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Your schedule needs white space too

Mind the gaps for long-term thinking and creative rejuvenation.

White space is a designer’s best friend and most powerful ally. It’s what gives great visual work breathing room. It creates moments of silence that amplify the areas of focus. It forms groupings and builds rhythm. We’d never question the value of whitespace — it’s one of the most fundamental building blocks of our trade.

But how often do we consider the need for white space outside of design, in our lives? Shouldn’t the same benefits of white space apply there too?

On the wonderful Design Matters podcast with Debbie Millman, there’s an interview with Dorie Clark about long-term thinking in a short-term world. The whole thing is worth a listen, but there was one quote near the end that slapped me in the face:

“We have to have white space if we’re going to be long-term thinkers”

Dorie isn’t a designer, but she’s transplanted this common design term to convey the same qualities. She means we have to build white space into our schedules to give us room to plan ahead. Without white space, we are trapped in short-term thinking.

I’m guilty — way guilty — of ignoring this advice too often. My schedule is always packed to the rafters. “I’m too busy” comes out of my mouth far too often. The cult of busy doesn’t value scheduling white space. White space isn’t hustle enough.

But I love white space, so it’s time to leave the cult.

White space is where you recharge and refocus. It’s what allows fun and play to creep back in and your creativity to breathe. White space is where biz dev happens and you think about the shape of your career, not the most urgent deadline. White space gives your creative life rhythm and reminds you of all the important things outside of work. White space is the silence that holds infinite dynamism.

You make white space in your life by saying “no”. By scheduling that one-week break or creative change of pace between projects. By not accepting that evening client phone call. By meditating, exercising, or whatever bring you personal catharsis. You earn white space by focusing only on work that fulfils you so your busyness never gets in the way of your business.

White space is prioritising bursts of macro vision in between your focused tasks. It’s making time for side projects to balance the hustle of your day job. It could even be stealing 5-minute breaks for mindlessly scrolling through your favourite social media. It hardly matters what you use your white space for, only that it exists. When you give your brain a moment to pause, that’s when real creativity springs out.

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Benek Lisefski

Hi, I'm Benek Lisefski. Since 2001 I've run my own independent design business. Join me as I unfold 20 years of freelance business knowledge: honest advice and practical tips to help you take your indie career from good to great.

MediumTop writer in Design, Business, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship.