White space time

Photo by Cillian Storm

On the HBR Editors’ Blog Bronwyn Fryer writes a post called: Manage Your Time Like Jim Collins:

When he says he uses a stopwatch, he means that he tracks his time to make sure he gets the most from his waking hours. He divides his life into blocks — 50% creative time, 30% teaching time, and 20% other stuff (“random things that just need to get done”).

Jim took out a piece of paper and drew a picture of four blocks stacked atop each other. Pointing at the top block, he said, “I block out the morning from 8 am to noon to think, read and write. ” He unplugs everything electronic, including his Internet connection. Although he has a reputation for reclusiveness, when asked about this, he replies: “I’m not reclusive. But I need to be in the cave to work.”

Collins calls this white space time:

For Collins, high-quality work requires long stretches of high-quality thinking. “White space,” as he calls it, is the prerequisite for fresh, creative thought. It’s the time that he spends with nothing scheduled, so that he can empty his mind, like the proverbial teacup, and refill it with new thought.

Well, it certainly is a compliment to have similar ideas to someone like Jim Collins. Here are two short paragraphs from one of the posts I wrote about what I call thinking time:

When I give workshops about personal vision building I talk about setting aside “thinking time” as one of the fundamental skills good leaders acquire for themselves and as a way to updated personal vision constantly. I always point out that I am not talking about thinking during the shower, but as an integral part of your day, preferably, in your office. At this point, people usually nod and agree. But if you ask them a few months later, how many times since the workshop did they take a break during their work day to just stop and think, they usually answer – zero.

There are some truths that people will always agree to, but are reluctant to implement. This is something I know for myself. This piece of advice is easier to preach about than practice. So what is the solution? I think the best one is to outsource the responsibility for setting “thinking time” to somebody else.

I think this kind of thinking is again another manifestation of the idea that sometimes what is missing is more important than what is there. Sometimes, what is not there, improves on what is there.

How do you treat the empty slots in your schedule?  Do you actively create them?



Check this out for another perspective of the same idea.

2 Responses to “White space time”

  1. Hinda Incentives Says:

    Something to think about. I try and use my blank times for reading. I don’t get a lot of time for random reading and I have found that it is a great firestarter for creativity. Thanks for sharing!

  2. sherfelad Says:

    Hey Hinda,
    Thanks for the comment.
    Actually, in the original post in the HBR blog, Collins talks about these times as time to do not only thinking but also reading. Maybe for me it so obvious that reading comes with thinking that I did not even bother to mention it. Thanks for pointing that out!

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