I’ve long been a subscriber to the theory that leaders cannot make someone motivated. You have to be a motivated person and own how your thinking patterns sustain your momentum. Also, as a leader you can’t make a lazy thinker think faster, turn a low-energy person into a powerhouse or get a slow producer to produce faster if they aren’t naturally motivated and inclined to do better. The absence of intellectual curiosity cannot be forced on someone, even with solid leadership.
This dynamic over time in a marketing organization can lead to many days that add up to big fat zeros. Marketing can seem glamorous to outsiders and newbies. But the truth is, it’s a tough and very competitive profession. It takes fast thinking and thick skin to survive in this industry. With practice and focus you can avoid the drag effect of recurring “zero days” that don’t net you anything.
Every day can be productive, contribute to your objectives and prevent the net effect that any day was a waste of time. That’s my definition of a “zero day.”
The tips below may help reduce days at work (or in life) that are just big fat zeros.
How to Avoid Zero Days
First, this does not mean that motivated people (employees or leaders) don’t have “off” days. However, I do think you can reduce and sometimes eliminate those off days and prevent zero days for yourself and others using new thinking patterns that aren’t too tough to adopt.
Sometimes the marketplace bewilders you, you reach “burn out,” or you have a boss or client interaction that steals some of your vim and vigor. Trying to achieve a perfect work-life balance can send you into a downward attitude spiral, and the only cure may feel like completely shutting down. Maybe it lasts for just a few days or weeks; you feel like you need to find something else to do, but freeze when you think about what that “something else” could be.
Here’s the thing: If you aren’t careful, this pattern of thinking can lead to many zero days. Meaning, you have allowed yourself to become complacent or demotivated and emotional. You accomplish nothing, and that day, or multiple days, becomes a BIG ZERO.
Practice “Non-Zero Days”
I was reminded of this concept of “non-zero days” when reading this short article in 99U that cites a discussion stream in Reddit.
When you consider your long-term goals—what you’re passionate about, the thing that gives you energy and what needs to get done—most of us can’t afford days with a big zero.
So, practice “non-zero days.” This thinking pattern is about ensuring that each day positively contributes to your future or a better present state. Does this mean no rest, no mental time off and no physical relaxation? No. When you think about non-zero days it doesn’t mean you have be constantly moving, always thinking, never resting, never taking time off.
Having non-zero days means you practice making at least one contributing action each day toward that one thing (or those many things) that push you closer to a goal, a dream, a passion. I applaud the commentary on this found deep in a sub-Reddit stream (the person providing commentary whom we may never know publicly), and also 99U’s Hamza Khan for highlighting this concept.
Recently while on vacation in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, I had many long days enjoying the fresh crisp air, a little solitude, and hiking and being with my dogs. Even so, I found a gym and worked out every day. I kept my energy level up and my mind exercised in a different way than my work normally does. I also spent one hour each day reading about new practices in my profession, because it is something I am truly passionate about. I also made sure that once a day I took 10 minutes to correspond with someone I haven’t communicated with in along time due to being “too busy.”
As a result, I “accidentally” found business that I was excited about, and learned about something I could do to help a friend I might not have otherwise been aware of. I also thought through some steps I need to take in the years ahead to make strides in a certain area of my life, and how I could impact those steps now.
I also had purposeful conversations with my partner about some joint goals, and reflected upon what I do (also known as the “day job”) and the people I lead. The result was clarity. I could have just slept and laid around like a wet sponge the whole time, which can adversely affect mental sharpness when you jump back into “real life” after vacation. I enjoyed non-zero days every day, and felt better for it.
Non-zero days, aside from my vacation example, are something that certainly can be applied at work, in the full swing of the day-to-day, and on those days you might be tempted to pay a little less attention to the marketing work at hand.
If each day you focus on what gives you a feeling of accomplishment and what energizes you, and you do at least one thing toward that, you’ll have fewer days that don’t contribute to the big picture. It also helps manage behavior that’s unproductive for yourself and those around you.
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While it may be easy to reduce this concept to something like “make every day count,” it isn’t that simple. Practicing non-zero days takes mental discipline. Even in our most exhausted, lazy-feeling moments—whether with work, family or both—I submit that I/you/we can have more non-zero days.
Try it. Zero days aren’t the leader’s job to fix. In order to have fewer zero days, you must own it.