We’re so caught up in “getting things done” that we often don’t spend enough time thinking about whether doing those things is even warranted in the first place. We do things, but don’t think and reflect enough. The demands of each day can keep us from really stepping back to get perspective.
The problem has nothing to do with time. If we had more time, it wouldn’t help. We need space to think about things. Gandhi, MLK, Johann Sebastian Bach, et al. all had the same 24 hours. What did they do differently? They never complained about having less time. It wasn’t about needing more time for them, but to be able to create more space for themselves.
Unless we have this free space, we can’t be present and do things in the moment and have the creative freedom to express ourselves in our personal and work endeavors.
We need to be able to practice two things: the ability to focus intensely with no distractions, and the ability to step back and reflect.
It’s important that we carve out some time every day to reflect. If all we’re focused on is doing things all of the time, and we’re not spending enough time stepping back to reflect, then we’re doing ourselves a major disservice.
Only when we have some semblance of order in our lives can we have the space to create chaos. I wrote about creating order to help you reclaim mental space for yourself so you can have creative freedom.
Creating space is about deliberately setting aside dedicated time in a distraction-free space to do absolutely nothing other than think.
The faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. The noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can focus.
We need undisturbed time every day to focus on our objectives.
We need space to figure out what really matters. Unfortunately, in this time-starved era, we don’t get that space by default — only by design. If we’re too busy to think, then we’re too busy, period. Only when we create the space to think and focus can we be able to step back and see more clearly.
When you create the space to explore, think, and write, you also gain control over how you spend the rest of your time.
Ironically, taking time away from work will make you more successful at work. You can learn more about that in Work and Play.
So, how do you make that space for yourself?
Take an hour out of your daily work day and just sit and think in a space without distractions or interruptions. Are you investing your time in the right activities? Is what you’re doing the most important thing you could be doing right now? If not, what would that look like?
Schedule 60–90 minutes of blank space in your calendar every day during the work day. This is supposed to be a one-hour time during the day where you show up with no agenda. And I’m not talking about carving this time early in the day or late in the evening. I’m talking about carving this time during the middle of the day, particularly when things tend to get busy. The busier you get, the more space you need to be able to manage yourself. Give this time the same respect as you do to your appointments with others. You need to be physically and mentally present to make the most out of this space.
Avoid use of computers and phones. This is your time to think about your life. Think about your results, your relationships, your finances, where you’re headed in life, etc.
You can’t work in your business exclusively — you also have to work on your business. Think about what is helping you and what is impeding you. We don’t think about our lives enough. That’s why our lives don’t change. Because we’re not introspective enough.
What can you do better? What can you stop doing? What can you do more of? What’s working well for you? What can you not change, but work on accepting? Look at your success metrics in terms of health, wealth, relationships, personal growth, etc. Even better, define your own success metrics. What needs more attention? What needs less attention? What are your goals? Do you have the systems in place to help you reach those goals? Reading Goals and Systems can help, and you should also think of this space as daily reflection for your life.
No matter how busy you think you are, you can always carve space out of your work day to think.
Here are more ideas for using this creative space:
You can also use this space to think, to explore ideas, to find out what has your attention, to make connections between disparate ideas, to imagine the possibilities by asking “what if…” questions, etc.
You can write Morning Pages every day. This works in triple as a spiritual practice, as a mindfulness practice, as well as doing a daily brain dump of sorts to help you capture things that have your attention; you can then use that free space on things that really need your attention.
Schedule some time every day to create space for yourself to design your life. Turn off your computers and smartphones and instead use your mind to simply think.
We owe it to ourselves to design our lives proactively versus letting others prioritize it for us. Live life the way you want, and not based on others’ expectations. Have your own success metrics. Don’t live someone else’s life. Have your own values. Live in accordance with principles. We can all learn to create more space in our lives.
In order to make our greatest contribution toward the few things that matter, we need to create the space for unencumbered thought. We need space to concentrate. Focus on doing one thing well.
As Picasso has said:
Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.
That means when you want to complete a project, you create the space for yourself to do just that, while ignoring everything else. When you create space for intense concentration, this uninterrupted space will enable you to explore.
You can also review your projects on a weekly basis to reclaim that space, but more on this in a future piece.
When you create space to explore and think, not only will you get that thing done faster, but you will also gain control over how you’ll spend the rest of your time.
Make space to explore. Think of a hundred possibilities about a problem. Use visual thinking techniques to map it all out.
You need to let the process of creating and making use of space determine the outcome for what comes out of that space.
The Canadian designer, Bruce Mau wrote:
Process is more important than outcome. When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.
You can use the physical space around you to encourage new ways of engaging and thinking. Have a dedicated “think space” at work. Avoid having chairs in this space. The only reason you go to this space is to think. Use visual thinking techniques to map it all out. Use analog tools like whiteboards and sticky notes to facilitate this kind of thinking. By creating space to think, we can step back to see more clearly.
Take some time off every day/week to simply think and read. I suggest reading classic literature in the morning; this will help you center your day and broaden your perspective.
Or you may choose to do absolutely nothing in this space. You could simply use this time to renew yourself by meditating. Or you could do a quick brain dump of everything that has your attention so you can decide what to do with it later.
You can also carve out space as a team or organization.
Once a month, gather your team (or all your employees if you’re a small business) into a room for a full day. You’re simply looking to explore. There is no defined outcome or agenda. Use analog tools. That means no cell phones, no computers. Only whiteboards, sticky notes, pens, pencils, etc. The purpose of this meeting is to simply think and talk. They need space to figure out what really matters. Unless you create the space for them, they’ll always live in reactionary mode not knowing what’s important and what’s not.
In order to foster an environment of creativity and innovation within your team and your organization, and to make the most of your space, your team can practice “games” from the book Gamestorming. When you ideate on a schedule (say, every week), great things can come out of that process.
We spend so much time in our lives doing things. We don’t stop enough to introspect about our lives. We spend so much time in our lives that we don’t spend enough time on our lives. The point is to build daily thinking time in our lives.
Regardless of how much time you can invest every day, it is important to make space to escape from your “busy” life. Creating space is not just a practice, but a philosophy. Take time off from your daily routine simply so you can think. Unless you do that, you will be living in reactionary mode.