In grade school, we were taught that a zero has no value; it’s just a placeholder.
I remember thinking the opposite is true.
A well placed 0 turns a 1 into a 10, or $900 into $9000. Seems like a valuable function to me.
The concept of zero is equally important when designing your environments and managing your time. Think of time and space as blocks that can be arranged in ways that make your days better, easier, more masterful.
When I help someone organize their space and time, I look for places to insert a zero, a placeholder, that will increase the value as much as adding a 0 to $1000.
Let’s apply it to your home and work surroundings first, then I'll explain how it applies to better ways to arrange your time.
Some of the most valuable real estate in your home or workplace is full — of nothing. No thing. Nada. Zip. Air. A zero.
It can be a difficult concept to practice because we’ve become so accustomed to finding places and containers to stash things together tightly to “save space.” The need to save space is a paradoxical byproduct of the abundance of things most people own or collect.
“But I don’t want to waste space,” is a common client rebuttal to my suggestion of planning ‘empty’ places in a closet, a file drawer, or a calendar.
The opposite is true.
When you avoid stuffing too much furniture in a room you can walk freely. Resisting the urge to pack containers and shelves tightly allows you room maneuver within the space.
For example, this puzzle couldn’t be solved without the missing tile. At one time I carried a tile puzzle on my keychain to illustrate the point. The idea became clear quickly.
A zero might also be a decorative item like a full flower vase that keeps people from dropping their stuff on the first available spot on their way into a room. Practically everyone does that, especially with mail.
Here’s a zero in my home.
It not only keeps me from putting things that belong elsewhere, but there is the added value zeros bring as a bonus because this one reminds me of the friend that made the decorative redware for me.
A zero might also be a large planter strategically placed to guide walkers away toward a bench or different entrance. Use your imagination.
Inserting zeros adds value in planning time and workloads, too. Employers contact me for staff support and training. “I need you to help my staff improve their time management skills. They’re not getting their work in on time.”
It may seem counterintuitive, but adding zeros, uncommitted spaces, to schedules is hugely productive because tasks that affect other people's work are not delayed when work is not deferred for lack of uncommitted time. Respecting the need for open work time can mean not taking work home at night, and that leaves space for the myriad of ways healthier living increases productivity.
I’ve seen many corporate employee calendars that were highly organized with tightly scheduled appointments, but incredibly had no time allotted for daily necessities. For example, people forget to include travel time between offices or performing tasks produced in meetings, which seems to be a revelation to some planners. Also missing were personal needs like bathroom or lunch breaks.
If it’s not possible to include zeros in schedules, then it’s more than time management tips we need to consider and discuss.
Where can you place valuable zeros in your spaces and in your time? Hint: look for the places you don’t think you can fit one because that’s probably the place it’s most needed.