This post orginally appeared on LinkedIn
It’s incredibly easy to fade into the monotony of life; come home from a long day at work, a stuffy commute, cook something edible, and flip on Netflix to watch yet another British cooking show. We may interrupt that with an occasional dinner out, workout class, or book club, but often we are just going with the universal flow. Nothing wrong with those scenarios, but in the midst of our day-to-day routines it’s often easy to lose intentionality, both in thought and action. We become more mindless in our decisions, often losing sight of our long-term goals and how our daily choices build toward them.
Around this time last year, I was in snow-covered Boston reflecting on the previous year and realized I felt pretty disengaged. With most of my focus on succeeding in a new career, I had significantly decreased the time I spent on passions outside of work. Without making time for those things that brought me joy, I realized I had become less excited about ALL areas of life. I knew I felt “busy” all the time, yet didn’t seem to have enough time for the things I actually wanted to do. Sound familiar … anyone? I knew constraints on my time wouldn’t lessen in the coming year. I needed a plan to evolve the way I structured my time and my perspective if I wanted to have the next year be one of fulfillment.
While my professional life is challenging and interesting, it doesn’t align perfectly with what makes my soul sing; particularly, international relations, psychology, and human capital. Most of us don’t align every single passion or interest with our work life and that’s totally fine! Finding a way to engage deeply with the areas that bring us joy is critical to maintaining engagement in our professional lives and beyond. When we are more holistically fulfilled and caring for all parts of our mind and soul, we are better employees, friends, and citizens.
As I started to think through how I spent my days, I realized there were many hours per day in what I ended up calling Grey Space. Grey Space are the parts of my day, big or small, that I could be using differently—more effectively. Generally the time was already committed to something—getting ready for work, commuting, cleaning, waiting for an appointment, walking to get the mail, etc. With a little planning I could build upon or around those activities – creating more capacity for the things I wanted to do. After a week of experimenting and tracking the Grey Space, I felt like I had stumbled onto a gold mine.
I started by creating a list of things that would help me realign to my true passions, build towards my long-term goals, and increase my overall wellness. For me, that included top books I wanted to read, groups to re-engage with, exercise and meditation goals, and preparation to gain certifications for the next level of my career. I broke each area into tangible steps (books, podcasts, meetings, fitness goals, etc.) from which I prioritized into weekly and monthly benchmarks. Those priority lists helped me set weekly goals which guided how I spent my daily Grey Space. It’s so much easier to be intentional with our choices and time when we’ve set our priorities.
I listen to books while getting ready, pull out a book while I wait for my car, or meditate for those few moments before a meeting begins. I schedule walking meetings to catch up with friends. I flip on an audiobook while I wash dishes and shop for groceries. I remind myself to take dance breaks, which if nothing else entertains my husband. Even if it’s for 5 minutes—those moments add up. Now, I still take time to relax.The difference is consciously making the choice to do so, not reflexively or mindlessly. This intentionality has become more instinctive to me over the past year and has changed the way I make decisions each day.
In 2018, transforming the Grey Space has allowed me to read over 40 books and listen to a library of podcasts. It allowed for more time to connect with friends and discover new communities. I didn’t add time to my day, but changing my mindset reconstructed the way I look at the time I do have, feeling aware and in control of how I decide to spend this finite resource.
By re-engaging my passions, I’ve connected with many of my clients and friends through previously unknown shared interests. Who knew the VP at a large Canadian company would also love the War College podcast? (Watch out for my favourite podcasts and books of 2018—coming soon.) After sharing book reviews on Instagram, this led to surprising, interesting conversations that not only challenged and inspired me, but also led to deeper connections with my community. It’s remarkable the worlds that open up when you start to invest in what brings you light.
As we kickoff 2019, I’d encourage you to take an intentional breath and evaluate your Grey Space. Where are the spaces in your day you could optimize? What passions have been put aside that you’d love to renew? What long-term goals can you build toward this year? Make more space for meditation, date night, writing, singing, dancing—whatever fills your soul. This will look different for everyone but my hope is that you’ll pause to take stock of how you can invest in yourself and your goals! Do what you can. Don’t let the tyranny of the urgent/daily grind stop you from becoming more intentional and making this year one of fulfillment and achievement.
As you work through this journey, I’d love to hear what changes you make and how your goals are impacted! I plan to gather all your strategies and share in a few months. Can’t wait to learn from you all!
Let’s keep the conversation going! Find me on Twitter @JacquelineKeeso | All views my own