How to Create More White Space in Your Life

Five more days, and the second half of 2012 will greet us with wide open arms! Reflecting over the past six months feels very much like time has been a cruel thief who robbed me. What did I really do in the first half of the year? This reminded me to review my 2012 New Year’s Resolution. Henry Kissinger echoed my sentiments best: “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” If you too find yourself nodding to this statement, join the club! You may be interested reading the rest of this blog post.

Over the last six months, here are key initiatives/ projects I got myself into:

  • Executive Development Institute (EDI) – One year leadership development program sponsored by Boeing, Nike, KeyBank, State Farm Insurance etc.
  • Center for Communities – capacity building consulting initiative created from the umbrella organization Portland Leadership Foundation
  • Cell Group Leader – equipping, nurturing, and strengthening brothers and sisters in Christ through practical application and sharing of the Word of God.
  • Writing a Book – currently writing a book focused on the theme of how to live with intentionality. The target audience is my fellow cohorts in the Millennial generation.
  • Blogging – actively sharing my perspectives on people, change, leadership and the Christian life via my blog.

On top of all these activities there is, of course, full-time work and a girlfriend which requires hours of investment to build healthy relationships. Last week, with all the bombarding activities, I felt I was at the precipice of a burnout.

So, I went back and reviewed my Ideal Week (see image below). I learned that I need to level set and start with the big picture again.

In a word, I needed more white space. White space is essentially having margin in life.

Richard Swenson, M.D., author of  Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, describes margin as the following:

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.

Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances. We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.

If we were equipped with a flashing light to indicate “100 percent full,” we could better gauge our capacities. But we don’t have such an indicator light, and we don’t know when we have overextended until we feel the pain. As a result, many people commit to a 120 percent life and wonder why the burden feels so heavy. It is rare to see a life prescheduled to only 80 percent, leaving a margin for responding to the unexpected that God sends our way.”

My Ideal Week

My Ideal Week

Having white space or margin in life doesn’t come naturally to me. The burning desire within me to grow, learn, and push the envelope defies the current status quo in my life. If you are struggling to identify and stick with your life, here’s some helpful suggestions by Michael Hyatt:

  1. Create a template. You can either download Paul’s Ideal Week template or start from scratch. It’s up to you.
  2. Identify your themes. This won’t be possible in every situation, but it is helpful if you can assign a theme for each day and then batch similar activities together.
  3. Schedule the important activities. These are the ones you will shade green—they contribute to your goals and priorities. Allocate time for these first.
  4. Fill in around the edges. Now schedule the less important activities. These are ones you will shade red. These items must be done, but they don’t really move you toward your goals.
  5. Tweak and fine-tune. I usually have to go through several iterations before I get it right.
  6. Share it with your team. If they are not aware of your Ideal Week, they may inadvertently sabotage your plans. But if you are aligned, they can help you stay on track.
  7. Don’t be legalistic. The calendar was made for man, not man for the calendar.