Time management techniques typically involve identifying priorities and scheduling well. There is also power in building in unscheduled time, leaving white space on the calendar for reflection and spontaneous magic.
Adding some white space into your time management strategy can lead to better strategy, creative breakthroughs, and a more poised approach.
And so, I offer a story of time management, great mentoring, and leveraging the white space.
Time Management Lessons From a White Space Sherpa
I had just started my “dream job” straight out of graduate school. Eager to be successful, I got in before the boss, and stayed late to get more done. I had my shiny new Franklin Planner (back in the days of binders and systems), and I proudly scheduled every hour with meaningful activity. I was proud of my time management system and approach to success.
One night, my boss came by my cube (I was secretly glad that he saw me there so late). He just said, “come to my office and bring your planner.”
He took my planner and arbitrarily started crossing out meetings.
I was shocked.
“You need white space. You are not going to be successful without it.”
I argued, “but you can’t cross out THOSE meetings.”
“Fine,” He replied. “Move what you want around, but I want you to come back to me with a calendar that has white space built into every day. Oh, and while you are at it, pick which days you are going to get out of here on time to spend time with your family.”
When I met with him next, we brainstormed the possibilities for productive things to do in the white space on my calendar. Including “stare at the walls” to get great ideas. He then got on the phone and started calling Vice Presidents.
“I have this promising young leader who you haven’t yet met. She just had some meetings unexpectedly cancelled and is going to be in your neck of the woods next week (news to me). I wonder if she could stop by and get to know you.”
“See, that’s what you can do with white space,” he smiled.
The truth is, with more “free time” I was actually more productive because I had time to think. Our results were fantastic that year, and his networking strategy built a strong foundation to begin my career.
I believe in white space.
The Danger of Free Time
Today it’s even harder to master the white space game. Even if we manage to carve out unscheduled time as part of our time management strategy, the push and lure of communication from email, text and instant messages, and all the social media can suck us in to less productive activity.
Chris Brogan shared his own struggles with white space in his fantastic newsletter, along with tips for a strategy to address. He encourages us to identify our “go-to triggers” for filling down time (twitter, email, twitter, facebook, twitter), and instead create a more deliberate approach.
His approach to avoiding triggers, and using white space effectively:
Let’s make three lists:
2.) The Bigger Story
Onto “Someday,” place everything you haven’t touched and that really doesn’t relate to anything in the short-term (because if it did, you’d have completed it already).
Onto, The Bigger Story, list what your REAL big goals are, and what your focus should be.
He then provides more detail on how to manage these lists and effectively use your downtime in your time management strategy.
So, it’s a two-fold mission. First, find and preserve the white space. And next, know which “someday” and “bigger story” goals you want to pursue in that time.
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Thanks so much for your kind words.
Thanks for this post. It is a lesson that I know – I can recite it, tell you the benefits, advocate it for other people, but i have the hardest time actually living it out. Similar to your statement above, whenever someone tells me to back off on all the meetings, I go into a defensive rant of how important each of -those- meetings are.
How did you make that transition? I understand what it looks like (oh- what I would give for ‘pre-flecting’ time prior to meetings… get my head together, think about who is in the meeting, review notes, and get there in time to sit down and take a breath), but how did you transition to that? I constantly find myself sacrificing the “white space” I put on my calendar because “an important meeting came up” or “these little tasks just need to get done” or “a meeting is running over time” etc.
Would love your thoughts! Thanks,
Hi Danielle, Thanks so much for sharing your journey. Yeah, its VERY hard to keep it up, and I don’t always have it nailed.But one thing I find helpful is to actually schedule the in between time on the calendar. That way if you’re using a shared system where others can view your availability, it is preserved, Also, I found I had to be realistic of how long meetings would actually take. If you schedule them too tightly, one overrun can trash the whole day.