Like many things, the concept of the ‘zero day’ stresses me out. For those who haven’t come across the phrase, a zero day is one during which you get absolutely nothing done, as a result of feeling mentally rubbish.
When I first came across the idea, I was in a rough patch. I clung to the idea of a zero day because it was a label for exactly what was happening to me; I was pinned down by the weight of worthlessness and I thought I was achieving nothing towards my goals. At the time, my primary goal was my teaching degree, so it felt exceptionally high-stakes to have zero days! The thought that I was having so many of these days, devoid of anything useful, only added to how worried I was that the dark days wouldn’t end.
But here I am, the dark days ended and they are now few and far between, not to mention usually less intense when they do come.
Yesterday was one such day – it felt impossible to get through my (admittedly lengthy) to-do list and I knew I needed shift my mindset somehow. Luckily, since partaking in the #DailyWritingChallenge I have been interacting with an excellent group of people on Twitter, a fantastically varied group of educators who have recently taught me something incredibly useful for these so-called ‘zero days’.
I say ‘so-called’ because there is no such thing as a zero day. Every single day, even those where you don’t make a massive amount of progress on your masterplan of life goals, you take tiny steps to keep yourself going. Moving forwards is the only option, even if it feels like you’re not going anywhere, or going backwards. On grim days, the steps might be changing into different pyjamas, getting out of bed or getting a glass of water. Tiny acts of self-care make a big difference when you’re feeling low. On better days, steps away from zero will be a little bigger.
The point is, anything is more than nothing, no matter how small.
When a to-do list is a little intimidating, this is where the #DailyWritingChallenge crew come in. Between Molly’s blog on Flexibility and Productivity, and @sphoenix’s idea to turn the humble to-do list on its head, there has been created a new idea, the Reverse Bucket Challenge. Instead of writing a huge list and feeling demoralised when it’s not completed, fill your ‘bucket’ with every little thing that you achieve in a day.
The results might surprise you. After I filled one in for today, I couldn’t believe how much I had inadvertently done in a day where I hadn’t tried hard to do anything at all. Today was meant to be a day where I was gentle with myself, a spot of self-care after yesterday. I had made peace with a zero day, so to speak.
But filling my bucket showed me that I can still get things done on a self care day, that it’s pretty great self care to do so, and finally, it’s sometimes easier to get things done without the pressure of a to-do list.
However, I’m not ditching the to-do list. It has a time and a place, plus I’m sure it’s somewhere in my genetic code to occasionally rely on a nice tick-box to-do list, usually colour-coded and meticulously organised. But it is not always the time or the place for a huge to-do list (which always exists as a teacher, whether you choose to live by it or not!)
Sometimes, you have to fill your bucket first.