Regardless of our profession or trade, we have an innate desire to sharpen our craft, especially when it revolves around a level of creativity, a flair in penmanship or a spark of inspiration for design.
The way to get things done more efficiently is not about incessant activity but about strategic productivity. Not all motion is progress; you may just be going in circles and ending up at ground zero. Sometimes we can sit in front of our design software suite, clicking furiously but ending up with nothing to show for.
What we have found to be a powerful thing being in the design & communications space for more than a decade, is to deliberately institute creative white space in our schedules. In Judeo-Christianity, the term “Shabbat” (where we get the word Sabbath) means to cease or desist. In the Torah, the word literally means “he rested”. For this religious practice, it covers a stipulated 24-hour window - rest means rest. It means not working or being engaged in any activity that constitutes labour in any form. And they go the extra mile to make “no work” felt by making work or any associated activity something to be frowned upon and even “punished if caught”.
We need to protect this space well because this is where we create the environment for our minds to go on a strategically scheduled rest. And while it does, it actually handles the filing, trashing, organising, reframing, percolating, and dreaming up creative backend work that we do not see, to make things happen.
Treat rest like oxygen
If you are at a senior leadership level, your greatest contribution to your organisation lies in the organised creative activity happening in the synapses of your grey matter. A permanent secretary once shared that she blocks out 15 minutes each day to reflect on her decision. During this period, her personal assistant will screen off phone calls and door knocks. Her actions caught on with her planning director who saw the importance of that near-religious practice that word quickly went down the vine to encourage personal observation in this area.
What can I expect from undertaking the formation of this new habit?
1. Internal resistance.
This comes not just because it is something new but because you have bought into “busyness” as a way of life. You cannot stand being idle. Your current mantra is “sleep is only for the weak”. For what is seen as the pride of being “engaged”, if you are truly looking for the second wind in your sails and thriving through your silver years instead of being “burnt out”, you may have to find ways to overcome the resistant bands that hold you back from forming this new habit.
2. External push-backs.
From overbooked meetings to endless inbox messages and the pressure to always be “on” and “do more”, the act of saying “no” will perhaps be that big first step. The firm “no” is not a career dampener; it is an indication you are engaged in matters for the long haul. Shooting stars always fizzle out quickly.
What about stay-home mums and dads with children? Where would you find those strategic pockets of rest?
One mother I know spends an hour and a half each night putting her daughter to sleep, starting first with bedtime reading and prayer, before patting the child to sleep. During that period of time, the only truly free moments lie in the 45 minutes of patting where one hand is free to engage in reading something on the smartphone in the dark, or just in solitude “me” time. She uses those moments to find creative ideas for her next big design or reflecting on the work that she has done and how she can do better. This means that to date, she would have spent approximately 2,000 hours in her carved out creative white space.
1. Relook how you see unfilled pockets of time in your schedule as calendar items to be filled.
Don’t be quick to fill, slot in another meeting or something to do. Look at what constitutes activity/engagement in your life and work schedules. Unfilled pockets are not buckets waiting to be filled with yet another thing. Unfilled pockets are good for creative pauses.
2. Where possible, reschedule and free up extended time pockets to make greater bandwidths in creative white spaces.
What this means is that instead of having 20 minute slots across two days, rejig certain meetings to make it a full 40 minute white space slot for yourself.
3. Take your no-work time zones seriously.
Our minds are good at playing monkey with us, creeping in with “remember that deadline? Didn’t you mean to get that PowerPoint ready for the team to look at by tomorrow?”. Find a way to crucify the monkey by going the opposite direction. Sometimes this monkey creeps in when we are just about to enter into dreamland, in which case, deliberately use breathing and mindfulness techniques to refocus on getting the rest that you need.
Copyright SYL+JAS (c) 2021. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or rewritten in any form without expressed permission from the agency.
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