Creating “White Space:” The Key to Increased Creativity and Productivity
Updated: Mar 28, 2019
Everyone gets the same 24 hours in a day. There’s not a person on Earth that gets more or less than anyone else. The key differentiator becomes who can leverage their 24 hours most appropriately.
I use the word “appropriately” intentionally. Efficiently or effectively could be used as well, although that would elude to the notion that packing more stuff into your 24 hours is the ultimate goal. I’m advocating the opposite. I believe that one of the biggest fallacies in today’s business world is the belief that motion equals progress. This is a lie.
The most common response I get when I ask clients how they’re doing these days is, “I’m super busy.” It’s strangely become a badge of honor people wear with pride. Who can be the busiest? Who can multitask better? Who can work the longest, most ridiculous hours? Who can go days without properly eating, exercising, or even sleeping? It’s a serious issue and is becoming increasingly prevalent. It’s as much a mindset as it is a behavioral issue.
Check out this brief but very meaningful clip that captures a key lesson Bill Gates learned from Warren Buffet on the value of taking control of your time.
“One of the biggest fallacies that exists today is the belief that motion equals progress.” — Tweet This
Tim Kreider, author of the New York Times article The ‘Busy’ Trap, states that, “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness.” According to Kreider, many people actively create their hectic life-style because they dread what they might have to face in its absence. In essence, this means that much of the busyness in our lives is actually self-imposed.
I’ve found that most working professionals I run into truly are very busy. Their calendars are a tapestry of overlapping, color coded meetings and commitments scheduled in 30 and 60 minute time blocks. If you’re a working professional AND a parent…forget about it! When you throw in the logistics of school functions, sports, after school activities, doctor appointments, and social events things can quickly become overwhelming.
Here’s some interesting resources that dive deeper into this phenomenon:
For many of us, our reality is often running, or maybe even sprinting, between back-to-back meetings, while simultaneously juggling calendars, phone calls, and a cup of coffee that got cold 20 minutes ago. When working with coaching clients, we always have them show us their calendars, and nine times out of ten they’re a hot mess. In this hurried, interrupt-driven state of busyness, should it be any surprise that those same people feel anxious, overwhelmed, and less creative and productive?
So how can we overcome this self-imposed, frantic notion of busyness, and regain our ability to be truly productive and creative? The first step is to proactively design White Space into our routines.
What is White Space and why does it matter?
White Space is dedicated time, preferably scheduled into your calendar in advance, intended to allow (and sometimes force) you to zoom out, reflect, come up for air, relax, and refuel.
In many ways, it’s easier to describe White Space by what it isn’t. White Space is not time to create to-do lists, be behind a computer, make phone calls, answer emails, or attend meetings. It’s supposed to be a moment in time dedicated to deeper reflection. A time where we create space (both literal and figurative) to synthesize and process things organically. There’s a reason why many people’s best ideas occur in the shower or on their morning run. It’s because they’re not actively trying to have their best ideas. It’s not forced. Instead, whether they realize it or not, they’ve simply created the “space” for the idea to present itself.
According to Jocelyn K. Glei, “Time scarcity is like kryptonite for creativity. If we want to create an environment that nourishes innovation and imagination, we need to build quiet counterpoints into our daily rhythm. These small moments of “white space” — where we have time to pause and reflect, or go for a walk, or just breathe deeply for a few moments — are what give balance and flow and comprehension to our lives as a larger whole.”
An analogy is one of a computer. If you have too many applications and programs running on your computer at once it slows the entire system down. To offset this, we need to shut down and close the apps we aren’t using. This then frees up a great deal of bandwidth.
Secondly, we can “defrag” the computer. Defragging is short for de-fragmenting and it’s a process run on most computer hard drives to make accessing the files on that disk faster. Too many files open means less efficiency. Often, your brain is holding on to too many things, which requires it uses mental and physical bandwidth to maintain those files (i.e. thoughts and to-do lists).
Basically, your brain and body are constantly giving you the spinning dial or hourglass image you get on your computer when it needs time to execute an action. Following the analogy, the goal is to close down unused files, and then collapse and condense the remaining files we still need to use. By doing so, we free up space in our Operating System which allows for more creativity, problem solving, and overall efficiency.
If you’re like most busy professionals, first thing in the morning you look at your calendar to see what’s on the agenda for the day. At that point, you’re off and running…diving head first into your day. But who decided what got scheduled?
- When are you most creative? - When do you have the most energy? - How and when do you take breaks throughout your day? - When do you zoom out and give yourself time to just think, and be, and breathe?
These subtle ingredients play a pivotal role in your overall ability to be effective and efficient long term. (Please read the article “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” for more on this).
So how does one get more White Space in their life?
Step 1 — Do an audit of how you currently spend your time
Step 2 — Truly take control of your calendar
Step 3— Schedule planned White Space in advance
Step 4— Guard White Space with your life
For a more detailed description of the mechanics on how best to implement this, please check out the article Lou Naranjo, Better Faster Further’s Head of Ops, wrote titled “Time to Get Your Shit Together : A Recovering Workaholic’s Insight on Time Management.”
Push yourself to gain more White Space each quarter. Once you begin to reap the rewards of doing so, you’ll want as much White Space on your calendar as you can get! Good luck and email us at email@example.com if you have questions or need some help.
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