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Bouncing at Zero – “ZBB” in Life

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Click for photo In software development at Microsoft we have a concept that I’ve always found personally relevant.  It’s called Zero Bug Bounce (ZBB) and it refers to a period in time in which the development team is consistently “bouncing at zero bugs” every single day.  At this point in the project, all active bugs in the software have been looked at and either punted or fixed – and the team’s fix rate (or the rate at which they’re able to fix bugs) is greater than the team’s incoming rate (or the rate at which new bugs are being opened).  The code is almost ready to see the light of day in the real world.

I always love hitting and maintaining ZBB because there’s a complete sense of control over the project.  Every member of the engineering team knows each and every bug and you can feel the momentum pulling you towards the eventual finish line.  When that finish line means half a billion people are going to start downloading or using the thing you’ve been working on, it’s electric.  Which is part of the reason I love my day job unlike most bloggers 😉

Several years ago I started thinking about a number of things in my life as being at ZBB in order to give myself a mental framework – and more importantly a visual – for getting to zero and bouncing off of it regularly.  The list is actually quite extensive and includes my snail mail box, bills I need to pay, all of my various electronic inboxes, voicemails, RSS feeds, and so on.  When these things aren’t under control I can immediately feel my blood pressure start to rise because it means I’m not being effective and important things could be slipping through the cracks and hitting the floor.

“Being effective” varies quite a bit depending on what we’re talking about, and the time between the actual bounces off of zero can vary a ton.  I don’t worry so much about driving my Netflix movies to zero aggressively – that would take all the fun out of watching the movies! :)  But I do think about bouncing off of zero at times or I may not be getting my money’s worth on the subscription.  Yet when it comes to my email and tasks, I strive to bounce off of zero daily or at least every few days given their importance.

Here’s a visual for what a bouncing could look like:


There are always going to be spikes in the chart on days when bouncing at zero is just impossible.  As a matter of fact, the reason I decided to write about this topic today is because my family just returned from a 5-day trip to Mexico and I returned to serious spikes across the board.  My physical mailbox was overflowing, my inboxes were bursting at the seams (>200 messages), I had requests and adds on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, our laundry was overflowing, we had almost 1000 photos and videos to process, and so on.  Needless to say I didn’t bounce at zero with anything for a few days after we returned.

But the concept helped get me back on track.  I wanted to get back to bouncing (and believe it or not, that simple chart above does help me frame it!)  With all the things that piled up while we were gone, we triaged every single item in each area.  This means going through and deciding for each item what to do with it.  This is similar to what development teams at Microsoft do for each bug – each bug is triaged and a decision is made on it.  Sometimes it’s resolved as “won’t fix” and the bug disappears.  Sometimes it’s postponed until a later date (which can be a slippery slope).  And of course, sometimes it’s acted on and fixed.  Either way, we get to zero almost every day.

The options for action vary depending on the area, but it’s important to note that just like all the bugs filed in a piece of software, getting to zero doesn’t always mean doing something direct like “fixing” it.  For example, for my snail mail box I recycled 90% of it without even opening the envelopes and we were at zero in less than 10 minutes.  My email was definitely more involved and took a couple days.  You just need to decide what the next action is going to and deal with it appropriately.

Here are some things you may want to make a drive to zero on and then bounce regularly – this is a very short list compared to what it could be with a little more thought:

  • Snail mailbox
  • Personal and/or work email
  • Daily task list
  • RSS feeds
  • Voicemails at work, home, and mobile
  • Bills to pay
  • Pending transactions in Quicken or Microsoft Money (or balancing your checkbook)
  • Documents to scan/shred or file
  • Magazines you’ve purchased or received
  • Netflix movies and/or DVD rentals
  • New podcasts
  • Facebook and/or Twitter feeds and messages
  • Books to read or put away
  • Photos or videos to take off of your digital camera and file and/or share
  • Links to check out
  • CDs to rip and/or sample
  • Updates to install to Windows or Mac OS X
  • SMS/MMS messages
  • Blog comments and drafts

Again, this doesn’t mean getting to zero by reading every email, blog entry, magazine, or book.  It just means taking action on each item and deciding what to do with it next… and doing this repeatedly until you’re at zero and can keep yourself there.

It’s a simple concept which is why it works.  Visualize the bounce at zero for areas of your life and you may find yourself more motivated to hit it habitually!  It goes without saying that there’s a true sense of peace when you know every "inbox” in your life is under your complete control.

Written by Mike Torres

April 26th, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Posted in Productivity

  • Mike, Excellent blog. ( And I’m a fussy blogee). I can visualize the bounce at zero being a useful tool in the productivity field. Well done for explaining the concept so succintly. I will look forward to your future posts as I already applied the ‘spinning plates’ analogy from last time.

  • Thanks Rivka! I appreciate the kind words!