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Get More Done By Limiting White Space
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?