When was the last time you sat in front of a window and thought about your life? Or have you been daydreaming about a new project? Or rethought how you spend your days?
Thankfully, Juliet Funt, a productivity expert, is allowing us to set out time each day to sit and reflect, which she refers to as “white space.”
Juliet’s technique, which she details in her book A Minute to Think: Reclaim Creativity, Conquer Busyness, and Do Your Best Work, has helped organizations like Nike, Google, and Spotify enhance employee happiness and productivity.
“Checking boxes, sending stuff, and action, where the motion can be seen by others, are rewarded in this particular environment,” Juliet adds. “However, if you consider ‘productive’ to mean ‘having produced something of worth,’ it does not imply ‘I sweated my way through a lot of action.'”
In this episode of SUCCESS Stories, Chief Storytelling Officer Kindra Hall talks to Juliet about what white space truly is (put the phone down), why we’re so afraid of appearing to be doing nothing, and how to create some white space in your day.
Unscheduled Time is Referred to as White Space.
White space is a time in your day when you don’t have anything planned. That doesn’t mean you’ll have more time to scroll through social media.
Give that time to free-thinking to make it count as white space. There will be no phones, emails, or interruptions.
The goal is to take a break from all of the activities that keep you busy so that your brain may find emotions, thoughts, and reflections that it has been ignoring in the rush of daily life. Juliet offers a cute analogy to better convey the subtleties of white space:
Consider going for a walk in the park with your dog. There are three options for this walk:
The dog is restrained. Although the walk is less stressful than working, the dog (your brain) is still being led. This is akin to meditating or practicing mindfulness, which requires you to focus on a mantra or candle.
The dog manages to get away from the leash. You were working on your paper one second and then checking on that eBay auction you were bidding on the next. Your mind is free to do whatever it wants, and while it may be entertaining at the moment, it will lead to guilt afterward since you know you shouldn’t be playing right now.
The dog is free to roam without a leash. White space is defined as follows: You’ve set aside time to let your mind wander and follow whatever ideas it comes up with. Who knows what it’ll bring back with it?
The four different methods to take advantage of white space
You’ll fall into one of four groups when it comes to how you employ white space:
Use your white space to stop and rest when you’re feeling overwhelmed with tasks and obligations. If you do this on a regular basis, you will notice a reduction in your stress levels.
Utilize your white space to reflect on various parts of your life. Are you content with your current position? Is there a way to improve your relationship with your partner, children, or parents? Consider how things are going and what you can do to make them better.
Is there something you’re spending too much time on at home or at work and not getting enough in return? Use your white space to consider the items that are clogging up your day and making you feel overwhelmed, and devise a strategy for reducing them.
Construct: In Your Thoughts, Create Something New.
White space allows your brain to be creative by removing all of the distractions and demands. Allow your imagination to wander and come up with a new concept, aim, or dream.
Why do we find it so difficult to take advantage of white space?
Don’t blame yourself if the concept of white space sounds like a guilty pleasure: blame your workplace culture.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that being visibly busy is the best measure of productivity. In our go-go-go multitasking professional milieu, the idea that you may be lost in thought, staring out of a window—without furiously making notes—and still have major insights is unusual.
Ironically, we wind up wasting time on tasks that aren’t genuinely productive merely to appear to be doing something because of this deeply ingrained cultural idea.
Consider all the meetings and reports that take up your time but never result in a major breakthrough—only more meetings and reports. You would have heard more new thoughts and insights if everyone had spent that time sitting peacefully, letting their minds wander, or meditating on their life.
It’s difficult to be the one who purposefully makes time to slow down and reflect in a workplace that emphasizes busyness as a sign of a good work ethic. But don’t let the opinions of others deter you from trying out this valuable tool. They’ll eventually realize how powerful it is.
How to Make White Space Work for You
Redefining how you feel about taking time out to slow down and looking for unblocked space in your day is the first step in incorporating white space into your life.
Don’t Feel Bad About It.
If you’re still feeling bad about taking a break from your busy day, consider that many highly successful people require at least an hour of white space every day. It seems to be working for them, so you should be able to find two to three minutes at a time. Consider it more strategic than indulgent
Keep an Eye Out For the Natural Pauses.
White space is sometimes planned around your calendar. It makes sense to use those five minutes as white space if you have back-to-back meetings that are five minutes apart, for example.
Other times, you’ll make a decision based on your mood. Take some time off if you’re feeling tense and harried, and channel that energy into your white space.
The majority of people have time in their day that could be used as white space. When you’re driving or riding the train, for example. Turn off your music or podcasts, don’t check your phone, and don’t make any phone calls. Allow your mind to wander as you lean into the rhythm of the vehicle you’re in. It will be easier to employ the approach later if you learn it now.
Toss in a Smidgeon of White Space.
Insert a small sliver of white space between two actions, such as waking up and getting out of bed, or sitting down at your desk and commencing work. This will ensure that you make time for white space every day, which is how it progresses from something you must do to something you can’t imagine without doing.