Work Life Balance: Adding White Space
May this article help you cast a fresh eye on what work life balance means to you and take a further step towards balanced life.
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You most probably heard that work life balance is called the ”holy grail of the 21st century.” In bookstores, the bookshelves groan with books devoted to the topic, yet ironically enough, quite a few people just can’t find the time to read them. May this article help you cast a fresh eye on what work life balance means to you and take a further step towards balanced life.
Graphic designers and layout people will tell you that white space is what makes it possible for us to register text on a printed page or a computer screen. White space gives order, context, and emphasis to what matters.
White space facilitates delight: it makes it possible for the contents of a page or of a life to be arranged in a pleasing way. It requites and allows artful choice. Without it, everything seems equally urgent, similarly important.
Because it is empty, it is tempting to fill white space when the pressure is on. If you’ve ever tried to read an email that isn’t broken up into short paragraphs, you know what happens when too much content squeezes out the white space. It is hard to track meaning, hard to isolate key points, hard to know how to respond.
The same thing happens when there is not enough white space in our lives. When we steal time from the white space to make another meeting, start another project, make another call, we end up distracted, confused, and reactive. Depending on our individual styles, we may get irritable, weepy, bossy, or simply forgetful, none of which saves time, makes money, or engenders effective collaboration. In an ironic turnabout, we may start saying “no” to things we’d like to say “yes” to and vice versa. Play feels like work, work loses its charm, work life balance quits us.
However, if we expand or maintain white space in times of great challenge, we will often notice that unexpected opportunities and solutions arise. When a problem is too big or complex to be solved with available resources, we have to go to another level to solve it. White space helps us find that other level and bring work life balance back, when pushing harder and moving faster won’t work.
I wrote a version of this article in September, 2001, when I realized that grappling with the events of that month required extra energy and that I needed more white space for a while as I adapted to the demands of those times. I think we are in similar times now, when, regardless of your politics or perspective, world events require our heartfelt and intelligent reflection, a process that is not likely in the short term to result in clear cut solutions. Staying awake, connected, and present in such times is a big job, and it’s the kind of job that requires white space.
I’m renewing my commitment to white space for the next few weeks. I leave for a month-long vacation soon, and it is tempting to work round the clock until I go. But I know too well the costs of that choice. So I’m getting out into the garden this weekend, taking time for music and reading, and making myself available for an afternoon nap or two. This is not self-indulgence. It’s not even self-care. It’s cultivating the white space that I need in order to maintain work life balance, show up, serve, and prosper in every aspect of my life and work.
If there is not enough white space in your life to sustain work life balance, or if, like me, you need more white space than usual right now, take some time to revise your commitments and declare a moratorium on promises for a few days. If you are a manager, ask yourself how you can support your people in having the white space they need. It’s not necessary to make a production of this; you can accomplish a good deal by simply keeping white space in mind as you assign tasks, evaluate performance, and manage the context and mood of your teams.
Caring for white space can allow the shape of what is truly important to emerge while giving us the breathing room to stay balanced and respond more completely and effectively, if at a slower pace.