Photo by Ben White, Unsplash
Can you remember the last time you took a break – from work, family responsibilities, Covid complications, and the incessant pings of social media – just to reflect, ask yourself some of the big questions of life, and look for ways to re-calibrate?
If that sounds like a complete indulgence – a luxury reserved for people who don’t live in the real world – think again. As your fall calendar fills up with meetings, Covid dilemmas, home schooling, and whatever else is on your plate, it’s no luxury to set aside blocks of time over the next 12 months so you can exit your day-to-day life to settle into what I like to call “White Space.” In fact, it’s necessary if you’re going to stay focused and heading in the right direction.
The idea of White Space comes from the world of graphic design, where certain areas of a page or screen are intentionally left blank in order to add balance and energy to the other elements of the design.
The same is true in life. If we are going to remain balanced and energized, each of us needs White Space: regular times of pulling back, looking at things from a different angle, asking deeper questions about success, noting how aligned our life is to our personal values, and setting an intention to re-calibrate those areas that need a rethink.
Spiritual teacher Thomas Merton said it well: “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” White space gives us the chance to shift our eyes off the rungs of the success ladder to make sure the wall we’re scaling is the one we really want to scale.
In my work, I find that busy leaders who are focused on accomplishing things and clambering to the top rung are a dime a dozen. Highly focused and productive leaders who are leading from their values and scaling the right ladder are a much rarer breed. Why? Because it takes time, intentionality and courage to get off the ladder and spend some quiet hours alone.
Not sure how to spend a day or a few hours with yourself in the cavernous openness of White Space? Here are a few questions to prime your thinking.
In my work, am I focussing wisely on the highest and best-use activities rather than constant action among many different things?
What mistakes have I made? What have I learned from them?
What else have I learned in the past 3 months?
What do I know about my strengths? Am I operating out of my strengths?
Where have I been stretched? Where have I grown?
How much of my work do I enjoy, and how much is a grind?
Where would I like to be in a year, and how will I get there?
Am I living my values at work? If not, what needs to shift?
How am I feeling – physically, mentally, emotionally?
Am I living my values in my personal life? If not, what needs to shift?
What do I want to celebrate?
Is it time to lay something down?
What are my big priorities for the next 3 months? The year ahead?
Are there some key people I want to spend more time with?
A year from now, what do I want to be able to say about this season?
Blocking off White Space is never going to be easy. The immediate and urgent will always conspire to crowd it out. Book the time now and get yourself climbing the right ladder.