The other day, I was riding a bike around the park at 3 pm, and it was as glorious it sounds. The sun was out, the leaves were changing, the dogs were roving, and so on. But what made that moment so fantastic is that I was actually able to enjoy it.
Why? I’d already been wildly productive that day — because I had nothing scheduling on my calendar.
This was a happy accident. I didn’t plan it. And I can’t remember the last time it happened. But as it turns out, uninterrupted focus time lets me get work done. I dug deep on projects. I took on stuff I’d been putting off. I stepped away for that bike ride, allowing me to refresh my mind before attacking more of my to-do list.
As I rode through the park, it hit me: We talk a lot about Inbox Zero, as if that’s some kind of brain-space goal. But what if, instead of Inbox Zero, we really need Calendar Zero?
I wondered: Does anyone proactively block a day off their calendar like this? Then I did what anyone does when they have a question these days — I turned it into a poll on LinkedIn.
The results were impressive:
This poll was so mind-blowing, it gave me 101 percent of respondents. (Tally up those numbers. I have no idea what’s going on there.) But math aside, here’s the takeaway: Most people — 62 percent! — intentionally have nothing on their calendar at least once a month.
Why? Because as one commenter put it, when you don’t protect your time, you are “being everything to everyone all day and just starting your own work at 5pm.”
Even if you do get to start your own work during the day, I bet you’re fielding a sea of pings that pull you out of your focus. One recent study found that, on average, US workers are distracted every 31 minutes. And according to another study from the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to your task after you’ve been interrupted.
If you do the math, that adds up to being… 101 percent not productive enough.
That’s why so many people are fans of “deep work,” a concept popularized by Cal Newport, who argues that working long, unfocused hours without downtime can actually make you worse at your job. We get a lot more, and do better work, when we’re fully attuned to our task. Then when we’re done, we turn off.
Fortunately, a number of my LinkedIn followers seem to be on this tack already, and they shared both their habits and the ways they’ve gotten their teams on board with zero-appointment days.
Among the advice:
“I have MMP (Massive Meeting Phobia). Unless absolutely necessary I don’t do meetings. When I do have meetings it’s: “No agenda, no attenda”, as my friend Aydin Y Mirzaee likes to say. :)” — Adrian Salamunovic
“Every week, I have a day with nothing in it bar one 1 hour appointment that moves at the end of the month... That's my 80/20 rule on my calendar and it's totally transformed my business, profitability, health and mindset!! That 20% of my work week with nothing in it truly gets me 80% of my results” — Yinka Ewuola
“For a couple years now, I have not taken on any client meeting on Mondays and Fridays. Monday I do all my prep work. Friday mornings are a 'Sabbath' for prayer. Friday afternoon I reflect on the week, focus more on 'creative' work projects, and look ahead to the following week. Any catch up is also done Mondays and Fridays.” — Jonathan Cameron
“I schedule most of my meetings through Acquity. So, the easiest way for me to block off a day is to remove it as an option. The hardest part for me is to commit to keeping the day open, and not manually schedule other meetings.” — Terry Rice
How do you make time to focus? I’d love to hear any creative ways you’ve been able to protect your schedule. And if the Calendar Zero concept helps you spread the focus gospel at your workplace, I’d love to hear about that, too. But only after your 3 pm bike ride.
💬 Got something to share? Leave a comment! I always respond.