White Space

It's the white space that makes the thing stand out.

When you look at your office or your calendar, consider the use of white space.

What do I mean by white space? In graphic or visual arts, white space is the portion of a page left unmarked. In radio, white space is the space between channels that is left unused to avoid interference.

Why do we need white space? In graphic arts, white space gives the eye a place to rest and helps the featured elements stand out. White space makes it possible to focus on the important information on a page.

In broadcasting, radio stations need white space so that a news and conversation program doesn’t come through the radio along with a neighboring country music broadcast. White space helps us get just one thing at a time rather than a cacophony of too many things.

Too often we ignore the need for white space in our lives. A schedule crammed from start to finish allows no time for thought and reflection, and no time for unexpected events. Those unexpected events could be unfortunate ones, such as a flat tire, or fortunate ones, such as bumping into a friend who invites us to coffee. Either way, the crammed schedule leaves no time for the unexpected.

The crowded office, like a page without white space, makes it difficult, maybe impossible, to focus on any one thing. An office with every shelf and drawer already bulging doesn’t allow for new opportunities to come in.

Just because the book shelf has two empty inches doesn’t mean that we need to keep another book. Leaving a little white space allows things to breathe, makes it easier to see what we’ve got, and easier to put things away.

A file cabinet brimming with papers makes it less likely that we’ll actually do the filing, because it’s harder to put something into a crowded space than one with some breathing room. Who wouldn’t avoid a task that’s just about guaranteed to cause skinned knuckles?

Empty space is not necessarily wasted space. Just as our eyes need some white space on the page in order to read and understand what’s there, we need some white space in our work lives to give our minds rest and to help us mentally sort things out.

Creating white space means letting go of some things, and this isn’t always easy. But it is worth it. We say “no” to some of the things we could have in order to make space for what we really want, less-tangible benefits like breathing room, like mental rest.

If you think you might benefit from some white space in your office and schedule, start with one area. Weed out until you actually have less than the closet, shelf, or calendar will hold. Notice how much easier it is to maintain a physical space that’s not crowded or overflowing. Notice how much less frantic you feel when one activity isn’t packed cheek-by-jowl with the next. Observe how much more creatively you can think when you’re not distracted by clutter.

Life is more colorful all around when we add a little white space.

One Response to White Space

  1. I was reminded of this post when my post-skiing unpacking was as easy as throwing my gear into the empty drawer in my closet, ready for our next trip in a couple of weeks.
    You’re right: life is exponentially easier when there is some spare capacity, both in terms of space and time.

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