Nothing is important. Um . . . Let me rephrase that: Leaving space in your life for new things is important. Leaving space for “nothing” means leaving space for opportunity.
We modern humans have a natural tendency to over-pack, over-schedule, and over-commit. We stack our day with frenzied activity and act surprised when one domino knocks down all the rest.
A few years ago I wrote a blog post about one of my favorite “Rules for Life.” It’s called Silence Means Nothing. (Read that now.) The gist is that we spend lots of energy filling in the mental gaps when we waiting for communication.
A very common example is when you send a text and don’t get a reply. Is that bad? Did I offend someone? Is silence a yes or a no? More often than not, silence has nothing to do with you. Perhaps the other person had to jump in the car and drive somewhere. Or their mother called. Or something. Once you tune into this, you’ll see examples everywhere.
In my “day job,” I train technology consultants to be better at the business side of their business. Very often, that means helping them to create good processes and procedures. A big piece of this is helping them manage their work load. And the biggest problem I find is over-scheduling.
Think about your average day. Is it filled before you start? Is you entire day booked up by the time you start your first task? If the answer is yes, then you’ve set yourself up for a stressful afternoon. Why? Because “something” will happen. Something always happens. One client has an emergency. Another shows up late. Somebody goes home early.
Whatever it is, something interrupts your nice, tightly-packed schedule.
Another maxim I use in by business is related to project management: Something’s going to go wrong. We don’t know whether it will be big or small, but we’ll find it and fix it. We’ll always be successful in the end; we just don’t know how smooth the path will be.
Accepting that emergencies and interruptions happen does not mean you’re a bad person. Don’t plan your day as if everything will be perfect. When was the last time that happened?
Here’s a challenge to reduce your stress in the next week: Leave gaps. Leave blocks of time un-scheduled. Leave room at the table for an unexpected guest. My guess is that you’ll actually get a lot more done. When the inevitable interruption takes place, you’ll wiggle things around a bit and take care of it without throwing off the rest of your day.
Three great advantages come from leaving gaps in your day.
- “Stuff” happens that you didn’t expect. Now you have a little extra time to take care of it without making a mess of your whole day.
- No emergencies or big interruptions happen. Good! That gives you time to finish everything you had scheduled and either start working on tomorrow’s list or give everything you do today a little extra attention and love.
- In your open time, your brain relaxes and new ideas emerge. You may not have time to work out all the details, but you’ll probably have time to jot down a few notes so you can revisit the new ideas another time.
There’s a lot of great research about the chemical factory inside your brain. When we over-book and over-pack our lives, we place ourselves in a perpetual state of “Fight or Flight” – and that’s not healthy. You need it once in awhile, but as a constant state of operation, it will lead to serious health problems.
Really. Google “perpetual fight or flight” and read any ten of the five millions results that come back.
Yet another of my maxims is Slow Down, Get More Done. When you under-pack your day, you actually have a chance of accomplishing everything you need to do. AND you leave room for opportunity to knock on your door.
Opportunity has probably been knocking for a long time. You just didn’t have time to answer the door.