Whether you’re working for yourself or for someone else, I’m a big believer that making space in your work life, creates the space that is necessary to live a balanced life.
Gone are the days of the Industrial Revolution where workers were viewed as just another cog in the machine – a human machine that must be geared for ever increasing levels of efficiency (at the sake of family life, downtime, and sanity!) And I truly hope we’ve moved past that trend of glorifying ‘busy-ness’. So now let’s all transition into a work life that nourishes our soul, maintains our sanity, and supports our family and friends.
From someone who has fallen off the edge of burn-out and come back again, here are my top five tips for making space in business and in life.
5 WAYS TO MAKE SPACE
SCHEDULE SPACE FOR YOUR HEAD
While it might sound counterintuitive to “add” things to your schedule when you’re trying to create space, to me this is vital. To truly embrace slow work it’s important to schedule ways to step back from the pace of daily life – however busy or slow that is.
And I don’t just mean setting an intention to take some self-care downtime, I encourage you to actually lock it into your work calendar, so there’s no excuse.
I have a regular lighthouse walk and coffee appointment with a friend, and I make sure I book in my yoga and pilates classes at the beginning of the week (knowing that I’ll move them round loads!). Prioritising these ‘non-work’ appointments stops me from turning into an all work and no play robot.
And it’s in these spaces between work, that I connect the dots and have those little “a ha” moments for my clients and my own business.
So book in those moments to get out of your headspace and de-stress, and give yourself room to consider new and more creative solutions to your daily challenges.
SET BOUNDARIES AND STICK TO THEM
In the words of Danielle La Porte, “Boundaries are a big fucking fence.” I love the way Danielle creates a distinction between boundaries and barriers:
“Boundaries are proactively on the offence, barriers are hyper-active on the defence. Boundaries are like a fence with a gate. You have space to roam freely behind that fence. You feel safe and peaceful.
Barriers are like a heavy shield you have to drag around with you all the time. You have to be ready to defend yourself from these attacks that you fear are coming. But you end up leaving the rest of yourself unprotected and it’s not very peaceful. Being on guard all the time is very anxiety inducing.
Boundaries take some practice. But boundaries create clarity. And clarity creates freedom.”
Pre-burnout, I had a tricky relationship with boundaries. For years I associated boundaries with ‘pushing back’ (something one was not to do to clients or employers). But now I embrace them and use them to create clarity and freedom. I’ve also learnt that boundaries are an ever-evolving work in progress, constantly shifting to the demands of my work and my personal life.
One simple boundary could be your work hours. How can you build your own fence with a gate to help you step away when everyone else is always on? Can you use technology to help you? Does Slack go onto “do not disturb” at a certain time of day? Can you use Downtime on your phone to schedule time away from emails and other work apps? Or during the work day, can you put an out of office on your email to say you’re in ‘deep focus’ or ‘creative zone’?
These boundaries can work for those both self-employed or working for others. Learn what hours you work best, and maximise those hours. And if you are lucky enough, use the less-productive hours for other things!
As Jesse Kamm said in the Time Sensitive podcast, “By saying no, I keep my sanity”.
GET TASKS OUT OF YOUR HEAD AND ON TO PAPER
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been enjoying a relaxing day at the beach, or about to settle into bed, when suddenly a work task pops into your head. Instantaneously your weekend is rudely interrupted by thoughts of your work week and it takes 30 minutes to settle back into your chill zone.
I calm my chatty work brain by putting it to bed with pen and paper (literally, it’s pen and paper, not digital and I leave it on my desk) before I leave work on Friday afternoon. I close the end of my work week by creating my To Do list for the following week – setting out exactly what needs to be done on Monday and beyond.
By being organised in advance, you don’t sit down at your desk on Monday morning and think ‘What am I meant to be doing?’ And in that time, you’ve probably already ticked the first thing off your list.
You’ll also (hopefully) save yourself those distracting mental task list flip-outs in the middle of a relaxing Friday evening drinks with your beloved.
Try it today – before you switch off this afternoon, write down your priority tasks for tomorrow and the rest of the week. Get it off your mental load.
OUTSOURCE AND AUTOMATE
While you’re on this journey of creating space, tune into what you hate doing or never have time for – the things on your To Do list that you keep constantly pushing back, week after week. It’s time to outsource or automate these annoying niggling tasks.
Of course, when you’re busy, outsourcing seems impossible. When I was deep in the throes of a busy patch, I made a conscious decision to bring on an assistant when I had the space to work with them and train them up. I brought on an assistant ½ a day a week, and then when things got busy again she was managing all those tasks on my list that I hated doing or never got around to.
It may also be that you are outsourcing to someone external, like a bookkeeper, a graphic designer, or a virtual assistant. Again, find what works for you.
And for those things that might not need outsourcing, there is my new favourite thing – automation! I’ve just signed up to Acuity Scheduling so when a new client wants to schedule a workshop, I just send them the schedule link and they select which time suits them best. I can’t begin to tell you how much back and forth over email this has saved me!
Some other things you might think about automating are your email marketing workflow, client follow-ups, social media publishing, or even reminder emails to your team for regular reporting. Zapier is a game-changing platform that helps you create automations across all the platforms you already use.
REMEMBER TO BREATHE
It sounds simple, but how many times have you caught yourself holding your breath in a tense moment? When we tense up and stop taking deep breaths, we activate our fight or flight response. In moments of stress, I like to pause and take a big deep long breath before doing anything – it calms my mind, and gives me the space I need to think clearly about the situation at hand.
As Dr Libby says, “when you breathe diaphragmatically – moving your tummy in and out with each breath – you communicate to every cell in your body that you are safe, as you would never be able to breathe in this way if your life truly was in danger.”
Here is a great way to slow down your breath:
Inhale for 10 counts, hold for 10 counts and exhale for 10 counts (or start with 4 or 5 and work up).
This three-point breath will relax the body and mind almost instantly. When you do this frequently it is a great way to centre yourself again.
Practise this in a comfortable position for between 5-10 minutes.
You can extend the count of exhalations to 15 the more you practise.
You might even like to schedule this breathing exercise into your calendar, just so you don’t forget!
Let’s all commit to bringing more spaciousness into our work, because when we make things spacious for ourselves, we also start to create feelings of spaciousness for those around us – whether that’s our employees, team mates, friends, or family. If there’s anything the world needs less of right now, it’s haste.
If you’d like some help carving out space in your business, check out my Making Space sessions here.