When did you last have the gift of white space in your calendar?
An empty block of time to do all those tasks “you just don’t have the time for”.
Early January provided me with this gift with the bonus of none of the usual disruptions like my kids being at school.
Instead of approaching this free time with excitement, I was terrified of wasting it with the wrong activity and never getting it back.
Despite my work as a professional coach and trainer, I had failed to listen to my advice.
The solution to this time scarcity mindset was common sense, like most things in life.Create a structure.
“A plan is what, a schedule is when. It takes both a plan and a schedule to get things done.” Peter Turla
Imagine you were building a new house. You would appoint an architect to draw up the floor plans and create the basic structure.
When the moving truck arrives with your furniture, you don’t panic about where the items will go. You have labelled each box for the designated room — kitchen, bedroom, living room, etc.
Your unpacking begins with placing the oversized items first, such as your lounge suite in the living room. Once these large items are down, you add the ornaments, lamps, side tables, etc.
Now, imagine you never got the plans done, and the moving truck arrived.
You are faced with one massive space and must figure out where the furniture goes. The lack of clarity will inevitably create a sense of panic and result in disorder.
Sadly, common sense isn’t always common practice.Structure is the antidote to overwhelm.
“Structure is how we overcome depletion. In an almost magical way, Structure slows down how fast our discipline and self-control disappear” — Marshall Goldsmith
Going back to the white space in my calendar, I approached this free time with a sense of dread because I tried to fit everything into one day, one slot with no apparent distinctions.
The way forward was to create a structure on how I could best invest my time. I honed my deliverables into four key focus areas:
I then prioritised the most critical projects and the specific activities I needed to do in each area and scheduled them into my calendar accordingly.
Prioritising your tasks is the equivalent of placing the oversized items into the room first.
Once the King size bed is positioned in your bedroom, you gain clarity on the remaining space to place the smaller items.
It’s the same with how you need to think about your time.
Start with the most important priorities that will get meaningful results instead of the smaller, insignificant tasks that will make you feel busy but not necessarily productive.Structure provides clarity.
Once you have identified the key activities, they need to have a designated place in the calendar.
You can’t wake up and then figure out when you will fit in that run or have that phone call with your mother. You and I know that it probably won’t happen because life gets in the way.
However, if you know you are calling your mom at 3 pm on Tuesday, it’s a lot more likely to happen.
The secret to getting things done is never about motivation, but about clarity.
For example, I will write my new article on Friday from 9 am to 11 am. Preparation for an upcoming workshop will happen on Tuesday from 11 am to 12:30.
Entrepreneur Evan Carmichael says he allocates one day per week on a specific focus area to maintain a streamlined thought process.
For example, Mondays are administration, Tuesdays are coaching, Wednesdays are dedicated to social media marketing, Thursdays are for business development meetings, and Fridays are YouTube video creation days.
Experiment with your calendar and see what structure works best for you.Structure is freedom.
You may argue that having such a rigid structure will extinguish your creativity, but it’s quite the opposite.
Structure and planning provide you with a calm mind. It eliminates the habit of the incessant self-interruption and instead permits you to place a value on what you choose to ignore.
The structure also generates the opportunity for creation to unfold.
Creation can include anything from a new presentation, a piece of code, a blog post or anything you deem as your professional output.
The point is, you need to design an opportunity for the work to happen, not wait for inspiration first. The muse shows up when you have provided a safe space to do so.
Structure provides permission for creation to show up.Structure creates momentum.
“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” — Winston Churchill
The structure is the breeding ground for micro wins — small steps of incremental progress.
If you think back to the house analogy, staring at fifty boxes to unpack is daunting, and so to avoid the feeling of overwhelm, the boxes remain unopened.
The way forward is one box at a time: one item at a time.
It’s the same with how you choose to spend your hours. You don’t need to produce the entire presentation in the time allocated; start with one slide.
It’s often the fear of not knowing where to begin that triggers procrastination and self-distraction.
When you have an allocated time, location and focus, it gives you the building blocks to do the most challenging part — show up and begin.
Shift your attitude to focus on the process and not the outcome.
If you have scheduled thirty minutes for writing, it is not about how many words you wrote in the allocated time slot but that you showed up to the page.
Whatever you achieved in the session will be the continuation of the next session. Acknowledge your efforts, no matter how small.
If you wrote one great sentence, celebrate it.
By providing the opportunity for progress to unfold, you look forward to the white space because micro wins are the only antidote to inaction.The last piece of the puzzle.
Having the gift of available time in your calendar is one part of the equation to being productive.
The missing piece is the state in which you approach this free time that will determine how you experience it.
We all know the term FOMO, fear of missing out. We have FOMO about where to place our time and attention.
Do you choose to rest and read a book or drag yourself to the party?
ONCE YOU HAVE DECIDED WHAT TO DO, YOU NEED TO BECOME AWARE OF FOWM — FEAR OF THE WRONG MOMENT.
FOWM is the persistent mental chatter of continually second-guessing yourself once you are in the activity. You are always playing the game of a better deal.
Even if you decide to take the rest, your circling thoughts about the party are disrupting your ability to own your choice and be present.
How do you get over FOWM?Cultivate the habit of contentment.
Give yourself permission that there is nothing better than this moment, whether you are playing with your kids, going for a walk or working on a substantial project.
If you keep doubting your decision, you will never appreciate the white space in your calendar, and continue to sabotage it through self-interruption, multitasking and procrastination.
Whatever you choose to do in the allocated time, make a conscious decision to give it your full energy and attention with the peace of mind there is nothing better than it right now.Final thoughts.
“How you schedule your days is how you spend your life” — Gretchen Rubin
You don’t need more time. Instead, stop the constant mental chatter and anxiety about spending it ‘correctly’.
White space is not something you can make a mistake with. You can’t get it wrong if you invest the time in something that matters to you.
Eliminate the fear of wasting time by building structure into your days. This will give you the freedom to ignore all other possibilities of what you could be doing.
Ditch FOWM — Fear of the Wrong Moment — and replace it with the habit of contentment.
Remember, like the architect who creates beautiful houses; you are the designer of your world. Experiment with different layouts until you find one that works best for you.
If you don’t like it, you can always rearrange the furniture.
The ultimate goal is not more hours but better hours.
Here’s to owning your time,
I’ve created an ultimate guide to Show Up To Yourself: In Life & Business. If you follow this daily, you can build new habits — and actually sustain them; schedule yourself into your calendar, guilt free; and manage your inner critic, free of anxiety and fear.