This past weekend, I got a great lesson in the power of space. And how space can affect your career (and sanity). Last weekend was my husband’s highschool reunion. And, since he had the civility to graduate in Daytona Beach, Florida, that meant a weekend at the beach. Without the kids. No pressure. No priorities. Hooray, right? Sign me up!
Or so you’d think.
Instead, I started finding every excuse in the world not to go. The babysitter can’t handle the kids. The dog threw up. I have too much to do at the office. There are dishes and laundry and emails and OH MY GOD I haven’t done that video interview and what about the intranet project and… I was too overwhelmed to even consider time away.
This is not unusual thinking, either. People everywhere are overburdened. “Many of us have felt like we’ve been working more than ever since early 2020, and our data proves it,” reports The Harvard Business Review. “Looking at anonymized productivity patterns in Microsoft 365, we’ve seen a steady uptick in the average workday span (+13%), after-hours and weekend work (+28%, +14%, respectively), time in meetings (+252%), and chats sent (+32%). It’s a rising tide that’s not sustainable.”
I feel your pain. But here’s a truth for you: busyness begets busyness. And not all busyness is good.
Today, it’s easy for internal communications work to become a cosmic game of Whac-A-Mole. Remember the ’80s arcade game? You had a big mallet and a board full of holes in front of you. As the moles popped out of the holes, you hit them back down. And the faster you were, the faster they appeared. Never stopping, just hitting and hitting until the game was over.
Does your project list operate that way? How often do you get to work, sit down at your desk, and immediately get buried in mountains of email? Start with meetings at 8 a.m. and never make it to your desk? Get one project off the pile only to have 10 more added to it? Is the pressure driving you crazy?
That was me. And if it’s you, productivity patterns aside, the answer may not be that you need more time. Or more staff. You need space: a reflection zone.
I was lucky. When I started down my list of all the reasons I couldn’t take a weekend away, my husband told me to shut up, turned off my laptop, and stuffed me in the car. And guess what? I came back energized – with thoughts about how to handle a crisis at the office, plans to finish a few projects, start a new one, and move others down the priority list. Busy-ness begets busy-ness. Space begets sanity.
Even if you can’t find an entire weekend, taking a few minutes daily to reflect can make a difference in your outlook. Try this: Schedule 10 minutes a day on your calendar as a “meeting”. Find a private space and turn off your laptop and cell phone. This is think time. Use these moments to ask yourself basic questions about your work, like:
- What are my most important projects right now? Why? Do I really need to be doing all of them myself, or can I delegate or reprioritize some of them?
- What am I doing that is urgent but not important? How can I reduce or eliminate that kind of work?
- What am I doing to engage other people right now, both for business and personal development? Do I like what I’m doing? Could I try something else?
- What meetings do I have this week? How can I cut them back? If I am meeting too much, is it my colleagues or is it me? And most important: if it’s me, what am I avoiding?
You may not find answers, at least not at first. But making space to ask the questions every morning can be transformative all on its own. If you stop playing Whac-A-Mole – and give yourself permission not to be busy every moment of the day – you’ll get more done. You’ll also be a lot saner, more effective, and just plain happier in the process.
Where can you create some space in your day?
Debra Helwig is the Senior Internal Communications Manager for KCoe Isom