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Creating Your Central Park: The Value Of White Space For Leaders

Many leaders in modern organizations will tell you that they are short on time. The frenetic pace for some of these leaders means cramming as much as possible into a static day.

I don’t think the goal with these leaders is to win some imaginary productivity battle. I don’t think they are working this way on purpose. Rather, I think the harried lifestyle grows slowly over time. Its growth is almost imperceptible on a daily basis, but is self-evident over time. Imagine watching a tree grow.

As demands increase over time, the way we assign our time starts to change. The urgent starts to take a larger piece of the attention pie than the important. Our energy gets spent, but the mechanism for replenishing that energy gets short shrift.

We stay up later, get up earlier, reduce our lunch period, and sacrifice time beyond our normal hours to meet the demands. For those of us that have done this for a long time, we have come to realize that there never is a finish line. For everything that gets done, more than one thing arrives to fill the void.

This is a problem you can’t work your way out of. You can’t sprint long enough or far enough.

And, in juxtaposition, I would like to ask you to try something else. I want you to try intentionally adding some white space back into your life.

White space is time free from external or internal pressure to produce.

Listening to a podcast this morning, brought this concept back into focus for me.

The interviewee on this show is a counselor that offers free counseling only for recording artists. He was on the podcast to share “10 things powerful people can do to not screw up their lives.”

The first thing the interviewee mentioned was to create your own Central Park.

New Yorkers and those who have been to Central Park may understand this a bit better than those of us who haven’t.

Central Park is 843 acres of mixed use recreation in the heart of Manhattan in New York City. All around Central Park is busyness and bustle of a world-class city.

The idea with creating a Central Park strategy is for busy leaders to build white space back into their lives for rest, reflection, and renewal. Central Park in New York is about acreage. Central Park for a leader is about free time. This free time is the white space.

So, why is white space important?

Unlike machines, people don’t function well in an always-on state. We function better in intervals of stress and rest. Simply, mindfully balancing “on” time with “off” time makes your “on” time better. The trick isn’t to work more hours endlessly. The trick is balance your sprints with periods of rest.

But there is a more important reason. Creating white space allows you time to reflect. This article from Harvard Business Review quotes Peter Drucker. “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will come even more effective action.”

I don’t have to convince you of this, though. You know it’s true. Recall your last away vacation and remember how things just became clearer to you with a little extra space and distance.

White space helps create the distance we need to see things from a different perspective.

From this perspective you will see that it’s really not about getting everything done, it’s about getting the right things done and letting the wrong things drift on by.

I want you to test this idea.

Build your Central Park and let me know how it goes.

by Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan is the Head Coach at Sandcastle Company, a Seattle-based leadership training organization. His first book, Future Leader: Rebooting Leadership to Win the Millennial and Tech Future [link], is now available. Jonathan regularly writes and speaks about The New Leader Way, leadership resilience, and the future of work. He has years of leadership experience in both the public and private sectors, a master's degree from Seattle University, and professional coach training from the University of Miami.
Published on October 6, 2017

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