As I brushed my teeth whilst simultaneously scrolling through my emails and absent-mindedly pondering what I needed to add to my shopping list that day, I was struck by the absence of gaps in my day.
In the past, I have worn my ability to multi-task like a badge of honour. Why do one task when you can do two or three at once? Why leave any precious time unaccounted for during the day? I’m going to squeeze those 24 hours, 1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds for everything I possibly can .
And as life has been ‘ramping up’ again, I’ve noticed that those gaps in between have gotten smaller and smaller. Those leisurely lockdown walks sped up, those early morning meditations getting briefer, those pauses in between ‘things’ fading away.
There is little blank space.
And this mental health awareness week, I am once again reminded of the importance and power of leaving some blank space. Because we’re not best served by always ‘doing’.
Including in how we work. One of the things I often talk about in resilience sessions is the importance of having prep and recovery times, gaps in our day to reset and recharge, like a battery pack. Yet so often our schedule blurs into one with little opportunity to take a pause and catch our breath.
This may be something that has been exasperated too by the pandemic. Whilst technology can empower – and indeed it has – it can also create challenges. Do Zoom and Teams make it too easy to fill our diaries up back-to-back? Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
But, it’s not just within our calendar where we have scope to make space. The use of silence within conversations – meetings, 121s, workshops – can be extraordinarily powerful. That’s often where the thinking happens, in the gaps in between. But of course, so often silence can make us feel uncomfortable and we rush to fill it.
And yet, magic can happen in that silence, and in those gaps in our day, if we just let them be. Not only can they be restorative and help us to get some much-needed respite, they can also be places where thoughts and ideas develop and grow, unfettered by clutter and noise. Out of a pause came the bud of an idea for The Engaging People Company, and from nothingness came the writing project that has been the accompaniment to my life in lockdown. I’m not sure they would have happened if I’d worked really hard at coming up with them.
Of course, the temptation to fill the gaps can be overwhelming – we are all so busy, after all. But stopping and embracing those pauses can be hugely beneficial, and significantly so for our wellbeing: letting those spaces be will actually make us feel better, and will allow us to be more effective. Perhaps my daughter said it best when I mused on what task to do next recently when a gap in my day opened up. Her advice? “Rest.”