When Sarah Dreilich joined virtual experience company Touchcast in the West Village four years ago, she intentionally created free time from calls and meetings, marked as white space, on her calendar. She used this alone time to make lists, prioritize and stay present.
As director of creative services from Bushwick, she was initially part of a lean 20-person team working around the clock, juggling more than 14 events simultaneously across three time zones.
“Creating white space helped me determine where and how to spend my time,” she said. “I started blocking out two hours in my calendar daily — one in the morning and one in the afternoon,” said Dreilich.
Now, with the company grown to over 100 employees, Dreilich has kept her white space time intact, which has “allowed me to recognize processes that could be improved. I’ve actually been able to increase my productivity and efficiency.”
Dorie Clark, who teaches executive education at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and author of “The Long Game: How To Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World” (Harvard Business Review Press), said white space helps create clarity around priorities. “We know that you can’t add any more water to a glass that’s already full, yet we try to do it with our schedules all the time,” she said. “We’re booked up from morning to night, yet we can’t resist saying yes to new offers and making new commitments, without any clue how or when we can actually accomplish them.” J.C. Rice
This can create stress, as there’s typically not enough time to do what we’ve agreed to do. A 45-minute coffee meeting can quickly morph into three hours when commuting is factored in, which “crowds out our ability to take a step back and think strategically.”
If it feels challenging to carve out an hour or two, focus on smaller moments instead.
“Taking even 30 or 60 seconds at the right time can work wonders,” said Juliet Funt, founder and CEO of the boutique efficiency firm WhiteSpace At Work and author of “A Minute To Think: Reclaim Creativity, Conquer Busyness, and Do Your Best Work” (Harper Business). “Thoughtful time can be like a glass of water that sits on your desk and every once in a while, you just take a small sip.”
Consider it a wedge, a portion of open time between two activities. “[It comes] between sitting down and diving in, between a question and your response or between a meeting and a meeting,” said Funt. “The wedge stops us in any moment of life when taking the next action mindlessly would be a mistake. It brings refreshment and focus and is a way to think before your next chess move.”
Sometimes, it means it’s necessary to say no, even to good things. Clark said, “As you advance in your career and the demands on your schedule increase, you have to raise the bar and recognize that if you are going to accomplish your own strategic priorities, you may only be able to say yes to great things, and you’ll need to turn everything else down.”
In our world full of instant messaging and immediate gratification, it’s also important to realize that success takes patience. If you’re on the path to a promotion, pursuing a new venture or learning a new skill, set expectations with timing. It won’t occur overnight, so have a realistic picture of what will happen.
Clark said it’s “about creating a goal, formulating a hypothesis about what it will take to get there, and periodically checking our assumptions and progress, so that we can adjust.” Then we can deal with inevitable setbacks and delays “in a muscular way that helps get things done.” Facebook
That doesn’t mean sit back and wait, though.
“That level of passivity drives me bonkers, and I think I’m not alone!” said Clark.
Patience was key for Amy Nolan, therapist and director at Institute for Integrative Nutrition in Madison Square Park. In 2018, the Jackson, NJ, resident sold her mental health private practice to a corporation — the yearlong process was finalized in July 2019. During that time, she ramped up her online life coaching business.
“As I was moving from therapy to coaching, every small step, the door would open a little bit more. As the door was opening more and more, there’s the light. I’m almost there, I’m at that lifestyle I want, it’s within my reach. If you’re staring at that closed door, it’s going to feel out of reach. I was letting go of one thing and also seeing potential in the other. That was all the burnout and negativity, which was the whole reason I was selling it. It was a breath of fresh air as that door was closing.”