blank dayOpower, the energy-savings and utility software company where I work has only been around for a few years, but one of the reasons I love working here is that they aren’t afraid to try new, potentially game-changing things.

Once a month, if you walk around on the 7th floor of our building, you’ll see a bright, open space with people, headphones on, concentrating on something they’ve been meaning to get done for ages. Some people work from home. Some come in just before lunch to take advantage of the free food Opower provides to mark this special day. This is Blank Day.

What Is Blank Day?

Blank Day is a full day without meetings. The concept has been around for a long time. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of articles on the merits of “No Meeting Wednesdays“, but in reality, it doesn’t matter what day of the week you choose. On Blank Day, everyone is encouraged to remove all meetings from their calendars and concentrate on something important that they just haven’t gotten time to work on. Our entire R&D and Client Delivery organizations have embraced Blank Day. Even those who were skeptical at first (“what the hell am I supposed to do all day?!”) have since gotten on board.

Why I Love Blank Day

For me, Blank Day is a day of bliss. I use it to knock out all kinds of tasks, especially the ones that require more than an hour of my attention. I’ve used Blank Day to work on slides for a conference or an executive, I’ve blogged, I’ve laid out my ideas for new processes, and I’ve also come into Blank Day with a backlog of seven major things I wanted to get done and left with five of them completely finished (I knew seven was unattainable, but it was nice to have stretch goals). The advantages of Blank Day include:

  1. No excuse not to start: With an entire day ahead of you, there’s no excuse to procrastinate. I once put off a project that I suspected would take me half a day and I finished it in 45 minutes on Blank Day. I should have just started it days before, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that until I knew I had a chunk of time set aside.
  2. No meetings: Need I say more?
  3. Productivity: On Blank Days, it seems like I get the equivalent of a regular week’s worth of work done in a single day. What if we held them more often?
  4. Uninterrupted time: Some projects can’t be done in 30-minute or hour-long chunks. Software Engineers in particular need time to concentrate on their code. Blank Days give you that uninterrupted time.
  5. Flow: According to Positive Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow, or that state of being totally absorbed in something that’s both challenging and satisfying, is important for your mental health and happiness. To get there, you need to be doing something you love and the space to lose yourself in it.

Disadvantages of Blank Day

Each Blank Day I hear a couple of complaints:

  1. Meeting displacement: Your other days tend to fill up with meetings.
  2. Client calls: Not everyone can participate. If a client needs to meet on Blank Day, customers take precedence.

How to Carve Out Your Own Blank Day

Setting up a Blank Day for yourself is always easier if you have company, but you can make huge strides on your own.

Here are some steps to take to carve out your own Blank Day. If one of these doesn’t work, try another one.

  1. Block off your calendar: You don’t need to say anything to anyone, just do it. Block an entire day (each month or week) on your calendar and proactively avoid adding meetings to those days. Talk to people who schedule meetings over your work block and see if you can get them moved. It’s amazing how many people will start to naturally avoid inviting you to meetings on your Blank Day.
  2. Find friends: See if you can get your co-workers to agree on a day where no one will have meetings. Typically, it’s the managers who have an issue with this. Remind them that they have tasks they need to concentrate on too.
  3. Announce it: If #2 doesn’t work, announce that you’ve instituted Blank Day and explain why. People will respect your decision and I guarantee you’ll get more people who want to do it too, than who want you to stop doing it.
  4. Start small: If you can’t block off an entire day, why not start with two hours? Two hours of time to get something done is better than nothing!

What would you do if you had a Blank Day?