Our book club pick for the month of April was A Minute to Think by Juliet Funt. I’m sure all of us have thought during a hectic day - “I just need a minute to think!” This book is about helping you create that quiet time in your schedule for thinking and recovering, plus how to take a moment before you respond or take action.
The key to finding these moments of peace is what the author calls “white space.” She defines it as, “‘time with no assignment.’ It’s the open, unscheduled time - long or short, planned or improvised - that allows us to breathe again.” The name comes from the blank spaces in our calendars that we often feel the urge to fill in as much as possible.
The bulk of the book goes through practical ways to set aside the white space necessary for you to thrive and grow. Most of the tips are for you to work on personally, but there are also ways to incorporate white space into your organization.
Keep reading to find out our key takeaways from “A Minute to Think.”
1) White Space Gives You Freedom
The first part of the book is dedicated to explaining why white space is so important. Many people spend so much time trying to do more and more work without stopping to think if that work is actually accomplishing anything. We’ve all been to plenty of meetings that didn’t really need to happen. So what's the solution?
The solution is taking time to stop and think. Even if outwardly it seems like you're not doing anything, these pauses actually allow you time to think, plan, strategize, rest, or be creative. All of these are valuable.
Funt gives a few examples of studies that show how this white space can benefit us, but it’s neatly summed up here - “…If you step away from your primary task, it allows your brain to then reset and come back working harder and better.”
You can also incorporate white space into your personal life. Too many people regret spending so much time focused on work. It’s all too easy to keep checking your email or get caught up thinking about work problems when you should be enjoying time with family and friends. You have permission to pause and to rest. You have permission to create balance in your life and live intentionally.
2) Beware of “Thieves of Time”
One of the biggest challenges we face in creating more white space is what Funt calls “Thieves of Time.” These are mindsets that push us to keep doing more and more without leaving any room to breathe. She says most people have one particular “thief” they struggle with most, but some people may struggle with all four.
The four “thieves” are Drive, Excellence, Information, and Activity. None of these things are inherently bad, but they get taken to extremes that eat away our time. Drive becomes Overdrive, Excellence becomes Perfectionism, Information becomes Overload, and Activity becomes Frenzy.
For example, too much Drive leads to you biting off more than you can chew and getting overwhelmed. When you’re overwhelmed, you’re unable to spend your time on the activities that truly matter and will be most productive toward reaching your goals. I’m sure you can think of other examples in your own life where these thieves of time eat away at your schedule.
There is specific advice for handling each thief in the book, but being aware of what’s stealing your time is the first step. Then, the author lays out four simplification questions to help you get back on track.
Is there anything I can let go of?
Where is “good enough,” good enough?
What do I truly need to know?
What deserves my attention?
Which of the “thieves of time” do you struggle the most with? How can you use the simplification questions to create some white space for yourself?
3) Start Small and Slow
As with any new habit you’re hoping to cultivate, it’s best to start small and slow. Suddenly trying to change your whole routine will only be overwhelming and likely lead you to give up. Instead, practice taking little chunks of white space.
The first step that Funt suggests taking is to simply observe your work and processes to see where the candidates for simplification are. You don’t want to start cutting out tasks or meetings that might actually be necessary.
Then, you can start building a white space habit for yourself. Try something small like leaving 10-15 minutes between meetings to allow you to process what was said and prepare for the next meeting. Or block out 20 minutes a week in your calendar just for thinking time. Before you know it, building white space into your calendar will feel more natural.
After you’ve learned to flex your white space muscles for yourself, you can start sharing the techniques with the rest of your team. When everyone takes time to build in white space, the whole organization thrives.
If you are in a leadership position, set a white space example. Designate time in your schedule for white space. Take time off and really take it off - no answering emails or texting to see how things are going back at the office. Don’t attend every meeting possible just because you feel like you need to be a “presence.” Your team will follow your lead on how you treat white space.
A Minute to Think is a good reminder that more isn’t always better. All those white spaces in your calendar don’t need to be filled in. In fact, they’re better off empty. Whether it’s at work or in your personal life, taking pauses to think and reset your mind will help you be happier, healthier, and more productive.
Personally, I know that white space really helps me to be more creative and think more clearly. The nature of my job is flexible, so I like to give some time for my writing to marinate a little while before I come back to edit it. This book helped me see how critical that white space is so I can create strong boundaries to protect it. I hope that you will start creating white space for yourself too and make it non-negotiable!
What did you think of the book? Share your thoughts on A Minute to Think by Juliet Funt in the comments below.
Next month, our book club will be reading “Two Weeks Notice” by Amy Porterfield.