A Beginner's Life

The White-Space Day

3 min read

I was in it. I’m walking my dog Sherman the other morning morning, and suddenly realize (as I’m barely avoiding a trash can) that I haven’t paid attention to a single step we’d taken together.

Instead, I was listening to a podcast, mentally walking through a presentation I was to give later, and thinking through some team-related issues. My head was so noisy, I could barely walk (which is hard enough for me already).

I knew the feeling at once – it was what I call the overwhelm.

First, I have to admit it’s a big deal that I was able to identify that feeling of the overwhelm. In the past, it would have just overtaken me, and I would have fought through it until my next vacation, or until my body forced me to spend a day on the couch, sick.

It’s a real step for me to say “ok, I’m feeling overwhelmed. Why is that?”

Once you’ve identified how you’re feeling, it really doesn’t take much reflective thought to figure out why. In my case, it’s because I’m attacking many goals at once, our team is feeling underwater, I’m stressing over an upcoming vacation, and I’ve been a context-switching machine.

I looked at my schedule, because I’ve learned what I need when I’m feeling the overwhelm – a complete white-space day.

White-space days are for gaining back the sense of pace and control in your life. The activities that are part of a white-space day will differ for everyone, because they should be lined up with what gives you that feeling of fulfillment.

While few people I meet through work can believe it, I’m an introvert – my childhood was spent playing computer games alone, reading, or walking around the woods with my parents. My white-space days, therefore, are spent in relative isolation, which Marisa often hates me for (her white-space days are the exact opposite wink).

Today is a white-space day. So far I’ve gotten coffee, walked the dog, and organized and caught up on reading. Later, I’m going to put on Miles Davis and clean the house. That’s it.

In terms of organizing, one symptom of the overwhelm is that my urgent to-do list fills up, while my important to-do list remains undone. I needed a clean-out.

I outlined part of this process in my post called Zero. Here’s what I do – Asana is for tasks to be done this week (planned in my weekly review), and I use Trello as a back-up and for longer-term tasks.

With my Asana list growing like a weed, I took an hour or so today and transferred everything to Trello (so my Asana list is now completely empty). In the course of this, I deleted a quarter of my to-dos – assigned them to others, or just straight up removed them (if they are really important, they’ll come back).

trello board

The Trello board is split into Important and Urgent, with each card labelled with my big activities:

  • Research
  • Write-up
  • Blog post
  • Action

With that complete, I feel like a million bucks again. Time well spent.

Right after I send this, I’m going to go walk the dog again, this time with a completely empty mind. I can’t wait!

P.S. Every week, I send out a short newsletter with links to my favorite articles. When I write a new essay, that will be included as well. Sign up to get your copy.