Why You Need White Space During the Work Week (Yes, Force Multipliers, Too!)

When we look at advertising pieces or interior design, our eyes are typically drawn to the ads or spaces that have a lot of “white space”, or open space, on the page or in the room. The presence of fewer words, throw pillows, or images forces the mind to focus on what’s important and increases the odds that we remain attentive, which allows the piece to have a bigger impact on us.

For similar reasons, white space is just as important in our days and weeks. It allows us breathing room to think, plan, write, research, read, or just be. As Force Multipliers (Executive Assistants, Chiefs of Staff, etc.), I imagine many of us have created white space time blocks—or even full day blocks!—in our Executive’s calendars. For example, Adam, takes every Friday as his white space day to think, write, read, call business colleagues to engage in brainstorming sessions, etc. It’s an extremely important part of his week. It allows him, as the leader of a multi-dimensional organization, to stay 10 steps ahead, scouting the next opportunity, or honing his vision for the future of the organization.

The question is: Have you, as a Force Multiplier, incorporated white space into your day or week?

Whether you’re the leader of the company or their right-hand business partner, it’s equally important for you both to have this time during the workweek.

Now, I understand that this is easier said than done. When we have stakeholders coming at us all day with problems to solve, endless back-to-back meetings, or constant interruptions, the idea of white space seems impossible. And for Force Multipliers, a large part of our job is actually responding to these interruptions, especially when it’s our Executive doing the interrupting! But there are always ways to create a little space.

Essentially, it comes down to saying “no”, prioritizing, setting boundaries around our work, and reframing our mindset on what it means to be productive.

What Exactly is White Space Time?

White space time is not a time to check emails, work on projects that you feel you’re behind on, create to-do lists, or even sit behind a computer if that’s too much of a distraction. It is proactively dedicated, scheduled time (preferably in no less than 2 hour chunks) that allows you to zoom out, relax, refuel, and reflect, helping you see clearly which tasks move the needle and which tasks don’t.

We’ve all had those “the best ideas come to me in the shower” moments. That’s because when we’re not actively trying to find solutions or come up with the best ideas, we create “space” for the novel and creative thoughts to flow in organically.

Here are a few examples of how you can spend your white space time:
  1. Get clear on your personal or business mission, vision, and values.
  2. Read one chapter of a self-improvement book. Journal about what you learned from it and how you can implement those lessons in your life and business.
  3. Call a colleague, mentor, or friend. Have lunch and a brainstorm session with them.
  4. Exercise, meditate, or go for a walk out in nature.
  5. Shake up your routine. Get breakfast at a new coffee shop to get out of your box. Talk to the person next to you—you never know who you might meet!
  6. Write a letter to an employee, coworker, or friend thanking them for something they did. Gratitude helps you get out of your own head and shift your perspective.
  7. Create a “not-to-do” list. What tasks are currently draining your energy? What can you trash, transfer, or trim?
  8. Take a nap, or try Dr. Andrew Huberman’s “Non-Sleep Deep Rest” method.
  9. Watch an inspiring TED Talk.
  10. Write out your ideal daily schedule. What do you need to adjust to make it a reality?
  11. Revisit your User’s Manual. What are your strengths, weaknesses, and quirks? Has anything changed?
  12. Revisit your team’s User’s Manuals. How can you work with them better?

These are just a few ideas. There’s really no limit to how you can use your white space time, as long as it helps you get out of your head, get inspired, and move the needle forward!

How To Implement White Space Time

1. Communicate Why White Space Time is Important

As with most things, implementing white space time starts with communication. Most team members understand when their leader is not available during certain times of the day or week. It’s often clearly communicated to the team and other stakeholders, and as long as the results are still being met, the vision is clear, and the company and their individual careers are growing, there are usually very few complaints.

Executive Assistants, Chiefs of Staff, and other Force Multipliers can take a note from this playbook (which they probably wrote anyway!). Can you pick a few times during the week where you can be unavailable for meetings or to answer questions? When these times are communicated to your leader and stakeholders, and you pay particular attention to explaining why it’s important, you’d be surprised at how little push-back your receive.

Now, the key here is making sure that this white space provides tangible benefits to the leader or the company, and that you give other team members some time to get used to it.

Whether it’s a full day like Adam has, or simply a two-hour block of time a few days a week, the benefits will show up if you’re intentional with that time you have set aside. This scheduled “free time” in your week actually helps increase productivity in two ways:

  1. Leaving space to step back from thinking or strategizing allows us to zoom out, identify gaps, realign, and make room for new and creative ideas.
  2. It ensures that the rest of your time is well-spent and intentionally focused by creating solid, dedicated time blocks around it.

The truth is, you won’t necessarily know what you can create or accomplish during that time until you try it out. But I know you will not be disappointed!

2. Create Time for White Space

One of the biggest time-sucks for Executives and Force Multipliers is meetings.

Often, we don’t even realize how meetings have started to creep up on us. At some point, you just notice that your day used to have some flex room in it, but suddenly you’re in back-to-back meetings, running to the restroom between calls, five minutes late to every appointment, and eating lunch from the vending machine.

Usually we convince ourselves meetings are a necessary evil, but are they really? Or are you actually just sabotaging your own productivity by saying “yes” to too many calls? I was. Which meant I wasn’t spending time on high-impact, high-level thinking. 

So, I took a deep dive into my calendar. This is something I usually do at least once per quarter, but I was so in it, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. This is why it’s so important to have a mentor, coach, or great leader to bounce ideas off of. I laid out my issue and Adam had a solution for me in about five minutes. It’s the same solution we’ve used on his calendar—it just never occurred to me to use it with my own!

Another important aspect to making your white space time as effective as possible is to schedule these sessions for the peak of your productivity cycle. Are you a morning person? Start your day with quiet time before responding to emails. Night owl? Curl up with a cup of tea and your journal! Remember, your white space time should work for you.

3. Plan Your White Space (and the Rest of Your Calendar) in Chunks

First, eliminate as many meetings from your calendar as possible. Which meetings do you not even need to be in? Are there meetings that could actually be an email? Are there meetings that someone else could take notes on and update you? Once those are taken care of, of the meetings that are left, cut their duration in half. Yes, even those 30-minute meetings. If you know you only have 15 minutes on the calendar, you will get to the point quickly and buy time back in your day to get other tasks and projects done.

Next, as much as possible, rearrange your calendar into meeting days/times, project days/times, and white space days/times. Again, for Adam, his meetings are primarily on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, with Friday as his white space day.

For me, I schedule all of my calls and meetings for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, leaving Tuesdays and Fridays for full days of writing, content creation, thinking, reading, researching, and planning. I know that by creating this white space in my weeks I will be able to move projects and the business forward that much faster. It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes we have to get out of “doing” mode in order to really make progress.

4. Shift Your Perspective Around Productivity

This may even be the most important step in the process. Incorporating white space into your workday may sound like a “luxury” you can’t afford, but the real question is, can you afford not to?

These days, we often wear “busyness” like a badge of honor, but when you’re in back-to-back-to-back meetings or constantly just doing one task after the other, you can sometimes miss out on an eye-opening conversation, a creative solution to a long-term problem, a connection to an opportunity, or an idea that changes the entire trajectory of the organization.

You may feel guilty or uncomfortable “doing nothing” at first, and that’s okay. Sit with that discomfort. Use it as a journal prompt. Why does it make you uncomfortable? What do you feel like you should be doing instead? Are there any gaps in those tasks or projects that you just listed out? Get creative in those gaps! Dream big, brain dump, and most importantly, don’t let yourself act on any of those anxieties until your allotted white space time is over. You never know what hidden solutions you may find, project ideas you may spark, or rejuvenation and excitement you might rediscover in the process!

Creating white space in our days during the workweek, regardless of what position you hold in the company, is such an important part of overall productivity, impact, and results.

Have you created white space in your day or week? What does it look like? We would love to hear what has worked for you! 

Original post from June 2021. Updated for 2023.

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