Want help sharing your story and growing your audience? Sign up for my weekly newsletter for my best tips and advice.

Invest in white space

If you want more time and energy to focus on your writing and creative work, then this post is my best advice on how to do so.

Too often, we invest in things. We seek to add more to our lives, not less. We convince ourselves that this new app, this new course, this new product will somehow streamline our lives and add a richness to it.

Instead, I encourage you to remove things from your life. Take away everything you can.
Why?
Because that means everything that remains receives so much more of your focus, your resources, and your caring.

What you are doing is investing in focus and clarity, instead of distraction.
When you focus on fewer things that matter, you get rid of the plague that many people feel: overwhelm.

The term I use to describe this is “white space.” To create more space between things in your life. I use the word “invest” here on purpose. Too often, we think of white space as not taking action, as a passive act. It’s not. When you invest in removing things from your life, instead of adding, you are using your finite resources (time, energy, money, attention) in more powerful ways.

That is where success happens.

Clarity and focus won’t just happen by itself. The world encroaches… it overwhelms us and distracts, and this can take a serious toll on our mental health, our relationships, and our ability to focus on creative work.

I want to share three small examples of taking intentional action, instead of feeling overwhelmed by simply reacting to the world around you. My goal here is to encourage you to focus more on creating things that matter to you, to spend more quality time with those you love, and to feel that you have the capacity to live up to your responsibilities. Let’s dig in…

Example 1: Spoiling the magic we seek

I’m 43 years old and grew up feeling star Wars was magical. Like many Gen Xers, I have searched to recapture that magic with recent films. For years, it just seemed that “things were different today,” and that newer movies don’t have the same magic.

I was wrong. I found the trick to recapturing the magic: protect it.

Last year, as the buildup for Star Wars: The Force Awakens kept ratching up, I pulled away. I stopped watching trailers. I avoided any news about the film. I skipped past social media updates which mentioned it.

We haven’t had a TV at home for more than a decade, so there was no intrusion in commercials or other programs. I didn’t have to see some ad showing Chewbacca selling us shampoo. I didn’t see any interviews with the actors, or the constant replay of commercials pummeling scenes from the new movie into my head. I didn’t just avoid spoilers, I avoided anything having to do with the movie.

I went into the movie almost completely cold, I knew almost nothing about it. What I did know was this: what the two main actors looked like, that there was a droid that rolled, and that some of original trilogy cast would appear in the film. That’s it.

As my friends were analyzing and complaining about Star Wars overload in the media, I was on a blackout.

The result: When I saw The Force Awakens, it was magical. Every scene, every charcter, every plot point, every action scene was a complete surprise. I didn’t expect any of it. Scene by scene, it was all brand new. I didn’t know who would be a main character, and who wasn’t. I didn’t know if Harrison Ford would make a simple cameo, or (as it turned out) had a major role in the film.

This, as opposed to how people love to spoil their white space, their magic.

When I was sitting int the theater waiting for the movie to start, about 30 feet away, a father gloated loudly to his family that “Luke isn’t really in the movie until the very last scene.” For a moment, I got angry, because this set an expectation in me, and I didn’t want that. This man was truly joyful to show off that he knew something about the movie, even if that meant spoiling it for others. It was like a power that he had to use before everyone else found out simply by watching the movie.

His power was in spoiling.

Protect yourself from that by being intentional about where you put your attention.

Example 2: Make time for your goals

I have a good friend who I have a private two-person mastermind with. About once per week, we schedule time to talk about our professional goals and challenges.

Usually we talk for an hour, but this week we got on the phone and she asked me, “How long do you have to chat?” I replied, “unlimited time,” because I hadn’t scheduled any calls after her, and I knew we had important stuff to discuss.

We chatted for 2 hours and 14 minutes. We dug deep into key prioirites, and focused on specific actions we can take to push past obstacles and help each other out.

Even though each of us has a full load of clients, have an inbox of emails to get to, we took that time to focus on big picture goals that often get lost amid managing the inbox.

Take the time to focus on your mid and long term goals.

Example 3: Schedule white space

Teri Case shared this with me awhile back, and it is such a great example of what it means to be intentional about creating white space. For years she was an executive assistant, and this is how she began blocking the calendars of the executives she supported:

Monday – Thursday
8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.: FOCUS
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.: FOCUS
4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.: FOCUS

Friday
8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.: FOCUS
1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.: FLEX

She describes FOCUS as “times which are exclusively reserved for your manager to do his/her job and get stuff done, and therefore, make progress on milestones and goals. This is not time for meetings. It’s time designated for focusing and preparing for everything on his/her plate.”

She defines FLEX as “It sends the cultural message that your manager wants his team to FLEX and get as much work done as possible every Friday afternoon so they can enjoy their weekends and come back refreshed the following Monday and accomplish even more.”

This is how you take control of accomplishing big goals that get lost in the reactions to everyday life. This is how you integrate mental health into your days. When your life gets too crowded with “fires” you need to put out, it is up to you to make time for the things that matter.

Conclusion

Are these three examples relevant to how you can create more white space and focus on your creative work? Maybe, maybe not. But they are practical ways to illustrate control when it seems that you are overwhelmed by other people’s priorities.

How do you create white space?

Thanks!
-Dan

  • Mark Jarasek

    As always, your observations are spot on, Dan. Much appreciate you sharing the knowledge. Just the other day I was thinking about some things I had “jettisoned” from my life recently, and how much lighter I felt — like the white space you talk about here. It motivated me to identify other things I can safely jettison so I can float even higher where I want to go with my creative endeavors.

  • Dawn Downey

    Almost every morning I write from 7-11. Except Fridays. Friday mornings at 8, my MailChimp newsletter goes out. Usually, emails from subscribers come in throughout the day in response. So I keep Fridays open, so I can answer those emails as soon as I get them. I do no writing on Fridays, and since my browser is open and I’m checking emails, I get to be online guilt-free. Facebook, send a Goodreads update, leave a comment on Dan’s blog, read an article about craft. Or clean house. Friday is white space.

  • Jane Endacott

    Over a year ago I turned off Facebook notifications for all my friends, except for family members and a few online writing groups that I follow. This removed sooo many distractions. Now when I do go on to Facebook, I don’t get distracted by posts or videos, and I mostly see posts related to writing, which is more inspiring and motivating. It was also a useful filter during a frustrating election season. I find that I’m a lot less angry, afraid, and worried and that I have more energy and focus for the things that matter.

    Also, at least one day a week (Sunday, usually) I leave completely blank on my calendar. Every night I plan the next day, schedule out how much time I spend on projects, and what I’m going to work on. I intentionally leave Sunday blank, because not having an agenda makes me relax. I’ll usually work on something for a few hours, but mostly I use the time to read and fill my well. Its a breath of fresh air not to have an agenda.

    • Jane,
      LOVE THIS: ” I have more energy and focus for the things that matter.” Thank you so much for sharing your process here!
      -Dan

  • Hello Dan. I enjoy your posts. A lot. For several reasons. Here’s a new one in response to this post: The way you describe “white space” is a perfect analogy for one of the primary benefits of a regular breathwork practice. Breath-centered meditation is one of the best tools for creating “white space.” The book

    • Joseph,
      Thank you for the very kind words! Interesting topic, and one thing you implied in this is that it goes beyond writing and teaching, you are also focused on earning revenue, enough to live full-time off of.

      This is a huge topic for me, something I talk a lot about in the mastermind group I run. But it is important enough to develop WITH the writing/teaching aspects.

      Thank you!
      -Dan

Previous Post:

Next Post: