Why Your Calendar Needs More White Space

Take a moment and reflect on what a given workday looks like for you. How many meetings do you have? How many projects are you juggling? How much time do you spend digging yourself out of email ruts?

I promise we’re going somewhere with this exercise. Now, consider how much uninterrupted time you have to think, whether that’s coming up with creative ways to tackle a project, properly planning for a meeting or just clearing your head to get inspiration. If this sounds foreign to you, you may be suffering from a white space deficiency.

I’m not judging. I’m actually here to unpack something I’ve been thinking about for some time now. It all came to a head for me while moderating a recent GovLoop online training about tech transformation earlier this month.

One of the speakers, Jeff Clark with the Defense Digital Service, said something so profound that I could not stop thinking about it: “We have enough people to do the job; what we lack is enough white space on our calendars to think.”

Clark was telling of how a four-star general was communicating the reasoning for adopting new technologies and what it would mean for the workforce. The overarching message was that employees are so busy doing the day-to-day work that they don’t have enough time and energy to think about how to solve problems in a more productive way.

That led me to reflect on my own work and how important it is to carve out time for deep work and thinking. Some of the best ideas and projects have come from having informal pow wows with my boss or peeking over my desk to bug a neighbor about an idea or just listening to jazz music and actually dedicating time to think.

I’m still trying to find the right balance for myself, so we are all in this together.

One of our GovLoop featured contributors recently wrote an article on busyness that gets to the heart of why some of us don’t have enough white space or energy to think. We have too much going on, and we’ve become addicted to doing tasks. Some of these things we’ve taken on “voluntarily,” and other things have been dictated and required of us.

If you feel like your calendar is not your own, and you need more white space to think, here are some tips I’ve tried and will continue to put into practice:

Block time off on your calendar for deep work or creative thinking. I know this can be tough in particular roles, especially if you have a job that is focused on output and tangible results. If that’s the case, try going into your creative time with objectives and goals that you can then share with your team and/or manager. As a writer, I need long blocks of time to write, to think about what I am going to write, to decide how we should cover topics and also to bounce ideas off my colleagues.

Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself from meetings or activities that are taking away precious real estate on your calendar. Now, I understand that the higher you go in an organization, the more meetings you tend to be added to. This is not a you problem; many times it’s a cultural one. It might be time to have a critical conversation with your peers and manager about meeting norms and deciding 1) if a meeting is actually necessary 2) if the attendees on the meeting invite actually need to be there 3) how to reduce the time of the meeting. (Here are some helpful resources to make your meetings better.)

Schedule mini-breaks throughout the day to step away from your desk or get fresh air to think. I have countless tabs opened on my computer with interesting things I’ve seen that have sparked ideas I’d like to try. I often share them with the team in Slack, and I get fresh ideas based on their suggestions.

What I’m learning on this journey is that we have to start somewhere. I’m learning how to build more moments of creativity throughout my day and how to be a better steward of my calendar. Think about it: What would you do with more white space on your calendar?

I’d love to hear how you are creating more white space on your calendar and how that has benefited you and your team. Share your thoughts in the comment section. 

Photo Credit: Estée Janssens on Unsplash

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

Cannot overstate how important this is! We’ve all had days where we had so many meetings there wasn’t time at the end to do all the work that came from those meetings. If your boss is amenable, I am a huge fan of taking advantage of meeting-free days by blocking off time for deep work.