Early in my career I designed a lot of printed materials, and I always tried to make sure that there was sufficient white space on the page . . . which helped the important ideas pop out more easily to the reader. Even all these years later, I am still drawn to printed information with a clean design and lots of white space. It gives my brain room to breathe, and focus on the key messages the author is trying to convey. I am able to absorb and reflect on the content much more effectively than when I am blasted with a fire hose of “stuff” on an over-crowded page.
It is no different with our schedules and priorities. And yet, too many people have bought into the myth that one indicator of leadership effectiveness is a schedule that is overflowing, a never-ending to-do list, and an unrelenting pace. While those things may make you look important in some people’s eyes (perhaps even your own), that is not the path to maximum impact as a leader. It is hard to see, much less think about, what is most important when you are sprinting from point A to point B, all day long.
Yes, leaders have a lot of responsibilities and people urging you to take up their priority. Yes, the schedule at times can be a bit overwhelming. Yes, you will feel like there is always more to do. Which is exactly why you need to intentionally insert some white space into your schedule . . . to allow yourself to consider, prioritize, and focus on those things that will move you most effectively toward your ultimate goal (which, by the way, are often not the actions that may seem most important at first glance).
Granted, white space is something that is fairly easy to agree with in theory. It is the practical application that is much harder to make happen . . . in part because we convince ourselves we don’t have time for it. Also, what might work for one person doesn’t work for another. So start small, in a way that works for you. Set a goal of 30 minutes of white space a day. That could be 30 minutes at the beginning or end of the day. It might be two fifteen-minute windows, or three ten-minute pauses to reflect on new information you have received and how it will impact your actions going forward (seriously, you can find 10 minutes). Counterintuitive as it may seem, slowing down for a few minutes really does allow you to go faster and accomplish more in the rest of your day.
Why not start right now? . . . The space is yours.