Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

The Power of Space (or, Time to Stop Playing Whac-a-Mole)

Posted by debrahelwig on July 28, 2009

Wack a Mole photoThis 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 30th 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 blogged in 10 days and what about the Web site project and…

I was too overwhelmed to even consider time away.

I’m not unusual, either. Professional services folks everywhere are overburdened. A survey this summer by the Institute of Management Accountants found that “When asked what they need most to be effective leaders, most accountants [29%] said more time.”

I feel your pain. But here’s a truth for you: busy-ness begets busy-ness. And not all busy-ness is good.

Today, it’s easy for professional services work to become what I call a Cosmic Game of Whac-a-Mole. Remember the 1980s 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 got. 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? Take one client file 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… survey responses aside, you don’t 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 PC, and stuffed me in the car. And guess what? I came back energized – with thoughts about how to handle a crisis at the office, blog post ideas, and plans to kill 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 like I had, 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”. Shut your door, or if you’re in a cubicle, find a private space. Turn off the PC, the iPhone, the BlackBerry, the 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 are they important? Do I really need to be doing all of them, 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 are the top three things I want to accomplish today? This week? This month?
• 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 reduce the meeting time? If I am meeting too much, is it my colleagues or is it me? And 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 day can be transformative all on its own.

If you stop playing Whac-a-Mole – if you give yourself permission not to be busy every moment of the day – you’ll get more done. And you’ll be a lot saner, more effective, and just plain happier in the process.

Where can you create some space in your day?

Photo by jrubinic (license).

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5 Responses to “The Power of Space (or, Time to Stop Playing Whac-a-Mole)”

  1. All I can say is THANK YOU. I really needed this. You are so right.

    Oh, and I’m really glad M made you go!!! You needed it. :)

  2. Stephanie said

    This is a brilliant post, Debra! And something I really needed to hear.

    This reminds me of Dave Navarro’s message about the cult of productivity. I’m also reading a book right now by Richard Swenson titled “Margin: restoring emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves to overloaded lives.” How easy it is to forget that we need to nurture ourselves. How easy it is to feel guilty when we take time we need to recharge ourselves for ourselves, our jobs and our families.

    Thanks for this!

    Stephanie

  3. Fabulous post! The message is timeless and so necessary. I straddle the electronic world and the paper & pencil world. I cherish my I-phone and often use it to multi-task while I am running other programs/projects on my PC. I also have a big, honkin’ Planner Pad (remember those?) that I write everything down in. I love the tactile sensation of pencil on paper. Every weekend (should be every Friday but hey), I sit down and plan out my next week – business, personal, spiritual – as well as longer term goals. Just this quiet time with me and my pencil helps tremendously.

    We too often get caught up in busy. You are so right. Simple is better.

    “Busy-ness begets busy-ness – Space begets sanity” will be my new mantra!

  4. Debra,
    Great article and one I needed to read.
    Love the line about how quiet time creates sanity.

  5. [...] The Power of Space (or, Time to Stop Playing Whac-a-Mole) [...]

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