“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” ~Socrates
The spring of 2010 was all about the 3 H’s: hotels, hospitals, and hospice. I was in the midst of a busy quarter for my consulting business (the hotel part), and my mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer (the hospital and hospice part).
I’ll be honest—my relationship with my mother had been tenuous since my late teens. No matter how challenging a relationship has been, however, watching the slow and painful death of a parent is heartbreaking.
Want to know how I dealt with the loss and grief? I ran away from it.
When I wasn’t fulfilling the role of dutiful daughter and caregiver, I was embracing the role of Road Warrior Princess. I kept telling myself that if I could only dance faster, then I would make it through.
The busyness of getting on a plane, dashing for taxis, checking in and out of hotels, dealing with the bustle of Amtrak, reviewing documents all day, having dinner with clients, and more allowed me to push away any real feelings.
However, it’s impossible to run away from pain forever.
A few months after my mother died, I helped my partner move into a new home. I replaced airplanes and power lunches with email and conference calls, and suitcase packing with waiting for appliance deliveries and utility installations.
I reset my routines, turning from a habit of running away to one that involved staying in one place. I ritualized parts of my routines to re-connect with my spirituality. I meditated. I went for daily walks. I rediscovered my passion for cooking from the ingredient up.
It was time to admit that rather than being Wonder Woman, I’m all too human.
I began to feel. I began to grieve. The pushing away of all that feeling in favor of simply allowing it to happen had quite the opposite effect from what I had feared—instead of dragging me down, it began to lift me up.
I felt joyous again. I dropped another ten pounds. Even better, I was blossoming creatively. I wrote more in those three weeks than I had in the previous six months.
Slowing down to savor the day led to actually speeding up when I was ready to work.
It seems as if “busy” has become the new black. But being busy is not the same as feeling worthy, satisfied, or fulfilled.
We can say that we desire to feel rested and restored, but we still fill our schedules to the gills so that there isn’t a speck of white space there.
“What’s white space?” you ask. Let me explain.
White space is the space between our loads and our limits. It’s the gap between rest and exhaustion. It is the space between breathing freely and feeling as if you are suffocating.
White space is one of the secret ingredients required to love your life.
I sometimes wish I had a gauge that would tell me when I’m over capacity. Like many of you, I may not realize I’ve overextended myself until I feel the pain—or realize I’m not feeling at all. Living in a state of being overwhelmed, dissatisfied, and exhausted really isn’t living. Sometimes, it’s barely existing.
I can’t tell you exactly where your personal maximum capacity is. Everyone has a different threshold. Different phases in your life can mean that sometimes you need more white space in your life than you require at other times.
But becoming aware that you need white space can help you find your personal thresholds.
Most of us aren’t quite sure when the white spaces in our world begin to disappear. We don’t want to be underachievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules indiscriminately. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.
Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of us, and no one seems to appreciate the fact that each of us is a finite resource. (Perhaps you don’t even realize that you are indeed a finite resource until you hit a brick wall.)
Or, like me, maybe you’re trying to fill every possible moment so that you don’t have to feel.
So, how do you find your thresholds and create white space?
First of all, do a weekly review of your schedule, including all the appointments and to-dos, as well as your dreams and desires. Take a red pen to your list and first apply the two Q’s to everything on it:
- Q1: How long will it take? Reasonable assessments on how long it takes to accomplish all the tasks on your list can help you determine the answer to the next question.
- Q2: What is the return on investment? Is the amount of time and energy—as well as the results and enjoyment I get while working on the task—worth it?
Then, after you determine the answers to the two Q’s, it’s time to apply the 4 D’s:
- D1: Delete: Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if a particular task isn’t done?”
- D2: Delay: Delaying isn't procrastinating, it's postponing. In fact, delaying is actually just rescheduling something for a smarter time.
- D3: Delegate: I know it’s tempting to do everything on your own, but it’s okay to ask for help. If someone can do a task better, faster (or even “well enough”), let them. You can also delegate the things you just don’t like to do, if there's someone available to help, like mowing the lawn or cleaning the house. (Trust me, it’s worth it!)
- D4: Diminish: Ask yourself if you can streamline any of the tasks to reduce the amount of time.
When I began applying the 2Q’s and 4D’s to my life, I discovered how to create white space on a regular basis. I honed my awareness of my natural thresholds.
This awareness led me to the truth that, more often than not, I was biting off more than I could chew on a weekly basis.
It’s easy to do! I have big dreams and goals and a variety of roles. Often, the tasks I wanted to accomplish each week were more numerous than what my available time would allow. Honing in on what was really important—and how I was accounting for my time—allowed me to take my precious attention and focus it with a more laser-like precision.
I can’t promise that I will never run away from my feelings again, but the value of creating white space is one that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
As we move into a new year, I vow to no longer worship at the Altar of Being Busy. I understand that white space isn’t something that just happens, but something you have to fight for.
I’ve discovered that I am worth that fight. Because if you want to live you best life, you need plenty of white space to actually love it.
What about you? Where can you apply the 2 Qs and the 4 Ds? How much more would you love your life if you had more white space?
Photo by Maneula