An aside from Dan Ariely’s latest piece in Wired got me thinking. Here’s a quick excerpt:
Think how differently we’d interact with our calendars if the default was for time slots not to be empty””if, instead, they were prepopulated with tasks like thinking, writing, and planning. We’d be far less likely to neglect the opportunity costs: Every time we accept an obligation, it would be clear that we are giving something up.
I’ve often mentioned that there’s a deinstitutionalization period that happens when people start their own businesses or work in entrepreneurial environments. One of the reasons new entrepreneurs flail after the “I just started my new thing!” honeymoon is, for the first time in their lives, they have a calendar that starts empty and they have to fill it up.
There are no teachers telling them when something’s due.
There are no posted schedules telling them when to sign up and thus block off their calendars.
There’s no manager or supervisor telling them what meetings to attend or serving as the new teacher assigning due dates.
And, in most Stage 1 businesses, there aren’t a bunch of customers, clients, or partners to react to.
There’s just white space. White space that’s really hard not to squander.
One of the advantages of heatmapping your day is that it at least recognizes that there’s not really white space – there are energetic periods which needs to be filled with certain things. Not creating during those creative periods is giving up creating for the day.
We can feel that, even if we don’t see it.
This same psychology is at play with the planners. When you write down that you’re going to work on a project Wednesday morning, you don’t have to contend with white space come Wednesday morning. You can choose not to do what’s planned, but defaults have a lot of power – you’re more likely to do what’s planned when you’ve committed to it than to do it when you haven’t committed to it.
Here’s an apparent paradox: having too many Todo items or priorities actually creates white space, even though it looks like it limits white space. Too many options means there’s no default, and when there’s no default, you’re back to having to choose what to do. If you have too many things to do, you spend more time thinking about what to do rather than doing the items on your list.
Fewer items, less white space. Less white space, less time thinking about what to do. Less time thinking about what to do equals more time to do the doing.
All that said, if you need some white space in your calendar – to rest, recover, and think – you’ve got to make space for it. Your default would be to do the same thing you’ve been doing, which probably isn’t resting, recovering, and thinking.
Space is your friend. White space … not so much.
What can you do to turn your white space into productive space?
Thursday Bram says
If there was some way to pre-populate my calendars, I would absolutely take advantage of it. In the past, I’ve tried creating reoccurring events in Gcal numerous times, blocking out hours for writing and so on, but they quickly become unmanageable.
Well, right now am actually working in figuring out how to run my blog and helping my girlfriend run her photography business. It’s hard for me, because she really doesn’t know much about the business side of photography neither do I.
The biggest problem we have is that we don’t know exactly where to start…how to start getting more clients, how to market, where to market the business, etc…
I guess one good way that we could turn white space into productive space is by setting different time slots into learning a little bit each day to certain parts of the business and other slots into applying what we learn…
what do you say?
Mark Silver says
Really, really sharp insight, Charlie- that too many options creates white space, because there’s no default. That’s a keeper.
Nathalie Lussier says
Spot on advice. I can totally see the paradox in action in my business too. Too little to do = too spacey, too much to do = too spacey.
Thanks for the reframe!
Anne SamoIilov says
Wow. Interesting perspective that I hadn’t considered when creating a white space blog series and then even recently as I finished up an ebook on the topic. I just might have to add a section on too much of white space and how to make sure it doesn’t go to waste.
It’s interesting that a week after I had actually cleared some much needed space in a few areas of my life, I started thinking…wow, now what do I do with all this space? And I fully agree with Nathalie who says: “Too little to do = too spacey, too much to do = too spacey.”
Archan Mehta says
Thank You. Invariably, your posts help me get off my rocking chair. Get me to think.
For me, white space is the blank canvas of a painter which stares right back at me.
I really don’t know what to do with it, since there is nothing there for the eyes to see.
Then, there is a phase of reflection: I don’t do anything during this time. It is my time.
I sit back in my rocking chair and let my mind go blank just like the white space. All of a sudden, ideas spring to mind like a wild cat in the jungle of Africa.
I jot down those ideas in my note-pad and organize those ideas in order of priority.
Suddenly, the white space in my note-pad has tasks lined up for me. I may be surprised to discover there is too much on my plate. In any case, it is time to get back to work.
In other words, there is a delicate balancing act between doing nothing (reflecting, meditation) and having a bias for action: both are necessary for a wholesome life.
We need to get things done, but we also need our analytical skills, problem solving abilities and ability to apply generative thinking and come up with unique solutions. Cheers.
Hey Charlie. This is something I have been finding out for myself ever since I graduated college. Even during school I always preferred to be more self-directed in how I choose to spend my time, but never before have I had this much “white space” to start filling up. Thanks for the tips.
Al Pittampalli says
What a brilliant concept Ariely presents, and you’ve added to Charlie. This is the biggest struggle for me, filling my calendar, dealing with the white space. I’m going to try to add some defaults to my calendar…let’s see how that works.
Jenny Thomas says
‘De-institutionalised’ …absolutely spot on…I’ve been feeling like I;m lost in space for a while now, squandering time, and knowing I;m doing it..and much of the time behaving pretty much like I did in the office, sitting hunched over my PC for hours without really achieving much…bit like a rabbit that has noticed the hutch door is open but isn’t quite sure what to about it 🙂
Hardest challenge is putting that structure in place when all you (and everyone of your fiends/family) has ever known is an externally imposed timetable…
Stephanie Lomond Merrill says
So much of this post resonates with me. This week, I’ve been examining myself a lot, and I am struck by my own tendencies to set myself up to do too much within one week. Quality and not quantity is so true. I am trying also to learn the art of delegation and being able to let go. The more I introduce balance in all areas of my life, ultimately the more productive and I am in the key areas. I’m trying to develop a laser sense of vision, and assimilate a measured approach to productivity.
Robin O'Neal Smith says
This is true. Busy people with packed schedules get much more done than those who have nothing on their plate. They just squander time and wonder where their life went.