The Secret of Making Space (Even If Your Schedule is Crazy)

The Secret of Making Space (Even If Your Schedule is Crazy) by guest blogger, Christian Simamora

We are very good at ‘doing.’ But there’s something else.

The domain of  being.’ “

– Jon Kabat-Zinn

makingpaceI am obsessed with doing. I worship at the altar of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I geek out over new productivity apps. I derive great satisfaction in crossing an item off my to-do list.

I also live in a culture obsessed with doing. Our language is one of productivity. Time management. Busyness. (Business). We measure Gross National Product as an indicator of our country’s health. We eat in front of our laptops, typing as we chew, dropping crumbs in between the buttons on our keyboard.

Doing is necessary. It enables us to express our inner selves in the physical world for survival, growth, evolution, and enjoyment.

But, I’ve been feeling out of balance.

Every year that goes by (I’m 35) I grow more resentful of the gravitational pull email has on my time. Things that used to matter to me – like enjoying a good novel – have fallen by the wayside as I tackle my Sisyphean task list instead. Rather than gratitude for the blessed life I live, I feel anxiety about whether I have accomplished enough at my age.

An Incomplete Framework

Elevating “doing” as the ultimate good is an incomplete framework. What’s more, it distorts our value system. Using vacation time or taking a sick day are viewed with suspicion. Our companies lag behind the rest of the world in offering maternity or paternity leave. We worry more about accomplishments and how much we’ve done than about character, or the human relationships around us, or the impact we have on the Earth.

What does constant doing leave us with?

It leaves us with no space to reflect.

It erodes our patience, and thus, our ability to think long-term.

We mistake rest and recovery for a lack of work ethic.

In this warped perspective, things that serve us well – reflection, patience, rest – are seen as enemies.

Consequently, we get sick. Frustrated. Burnt out. We become less kind to those we love. We lose sight of our purpose. We lack meaning in our lives.

The Counterbalance to Doing

I understand with greater clarity that there is a counterbalance to doing that is equally as important.

Making space.

“Making space” is my term for the process of creating room in my life so that I can live more mindfully.

For me, living mindfully is the practice of being present and aware so that I can uncover what is unnoticed or unseen, like habits and reactive patterns. Once these are uncovered, I can ponder and consider them. If needed, I can make the decision to change them. In other words, I am able to live purposefully.

Why do I eat lunch in front of my computer? Do I enjoy it when I eat lunch this way? Am I avoiding being with people? Or am I anxious about my schedule? Do I actually get work done when I do this?

In addition to living more mindfully, I find that making space helps me to feel better. I avoid “computer fog.” I find the capacity to be kinder to people because I’m less rushed. My creativity levels are higher and my overall output increases.

Making Space (Even If Your Schedule is Crazy)

So, how do you “make space?”

Below, I outline some concrete suggestions that I’ve tried personally and that you can experiment with immediately. I am sharing these suggestions as someone whose schedule is incredibly packed. I am one of four at a start-up nonprofit that runs a global program authorized by the Dalai Lama. I am also planning a wedding.

A word of caution. Be wary of applying the “doing” paradigm to this. Resist the urge to create a long checklist of “mindful things” to do. Choose one or two things from the list that seem like they might be enjoyable and start there. It might also help if you approach it as a practice instead of a goal.

Curate Your Life

We all have 24 hours per day, and one day, we will die. A typical response to this reality is to engineer packing as much as possible into each day before you kick the can. Sleep when you’re dead, they say.

I invite you to consider an alternative perspective.

What would your life feel like if you had less stuff to do? What would it feel like if you only worked on things that really mattered to you, either because they pay the bills or because they connect with your deepest values and bring joy into your life? (And what would your life feel like if you got the sleep you needed?)

Invitations:

  • Ask yourself: What is one commitment I have right now that I can let go of with no harm to myself or others? Then, make a decision to let it go and open up that space in your calendar.
  • Rinse and repeat if desired.

Go On A Content Diet

We live in a magical time. The world’s information is at our fingertips (if we’re fortunate enough to have a device and web connection.) There are more books, blogs, magazines, tweets, TV shows, posts, tumbles, and videos than we can get through in a hundred lifetimes.

Do we need that much content?

Imagine if all you did was eat all day, and without concern for what you were eating. Well, that’s what many of us do far too often with content. What important priorities or questions are we avoiding when we click on yet another link to learn about the best hangover cures or what so-and-so wore to an awards show?

Invitations:

  • List all the blogs, books, and magazines you are currently reading (except what is requisite for work). For one week, choose only ONE to read. If it’s a book or magazine and you finish it before the week is done, feel free to select another item. After seven days, how much time opened up in your schedule?
  • Tell your friends ahead of time, and for one full week, do not check Facebook or Twitter. What felt different about your week?
  • Unsubscribe from any newsletter or email lists that hit your inbox except for two to three that truly matter to you.
  • Before you look at your phone, ask yourself, why am I looking at my phone?

Leverage the Power of the Pause

Emerging research is confirming what I knew intuitively. Working hard is fine. Working hard all the time without breaks is not fine. Our minds and bodies function better and are healthier if we follow periods of work with periods of restoration.

Invitations:

– Take a ten-minute walk after lunch instead of returning immediately to work.

– Make the conscious choice not to eat at your desk, and instead, eat with others or eat mindfully three times this week.

– When you finish one task or project, whether personal or professional, close your eyes and take ten long, deep breaths before you move on to the next task or project.

– Have you made use of your vacation / sick days? If not, make a decision to play “hooky” one day that will not impact your team in the next two weeks.

Melissa Llarena

Melissa helps movers and shakers up to those in the corner office rediscover what makes them unique so that they can land their dream job in a forward-thinking company where their ideas are listened to, valued, and supported.

She brings insights from having worked in 16-business units (including Human Resources) in NY, Paris, and London. Additionally, in her former corporate career, she worked on billion-dollar brands for P&G and on IBM for Ogilvy & Mather. Later, as the founder and CEO of Career Outcomes Matter, Melissa created a 3-step “sellable strengths” process which has been the centerpiece of her clients' results.

Melissa applies this method consistently to support mid-level professionals up to the c-suite to get into Fortune Global 500 organizations and agencies. She studied Psychology at NYU and earned her MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

5 Comments

  1. Rolando Brown on May 7, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Great post. I like your angle here.

    Personally, I take space first thing in the morning before I dive into my work, as well as during the day (most often with a walk).

    A friend of mine named Josh Begley would say:
    “Meditate, even in the Movement.”

    A few tools to help:
    http://inboxpause.com
    http://www.makeuseof.com/dir/stayfocusd-block-time-wasting-websites

    Best,
    Rolando

    • Melissa on May 7, 2013 at 11:24 am

      Thanks Rolando for these tools! I think I need the courage to really set limits on my favorite sites but I know there is a benefit to working with a less clutter-filled mind.

  2. Shelley on May 7, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    Chris, since I am not a participant in the “working world”, I find my life full of “possibilities” for physical and mental fulfillment. While doing any one thing, I often feel like I am neglecting others.

    Meditation is such an important tool for me that I often “put off” because I don’t have enough time!

    Thanks for the reminder to be mindful and prioritize!

  3. Gloria Strohm on May 9, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Well done. At 37, I’ve been officially retired for a couple of weeks. I keep getting asked what I’m going to “do” now. I keep responding by saying I’m going to be happy. People are a bit perplexed because we have no children and I’m a woman with an NYU degree. Clearly I should want to “do” something. I’ve done some really big things that make for really good cocktail conversation, but you know what I’m most proud of? My marriage. The happy home my husband and I have. I now have time to have breakfast with friends and energy to write a hand written note. The daily to do list is now only three things long on a busy day. We’re not rich, we didn’t win the lotto. We just decided that we could live simply and that would leave space to simply live. I used to think a calendar full of color was awesome. Now, my favorite is seeing days with so much space.

    • Melissa on May 9, 2013 at 7:58 pm

      Gloria, it’s fantastic that you are really proud of your marriage and you should be. It’s saddening that this is not “enough” for other people. Yet, I guess what really matters is that this accomplishment means the world to YOU. Enjoy your time off.

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