How I Moved from Warp Speed to Allowing for Blank Space; An essay by Katie Rasoul

I used to move a mile a minute. I had only one pace because I was always headed somewhere to do something. Move with purpose; that was how I rolled. One time at lunch, a coworker stopped and said, “I just can’t do it!” I asked, “Do what?” She had been racing me to see if she could eat faster than me, and without me even knowing or trying, she couldn’t do it (cue embarrassment over eating like an ogre). I remember walking through the mall on the weekend and my husband (who is nearly a foot taller than me) asking, “Why are you walking so fast? I almost can’t keep up.” I had stuff to do, people.

“Why are you walking so fast?”

Over the years my days became so packed that I no longer had time for creative thinking, blank space, or frankly, time to appreciate the journey. Here are a few other absurd things that I did at work, in case any of these sound familiar:

  • Drank eight ounces of coffee, and literally nothing else all day
  • Forgot for three hours (frequently) to go to the bathroom
  • Ate entire meals in the elevator traveling between floors

I had spent years of my life fine tuning my calendar in the name of “work-life balance” and while I packed my days full I failed to see the bigger picture that I was not allocating my energy to the things that mattered most in life. I now think not just about managing my time, but managing my energy is practice even more valuable. Until I took this new approach, my life never really felt balanced despite the black-belt calendar management.

One of the changes that I have made in my life is to slow. down. I have created space in my day for productive time, creative time, and restorative time. And do you know what happened? I am more productive than I have ever been. Allowing yourself the down time you need can fuel your productive time, and allow for reflection on where your energy is most needed.

In any given week in the past between meetings and “have to’s” I estimate that I only had about six hours in the week to sit with myself and do any meaningful work (these six hours also reflected elevator meals and no bathroom breaks). If I could get my work done in six hours surrounded by meetings and conference calls, I could get it done in the same time surrounded by intentionally planned time. So now, I choose to plan my calendar with blocks of project time, restorative walk breaks or workouts, or even an hour where I get to read or research something that interests me.

Here are some ideas for creating more black space on your calendar:

Block the time off: Use calendar invites to block the time you need for you so others don’t see it as available for the taking.

Create a goal (Google Calendars): If you use Google calendars, create a goal for yourself and set your own frequency and length of time, and your calendar automatically keeps that block but moves it around if you place a conflict over it.

Remove the clutter: Question everything on your calendar as to, “Do I need to attend this?” or “Is this meeting necessary?” No need to sit in meetings where half of it is deciding the agenda that could have been prepared in advance.

Use micro-spaces of time wisely: I often would have meetings where the other person was a few minutes late. Just enough time to read a few HBR blogs and news articles, I say.

Pick one thing to say “no”: Find one thing that you can just get rid of. Just one. Then, make sure you spend that time on what you really want to do. (Make sure you don’t waste it checking email or trolling Twitter, you won’t feel that sense of accomplishment you are looking for.)

Easier said than done, right? Try one new thing, or a few. Give behavior changes time to sink in, and be “listening” for the change in how you feel about how you are spending your time. Maybe you can even eat that banana while going for a walk outside instead of in the elevator.

About the author:

Katie Rasoul is the Chief Awesome Officer for Team Awesome, a leadership coaching and culture consulting firm. She is a TEDx speaker alumna, author of the best-selling book, Hidden Brilliance: A High-Achieving Introvert’s Guide to Self-Discovery, Leadership and Playing Big, and co-host of The Life and Leadership Podcast.

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See more about Katie’s keynote presentation on this topic, “Manage Your Energy” here.

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