Think Hard Work Hard

Non-zero days: the path to productivity

Written by joelsnape

We live in an incredible world. Once, self-improvement was the domain of charismatic people and anyone who could get a book deal: now, it’s been democratised by the internet to the point where anyone with a good idea can pitch in. One such insanely good idea – so good that I’m pissed off I didn’t think of it myself – was the concept of the ‘zero day,’ posted on Reddit’s GetDiscplined forum recently. Here’s the original post, and credit goes to ryans01, who is probably doing good things somewhere else on the internet right now.

Basically, a Zero Day is any day where you do nothing towards your chosen goals. A day where you don’t do a single press-up, or write a single line of your novel. Your new rule? No more of these.  If it’s 11:58pm and you’ve done nothing towards your chosen goal: do that press-up. Write that line, or an idea, even if it’s on a scrap of paper. A better idea would be to start in the morning: get up 5, or 10, or 30 minutes early, and scrub out that zero just as fast as you possibly can. Whatever else you do, however busy or bad work is, whatever crisis comes up, that day is non-zero. Firstly, as ryans01 points out, this will often snowball – with the hard part (starting) done, you’ll often do another 10 pressups, or write something else. Secondly – and maybe more importantly – this gets you in the habit of doing something productive every single day. Habits are the most important part of success in anything – automate good behaviours, and you’ll never need willpower again.

Here’s how I’ve been using this recently:


I’ve decided that I ought to be able to code: at least at a basic level. I’m using Codeacademy to learn – legit programmers are mixed in their opinions on it, but easily the best thing about it is that it records your ‘streak,’ and sends emails that encourage you to keep the streak going. Most days it’s the first thing I do in the morning: I get out of bed, get some coffee on, then do an exercise or two before I hit the shower. Even when I was recently on a trip to a foreign country, working days where almost every hour was occupied, I’d get in at night and hammer out a single line of code – just enough to ‘pass’ something – before going to bed. This has worked magnificently well.


At a recent event with Gym Jones (the guys who trained the 300), I realized that, while my pullups are fine (personal best with an overhand grip: 15) my strict, chest-to-bar pullups are shockingly bad. This is not the kind of thing that needs to be fixed with a dedicated training plan – it can be sorted out just by doing chest-to-bar pullups. Quite often, I’ll get these done pre-coding – I might do a couple of sets of 3, or 5, while the kettle boils. Sometimes this snowballs into doing 25 – other times, it doesn’t. Either way, I’m getting better at pullups. Don’t have a doorframe pullup bar? Skip the pub this week and buy one.


For ages, I’ve been putting striking practise off ‘until I have more time’. Recently, I decided that I’m never going to have more time, and just started doing it instead. When I can, I hit the gym first thing in the morning with a friend of mine, and spar. When I can’t do that, I’ll just throw jabs or practice head movement in my flat. On days I can’t even do that, I go through Jack Slack’s enormous archive of striking technique clinics, and note down things to work on. Keeping myself emotionally invested in getting better pays dividends, and makes me more likely to hit the gym.


I’m working on the sequel to Zombie Titanic, and I try to add to it – even if it’s just a couple of words, or a phrase I like, every day. Failing that, I’ll read what I’ve already done. In tandem with not playing fucking Candy Crush on the train, this means I often spend my commute thinking of solutions to plot problems, or clever bits of dialogue. It’s helpful.

These are my solutions. Think about yours.

HOMEWORK: Pick your two biggest goals, and resolve to avoid non-zero days on them every day this week. How long can you keep the streak alive? Watch the original Tyrone Power Mark Of Zorro – if it’s good enough for Batman, it’s good enough for you. Oh, and stay tuned for next week’s upgrade on this idea: One Interesting Thing A Week.

About the author


Editor and creator of Live Hard. Fighting enthusiast, steak lover and aficionado of all things self-improvement related.


  • I started this a couple of days ago. I’m taking a leaf out of Mens Fitness and completing 100 press ups every day for a month. Next week I am going to add a set of pull ups every day too, just not decided how many.

    • Nice. I think two things work with pullups.

      1. Grease the groove: do 2-3 pullups every time you pass the bar all day.

      2. Do one max set in the morning, one max set in the evening, rest a day, and repeat. This comes from Chad Waterbury, and is the easiest way I’ve found to get my numbers up. Not great for the kind of endurance that real volume produces, though.

  • Just wanted to say I love your ideas and do my best to put them into effect as soon as possible….was wondering what, if anything, you think about rest days. Are they zero days?

    • Aha! No. This is something I wanted to talk about in the post, but it was already getting long. Basically: a zero day is one where you do nothing to get you closer to your goals. Targeted recovery will definitely get you closer to your goals: going for a walk, doing some foam rolling, having a magnesium bath, doing some band pull-aparts – these will all help. Alternatively, use your rest day to do a big shop or batch-cook some food. And if you really need to just chill and do nothing, do it and don’t feel bad about it.

      More ideas about rest days here. Thanks for following the blog!

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