Uncertainty, space and hamster wheels

Why making space is important.

We can’t be certain about the future, whether we’re thinking about future years, for example the future of our planet, or future days, for example, how tomorrow will pan out. There is always an element of uncertainty.

Sure, you can mitigate against uncertainty to some extent, but even if you decide that you’re going to stay at home and sit on the sofa all day, events in the world will play out that you have no control over.

Think about a typical workday. You might be at home, in the office, in a coffee shop or travelling. Most of us work with others in some capacity. We work with colleagues, clients, customers, volunteers and supporters. And people are unpredictable. The people you work with are also grappling with uncertainty. It only takes some leaves on the trainline, cows crossing the road (I live in Devon this happens), illness for them or others, adverse weather conditions (the list goes on) to upend the best laid plans.

The other week I needed to ‘pop’ to the supermarket in the car. I had about 90 minutes before I needed to be back online at my desk. There had been an incident on one of the main roads which meant everything in about a 5-mile radius was gridlocked. Nothing moved. I sat in traffic for about half an hour before doing a 3-point turn on a fairly major gridlocked road and sitting in traffic in the other direction to get home in time to facilitate an online workshop. I had to eat some weird random combination of food and ‘pop’ to the supermarket another day. No big deal really. Popping to the supermarket took over an hour and I came home empty handed. I still had 30 minutes in hand, but it impacted my day (because I was hangry) and the following day because I needed to make the time to go when my schedule was already at capacity.

My learning…

When we don’t have enough space in our days, when the inevitable curveball lands it can have a big impact. And is it just me or does everything take longer than you think anyway?

Many of my clients compare themselves to hamsters on a wheel frantically running to stay still with no time to think or plan. When a curveball hits the hamster wheel it is stressful, we run faster to compensate which is exhausting and unsustainable and sometimes we fall off the wheel or the wheel falls over.

Plan time and space in your day

I help clients to make space and think straight in order that they can make more impact in their roles. Making space is easier said than done and requires some reframing.

Space in your day is not ‘time doing nothing.’ Space in your day is time to refuel, time to think, it’s contingency and allows flexibility, so when the curveballs come, they have less impact. When your diary is booked back-to-back in meetings, when you’re accruing more actions with pressured deadlines that you have no time to deliver on because you’re in meetings you have no contingency. It can be stressful and the stress can have an impact on our ability to focus and our fundamental wellbeing.

You wouldn’t aim to catch a flight and aim to arrive just in time as the cabin doors are closing (well, you might but here’s where we’re not going to agree and we could never fly anywhere together). You arrive with space for bad traffic, cancelled trains, so you can catch the flight with time to spare and not have a nervous breakdown in the process.

To manage your wellbeing, productivity and resilience, I’m encouraging you and giving you permission to give yourself some more space in your day. Here’s some ideas about how.

  • Reframe space in your day as an important part of doing your best work, (it’s not spare time) perhaps it’s your fuel, perhaps it’s contingency, maybe it’s radical self-care. Consider the reframe that helps you to make that space and stick to it.
  • Don’t book meetings back-to-back. Allow 5 minutes (preferably more) to gather your thoughts from the last one, get into mindset for the next one. Go to the toilet, get a drink without rushing.
  • Block an hour for lunch (I know!) and if you end up with 45 or 30 minutes because something ran over/took longer that’s OK because you have space.
  • Break the curse of busy – what you tell yourself has a big impact on how you feel. Change your inner narrative and stop telling yourself and others that you’re ‘really busy.’ Check out my blog for more on beating the curse of busy.
  • Be prepared to say ‘no’ sometimes in order to prioritise space in your diary.
  • Block some thinking/space time each day, even just 10 mins. Reframe it as fuel, contingency time, planning time – whatever reframe works best for you. But you must make the time.

I know it’s not easy. Just start with one small thing. Curveballs will come and if you don’t have some space your hamster wheel is very likely to spin out of control. And no one wants that.

Does this resonate? Do you have other tactics that help you build space into your day? Please share in the comments.

If you’d like some specific help with reframing and beating the curse of busy then drop me a line to lucy@lucidity.org.uk or book a time to talk here. 

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