Create Space to Think (part 1)

To do creative, high-leverage work, you need to step back and look at the big picture. But when there are fires to put out, demands to meet, and crises to solve, it’s hard to stop and think about what’s really important. 

When we zoom out though, we find that urgency doesn’t equal a true emergency.  Many of the things we did should have waited until another day, or maybe another week. Some required more thought before action. And maybe the problem would have resolved itself. 

We often confuse active busyness with true productivity, and favor the number of tasks over the value of tasks completed.

Take strategic pauses to avoid burning yourself out. A pause doesn’t have to be that long. 

In episode 34 of The Incrementalist, you will learn: 

1) There are four types of pauses

  • Recuperative
  • Reflective 
  • Constructive 
  • Reductive

2) White space is time without an assignment. It’s the free and open time on your calendar. Although it’s negative space, it still has a purpose and holds value. 

3) A wedge is bits of time between activities: between one meeting and the next, a request and a response, feedback and reply, an impulse and action, an idea and a plan, work and life, and want and get. With a wedge in the middle, you’re not jumping immediately from one thing to the next. 

4) Ten seconds is more than enough for a strategic pause

5) White space or a strategic pause is not the same as meditation, mind wandering or mindfulness

  • Meditation is like keeping your dog on the leash, and when it tries to pull away, you gently say, heal. 
  • Mind wandering is like your dog slipping out of the leash when you’re distracted. By the time you look up, your dog has run all the way across the other side of the park. 
  • Mindfulness is like your dog feeling the grass under his feet, listening to the birds chirping, and smelling the hot pretzel cart. It’s the closest to white space, but’s it’s different. 

6) Thieves of Time are overgrown assets that become risks

  • Drive becomes overdrive
  • Excellence becomes perfectionism
  • Informed becomes information overload
  • Activity becomes frenzy

7) Simplification questions to ask to disarm the thief

  • Overdrive: is there anything I can let go of?
  • Perfectionism: where is “good enough,” good enough?
  • Information overload: what do I truly need to know? 
  • Frenzy: What deserves my attention?

8) A task can be one of the following three: 

  • Not time sensitive – doesn’t deserve attention now
  • Tactically and strategically time sensitive – speedy or immediate action is important for good results
  • Emotionally time sensitive – desire or fear drives you do something or want to have something done even though there is no real urgency

9) Hallucinated Urgency is the Pavlovian pull to meet the expectation now. This builds the tendency to interrupt others to get our burning needs met while stealing time away from them. What goes around comes around. You get information overload and more interruptions when these become the norm.

10) How a strategic pause helps you to make a decision on what to do next

Resources cited:

Music by:

To listen to episode 34,  Create Space to Think, click here. If you prefer to read the transcript, go here. Subscribe to The Incrementalist at Apple Podcasts or other apps.

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Dyan Williams is a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. She is also a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and focus on what truly matters. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps.


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