More than 15 years ago, I started my corporate training company and then within two years decided to volunteer as the founder and president of a not-for-profit organization. My enthusiasm to help other others advance their careers, both during the day and at night, got the best of me.
I agreed without first analyzing not just the time at events, but all the calls, meetings and time it would take me to prepare for each event. In addition, I didn’t really think about how distracting the issues the board of directors I led would impact me mentally when I was not at events.
At that time, I was still trying to keep up with the fast growth of my company while balancing both my work and personal life. I had a young child who was barely three years old. I felt invincible. I could do it all … or could I?
What Happened to My ‘White Space?’
After a few months of running two companies, I realized that my resources and contacts were leveraged to the max. I, was working crazy hours exhausted and feeling tapped-out. One night after an evening event for the not-for-profit, my nanny brought my son to the hotel to say goodnight to mom. Ouch, I hadn’t seen him since I left early that morning for work. I realized I was negatively impacting my personal life for my volunteer work.
At that moment as we were cleaning up from the event, my son came barreling into the ballroom yelling “Hi Mom” and ran straight past me for the stage … within seconds he was on the microphone singing his favorite song to me from Toy Story – “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” Immediately I stopped feeling guilty; he was confident and happy. But then, I also realized it was me, not my son that wasn’t doing well. I was the one that needed more personal and family time, but had somehow lost it.
Defining White Space
White space is the area in life we all love that is free from a schedule, obligation or demand. We all recognize it when we have it. White space is that wonderful mental reprieve that creates opportunities for creativity, leadership growth and social spontaneity, allowing us to be both physically and mentally present with others. It helps us stay in touch with those we love and keeps us grounded. Great moments in life get created spontaneously, if there is space for them to occur.
The Impact of White Space on Leadership
There is a great story that I have heard over the years about a leader who has just expanded his role and scope of professional responsibilities with great enthusiasm. Now leading a team with over 100 people working is getting more and more intense. A month into the new job, his boss came to him and she inquired on how work was going.
His response was, “Okay, if it were not for the interruptions I constantly receive – interruptions make it challenging to get my work done.” To that she replied, “Connecting with and leading people is your work.” This leader was so busy being busy he didn’t realize that he needed white space to be available to lead others.
Taking the Pulse of Your Presence
It is easy to move past people we work with and miss their greeting, a smile or what is happening in the moment. With response time to emails, texts and phone calls becoming more and more truncated, we are sometimes so distracted we cannot be present with the people next to us.
If you can relate to this, then it’s time to create more white space in your daily leadership agenda. White space is like any other meeting in your calendar – it must be planned. Blocking white space at work and at home will ensure you get the mental and emotional down-time you need to re-energize, re-group and come back with the intense focus you need to lead your team/class, respond to market changes and innovate.
Below are five key steps to create more white space in your life:
1. Write down the positive impact that more white space in 2017 will have on you both professionally and personally.
2. Identify past obstacles that have interfered with your ability to maintain leadership presence in the moment.
3. Devise a set of strategies to eliminate each obstacle listed in step #2 and identify how you will also verbalize your boundary to limit the negative effects of overload.
4. Schedule white space each day and specifically prior to all-important meetings to allow time to incorporate new ideas, follow up with relationships, identify new development opportunities and follow up.
5. Schedule a 10-minute end-of-day assessment in your smart phone to review the overall personal and professional impact of creating more white space.