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Create yourself some white space

June 8, 2011

I’m not a designer or have any insights as to how these folk work inside to come up with their great concepts, but I’ve always been in love with the design concept of white space. It’s the space in a design that isn’t filled with things, minimalist, it’s something I use (perhaps too liberally) when working with clients that shocks them at first, but then they love it! By using white space in my conversations about business strategy, we co-create a feeling of openness and balance to unleash creative thinking…what if?…, with an emphasis on what’s important, and a feeling of clarity that we cannot achieve with a more cramped thinking. Let’s look briefly at how to do this, adopting the principles of white space.

Some of the things white space accomplishes in design includes greater legibility, feeling of breathing room & balance, peace, a sharper focus and more emphasis on fewer things. These same concepts can translate into one-to-one coaching around where you want to take your business:

  • Clarity. Instead of legibility, white space can give clarity to your business thinking, unbundling the mass of stuff in our heads that occupy our time and attention. A nice piece of furniture is more beautiful when it’s not surrounded by clutter. A well-prepared piece of food is more tasty when it’s not smothered in sauces and piled with chips and cheese. A presentation is more effective when we don’t use Powerpoint and have only a few points to make. So does your business thinking – what are the key things that will make a difference?
  • Peace. Generally, our business lives are cramped and cluttered, we focus on the today, our horizon is what’s in front of us or in our email inbox. We usually feel stressed about getting things done. But in reality, we need to identify what it is we’re famous for to build long term growth, so use the white space to think calmly about those few knock-out ideas and be reflective, rather than reactive.
  • Balance. Many people talk about finding ‘work-life balance, but this is very hard to do if you have no white space. Leave space between things to find the breathing room you need, and to easier achieve balance. This was one of the best habits I developed for myself by using the concept of white space with my clients, and ensuring that I didn’t over commit to a five-day working week jam packed with meetings, workshops and more meetings, I got a balance of thinking versus doing, and it paid off.
  • Emphasis on the important. When our days are non-stop busy, everything is important and nothing is important. But put white space between things, and those things acquire more weight, and we place more importance on each individual thing. The concept of ‘The Vital Few’ gives you discipline to focus on the things that will generally make a difference, and I do this looking at it from my client’s perspective as to where my focus needs to be, after all, it’s all about their needs and not what I want to do.

So, how do you go about achieving white space? In theory, achieving white space isn’t difficult: you remove non-essential items from your thinking, your workday, your surroundings, in essence clear your head and leave the essential items with space around them. More thinking, less doing. Of course in practice it’s a bit different, and requires experimentation, learning, practice. I’d suggest starting small, and making small bits of white space. Start by identifying what’s important, and the slowly removing the non-essential things to create the white space. Here are some ideas:

  • Reflect. Simply take a couple minutes between tasks, meetings, anything that you do, to reflect. After a meeting, for example, return to your desk and just sit still and think and ponder for a couple minutes, focusing on what worked, what you achieved, what you learned. I guess I’m simply saying take you time, this creates space between tasks and allows you to focus on each one fully, be more prepared, be more creative and make a greater contribution.
  • Schedule. Don’t over-commit. Leave space each day in your diary, between tasks, instead of putting things back-to-back. The space gives you time to go between tasks, to recover, to refocus, to breathe. Be selfish, respect yourself, create your own white space.
  • Projects. Do fewer projects at a time. Instead of juggling a bunch of projects at once, try to do one for as long as you can before switching to the next (sometimes you need to switch because you’re waiting on information or on someone else to do something). If you can, take a short break between each project — as long as you can afford to do so without backing up client expectations into a frantic queue building over the horizon.
  • Sit. Start your day with the white space of just sitting still for 10 minutes with a cup of coffee or tea. If you like this, try putting it in the middle and end of your day as well. It’s like the point above, simply drop down a gear and spend time simply thinking, reflecting, it’s like sailing in a calm blue ocean, and it’s amazing the effect this has on your mindset.
  • Remove clutter. Pick a few important things on your desk, or in your home, and remove the rest. This will give you visual space and create a more peaceful atmosphere. I’m not becoming a tree hugger, it’s about removing the distractions and barriers to getting things done more effectively and efficiently at one level, and then giving you more headspace to deliver a ‘wow’ outcome to your client.
  • Enjoy. Slow down and savour everything you eat, everything you do. Breathe before you take each bite, and enjoy each bite. Enjoy each of your client interactions, it will bring vitality and fulfilment to what you’re doing, and again enable you to step up a gear into what you do and create more success. We all rush around and miss the good things, we all work hard, so we best enjoy it!

My White Space has a caption, ‘it’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be’ – so make sure you use the space thoughtfully, and only fill it with stuff that takes you closer to where you want to be.

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