I am a big fan of lists—to-do lists, prayer lists, goal lists, grocery lists, even lists that track what I eat every day. Never, ever have I added “a pause that refreshes” to my to-do list in order to give me what Juliet Funt calls WhiteSpace.
Until after the 2017 Global Leadership Summit.
Juliet Funt described the importance of adding WhiteSpace to our days, or taking strategic breaks in order to recharge our mind and body. I listened to the revolutionary idea that taking a pause could deepen introspection and spark creativity.
As a writer, deadlines drive my days—often sending me careening around corners at breakneck speed and screeching to a halt across the work finish line, sweaty and out of breath. I arrived at my deadlines just in time to jump onto the treadmill of the next looming deadline.
Finishing a project with minutes to spare gave me a temporary adrenaline rush, but it sucked the life out of my creativity.
There is a better way.
Graphic designers intentionally add white space to a page because they understand its importance. Adding blank, empty space to a page makes everything easier to read and absorb. I had to become as intentional as a graphic designer about adding WhiteSpace to my life.
The week after the Summit, I set out to incorporate WhiteSpace into my life.
And I started small.
There is no perfect method to adding WhiteSpace, just as there is no perfect way to manage time (or better…protect time). It’s a matter of finding what works.
Here are 5 WhiteSpace additions that are working for me.
- Block digital distractions.
I have been guilty of responding to emails as soon as they ping my inbox. And I’m embarrassed by how easily I can get sucked into the internet. I venture into the World Wide Web to verify a fact and 30 minutes later, I’m shopping for shoes on Amazon. There are several good apps that can block distractions like these. I use one called SelfControl that allows me to set my own restrictions.
- Schedule WhiteSpace into my daily routine.
I schedule my prayer time with God. Why not schedule a bit of downtime? I started by writing down everything on my schedule, then squeezing in the WhiteSpace. That worked okay, but what works better is putting in the big calendar events, then scheduling the WhiteSpace before adding all the pesky, but necessary tasks on my to-do list.
- Add breathing space between meetings.
If I received an invitation to a 10 a.m. meeting and I already had a 9 a.m. meeting, there was a good chance those meetings would overlap. I accepted the 9 a.m. meeting with a condition—I had to leave at 9:45. Sharp. I closed my eyes and waited for the fall out, and was pleasantly surprised when frequently, the originator of the meeting either adjusted the time or said, “No problem.” It only gave me a few minutes, but I arrived on time and unstressed.
- What can I let go of?
I can’t do it all. No one can. The trick is deciding what I must do and what I can let go of. I removed my Wonder Woman bracelets and became more realistic about my capabilities. After I generate my to-do list, I take a close look. There are things I don’t need to do. I can delegate. I can reschedule. I can say no. (Those bracelets never really worked for me anyway.)
- Protect my time—and be brutal.
Adding WhiteSpace has made me more accessible and available. Quite frankly, it has made me a better friend.
Protecting my time means saying no to some things so I can say yes to things that are a priority. It isn’t easy, especially when it means saying no to good things. I’ll be honest, I’m still trying to get a handle on this, but I’m better at it than I was a few months ago.
The intentional addition of WhiteSpace to my life has given me better sleep, more clarity, focus, breathing room and more creative energy.
It’s worth it.
How do you add WhiteSpace to your life?
Susan DeLay is a freelance writer, editor and the author of the newspaper column DeLayed Reaction. She co-authors the blog 3 Writers in a Café on the Chicago Tribune’s “Chicago Now” website and handles media relations and PR for Willow Creek Association. Susan’s first novel Saving Jesus publishes in March 2018.