It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it certainly is the busiest. In spite of the mince pies going on sale in August, Christmas still manages to sneak up each year. Both at work and home the list of tasks keeps growing, to the extent that sometimes it seems hard to pause long enough to enjoy the festive season.
One of the highlights I’ve taken from this year has been seeing Juliet Funt presenting on WhiteSpace, and I was amazed by how many of her points hit home with me. Funt argued that the more tasks you have to do, the easier it is to lose sight of why you’re doing them. Without even noticing it you end up on a treadmill, and when you see others seemingly doing nothing you judge them harshly for it. You certainly wouldn’t behave like that yourself: you’re much too busy.
I’m definitely prone to getting in habits of overworking, so I could easily identify with Funt’s image of the person running at a hundred miles an hour, balancing a day job with family and home commitments, and not taking the time to reflect on how they’re working - and whether they could work better. Racing through life doesn’t allow us to think about where we could improve, how we might innovate in our business or help our clients to innovate in theirs.
It’s an easy rut to fall into. Most driven people are looking for the competitive edge in their industry. They multiskill, multitask and work long hours to deliver umpteen different types of project. It seems to be productive, but as the hours get longer and the stress increases, work starts encroaching on home life. And that leads to more stress.
This is the problem with the ‘task task task’ approach: when you’re not thinking about what each task actually means and whether it’s adding value, then it stops being productive and starts impacting negatively on performance. When you don’t stop to think and reflect, you become reactive instead of creative. Performing needless tasks wastes time and ultimately this driven, reactive style leads to burn out.
Funt’s solution is compellingly simple. Her concept of ‘WhiteSpace’ is that the time you spend thinking, reflecting, pausing, and actually giving your brain a rest, is not just valuable - it’s crucial. When you have a chance to take stock, you can decide what’s important, what isn’t and what can wait. And it gives you space for creativity, too.
Since I came away from Funt’s talk I’ve been looking at the WhiteSpace materials, choosing points I particularly identify with my team and starting to apply them to how the team works. There is a tendency to devalue the pause, so now I’m tackling this mentality by allowing and encouraging my team to do it. It’s still early days, but I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of it as we progress into the new year. Watch this space.