is nothing worse.

What will you have when you accomplish your goal? Will you like what you have? If you decide that you want to be a speaker at events and you're successful... are you going to enjoy traveling? Will being a speaker align with your personal goals?

Here's another example: If you successfully implement a new marketing strategy, will it produce the kinds of leads that you want?

Make sure that success at your en-devour aligns with what you want out of life and out of business, or you could just be meticulously building yourself a new job.

If I completely fail at this... will I survive?

We are all subject to biases - but optimism bias can be a killer. When you're making a decision, it's really important to figure out if you can survive a catastrophic failure - especially if money is involved.

I've gotten into the habit of plotting the outcome probability on a line. I put catastrophic failure at one end, and smashing success at the other.

Then I assign probabilities to those outcomes based on realistic, reasonable assumptions. For instance, I might assign each a probability of 10%. This leaves an 80% chance of something in the middle happening.

I may further assign some other probabilities to the middle section. My goal is to figure out what the probability of success and failure is, what the most likely outcome of this will be.. and if the very worst happens, will I survive?

I did this recently in my decision to be a sponsor for the Digital Agency Expo. I added up all of the expenses for being a sponsor, including the fees, travel costs, marketing costs etc. Then I asked myself "What is the worst that can happen?"

In my case, the worst thing would be that I invest all of this money and in return I get zero new clients - in other words, 100% loss of my investment. OK - So what is the probability of that happening?

To answer this, I did some research on these kinds of events, reached out to some people who have done them and got an idea of what their success rate is like. No one reported a complete loss so I felt that this had about a 5% chance of happening.

So then I asked, what is a smashing success? I arbitrarily decided that 50 new clients would qualify as a smashing success - and attributed a probably of 10% to this outcome.

I also plotted my break even point, the minimum number of new signups I would need to break even and assigned it a probability of 25%.

So here's what my chart looked like...

Based on this, I have a 70% chance of breaking even or better. That sounds pretty good. But there is one important question to ask: If the worst happens.. can I survive?

In other words, if I lost all of the money I invested in this sponsorship, would it wreck the business or severely impact my life? The answer in my case was no and so I felt comfortable going forward with the sponsorship.

"Every time I've thought about emailing my list over the last year, I was struck with Analysis Paralysis."

How I Screwed Up The Courage To Email My (Cold) List

Every time I've thought about emailing my list over the last year, I was struck with Analysis Paralysis.

The root of the problem was really that I didn't know what to say. The email list for Graphic Rhythm Designs is comprised of small business owners and Amazon sellers, in roughly equal parts. These two groups have very different needs and I wasn't sure how I could serve those needs.

There are so many conflicting and different strategies about content creation, I was completely paralyzed. For instance, apparently you shouldn't bother writing a blog post unless it's SEO friendly. You also shouldn't bother unless you have some sort of content upgrade at the bottom.

So, in order to write to my list, I needed both of those things sorted. Well those come with problems because that's more content I have to build - and besides what do I write about?

The key for me came in two forms - Minimum viability and outsourcing.

In my next post I'll get into how I proceeded from here - In the meantime, comment below and tell me what you're paralyzed with right now... I answer every comment!

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