Am I the only person who feels like I’ve been living at 90-miles-an-hour lately?
Between managing my author business (marketing, social media, etc), social engagements, working on getting approved for foster care, travel, keeping the house tidy, taking on costume commissions, maintaining a veggie/herb garden, trying to write a new book, and all the other little things that are part of daily life (like cooking and laundry), I’ve lately felt like I was being pulled in 3 different directions at any given moment.
Lots of people are talking about the need for “margin” and “self-care” in this busy world, for the sake of sanity. So far, I haven’t actually felt like my sanity was at stake (maybe because I don’t have kids yet, lol), but I have lately realized something else is definitely at stake.
I love being creative, (art, sewing, home decor, crafts, etc) so not having time for that is obviously upsetting. But it’s REALLY bad when you consider the fact that I’m supposed to be a writer. A story writer. It’s not like I’m writing technical manuals here. Or scripts for infomercials. I’m supposed to be crafting novels. And that takes a LOT of creativity.
Which means, if I kill my creativity, I don’t just kill my enjoyment in life, I kill my career.
Since starting work on my second book several months ago, I’ve been puzzled by how difficult it has felt and how slow my progress is, and also, to be honest, why I just haven’t felt very motivated. It’s not writer’s block, exactly. I’m not even trying to write very much, at this point. I’m still in the outlining and research phase. But still, I’ve been struggling desperately to actually DO the stuff, and my mind feels blurry and blank when I try. At first I just thought there was something wrong with the story itself, or the research method, or maybe I just needed a better schedule. But I’ve come to realize that’s not the root of the problem.
It really comes down to this. I desperately need more “white space” in my life.
White space refers to the margins used in formatting and design (like on a book page or website) around an image or text. Spaces that are left completely empty, on purpose, in order to enhance clarity, and give a design room to “breath”.
Anybody else feel like they could use more clarity and room to breathe in your life? Focus, daydreaming, and creativity are things that can easily be lost in a fast-paced world; which is definitely the world we’re living in. So if you’re a creative person (or any person, really), who feels like your focus is being stolen, this post is for you. Some of what I’m about to share are just simple “hacks” that have helped me get a little more mental clarity, but some of it goes a lot deeper, especially at the end. Ready? Here we go:
The things I’ve I’ve discovered that can help increase the white space in my life basically fall into 4 categories:
- Declutter physical/visual space
- Be smarter with scheduling
- Weave peace into the moments
- Don’t forget to ask for help
Let’s look at each one of these in more detail.
1. DECLUTTER YOUR VISUAL/PHYSICAL SPACES
When you’re already frazzled and your schedule is full, it can feel really hard to take time to add another thing (even if it’s a helpful thing). So some of you are thinking “De-clutter? I barely have time to eat and sleep!” I’m not telling you how to run your life, and maybe you DO only have time to work, eat, and sleep. But before you assume that, check your screen time report and see how many minutes you spend on social media or netflix per week. I’m betting that for most of you, if you took even half that time and applied it to de-cluttering, you’d make significant progress in cleaning out your visual and physical spaces, which can translate to more peace in your mental space too.
Here’s what I did to make a big decluttering impact in a comparatively small amount of time:
– Focus on areas you see/use a lot
Yes, the storage closet in the basement may be a disaster area. But if you only open that closet once every 3 months, it’s probably not causing much of your mental clutter. So instead, focus your energy on places that will give you the most bang for your buck. Rooms you spend the most time in. Drawers you open often. Messes that regularly bug you. (By the way, even if you aren’t consciously irritated by clutter, many people are stressed by it on a subconscious level, and will still feel much more at peace in an uncluttered space, even if they claim they don’t “notice” the clutter around them.)
For me, this principle meant I started with open kitchen shelves that had been bothering me for ages, drawers in my desk that stressed me every time I opened them, chaos around my sewing area, and one particular drawer in my dresser that really bugged me. For you, it might be the bathroom counter, or stacks of clutter in your living room. Whatever is causing the most clutter stress, deal with those things first.
– Don’t forget digital spaces
This may or may not apply to you, depending on how much time you spend on digital devices. But because of the amount of time I spend on my computer, I’ve noticed that clutter in my “digital space” can sometimes be just as visually exhausting as physical clutter in my home. So things like organizing my files while, closing tabs and windows, keeping my inbox from getting totally swamped (which includes savagely unsubscribing to everything I possibly can) and even editing the style of my author emails to have fewer images and more white space has been helpful.
– Make it manageable
You don’t have de-clutter every problem area in your house in one long marathon. For several weeks running I’ve just put “do some decluttering” on my daily to-do list, and spent as little as 5-10 minutes working on a drawer or a shelf if that’s all I could manage. It made me feel amazing because I got to check something off my list, and knew I was making progress in cleaning out my environment, even if it was just a small step. We’ll talk about using time-blocks (even little ones) to help with focus more below.
2. BE SMART WITH YOUR SCHEDULE
Some of us have schedules that are busy with things we simply cannot control. I get that. But usually, there are at least some things we can do to make our schedules more manageable, whether it’s adjusting the schedule itself, or simply adjusting your mindset. Here’s three things I’ve found helpful.
– Don’t say “yes” right away
One obvious way to have less stuff on your schedule is saying “no” to more things. But just spouting “no!” every time somebody asks you to go somewhere or do something doesn’t feel very good, and can come off as rude. Thankfully, there’s another tactic you can use instead. Simply delay your response. Say, “Let me check my schedule and get back to you” or “That sounds fun, but let me double-check with my wife/husband.” It isn’t an immediate rejection, but you buy yourself the time/space to think through whether the activity in question is something you really want/need to do now or if it’s going to cause you more stress. (I say “now” because it might be something you technically want to do, like a coffee date with a friend, but which you will actually enjoy more if you delay it a few weeks until your schedule is more open.)
– Use time blocks (for anything and everything)
Most of my mental clutter comes not so much from what I’m currently doing, but from all the stuff I’m simultaneously processing in my brain. Things I’m planning to do, wish I was doing, or think I ought to be working on. This is super unhelpful, because it robs my focus from the task at hand, and makes me feel more stressed.
A little bit further down I’m going to talk about “being in the moment”, but specifically when it comes to my to-do lists, it really helps my mental energy if I can focus on the task I am actually accomplishing, and not all the stuff I’m not. So I like to use chunks of time (I call them “time blocks”) to help my brain know what I’m supposed to be focused on NOW. These time blocks can be as small as 5 minutes or as big as all morning, but basically, I write down “do X for Y amount of time” on my to-do list. And then I do that thing, and try really hard to only think about that thing. If I’ve scheduled 15 minutes to declutter a drawer, I don’t spend it thinking about the seven things I want/need to do later. I just focus on decluttering the drawer.
This helps me in 3 important ways. It makes me less frazzled (because no matter how many things are on the list, I only have to think about one at a time), it makes me feel more successful (because I focus on the thing I’m accomplishing-YAY!- instead of things I’m not), and it makes me way more productive, (because I can get a lot more done in 15 minutes of focus than I can in 30 minutes of half-focus.) It’s a win-win-win situation.
You can use time blocks for anything. Work, play, relaxation, studying, etc. The blocks allow you to tell your frazzled brain “No need to remind me of everything that needs done later. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing now.” If something really important pops into your head, write it down so you’ll remember to deal with it right after this time block is over. But don’t waste energy doing a bunch of mental task-switching or multi-tasking. (unless it’s truly an emergency, obviously).
– Look for ways to simplify
Sometimes we’re frazzled because we’re doing too many unnecessary things, but sometimes we’re doing necessary things, and we’re just doing them in inefficient ways. Making dinner might be necessary, but you can find simple and quick recipes that are just as nutritious (and tasty) as recipes that take 2 hours and 12 pots and pans. Keeping your garden watered is necessary, but you can use mulch and/or drip watering systems to make that less labor intensive. Maintaining friendships is necessary, but saying yes to every invite and social engagement isn’t.
Find simpler ways to do the important things, and let the unimportant things go.
3. WEAVE PEACE INTO THE MOMENTS
Sometimes finding more peace and less frazzle comes down to just doing simple things that take no extra time or money, but make you feel more peaceful in the moment. Here’s a few that I’ve found helpful:
– Peaceful music instead of podcasts (especially while driving)
Much as I love learning new things and making good use of my time, sometimes I’m better served by giving myself peace rather than giving myself more info to process. If I have a drive or a manual task I’m doing, where I might normally listen to a podcast, but I’m feeling frazzled and burned out, I’ll opt for peaceful music instead. This convinces my brain that I am relaxed and resting even if I’m technically accomplishing something with my hands, which makes me feel much less frazzled at the end of the task.
– Neutral Decor
This won’t work for everyone, but I find using more neutral-toned decor helps my eyes rest, which in turn helps my brain rest and feel less “busy”, even if I’m technically still doing all the same activities. I work from home and spend a LOT of time in my house, so choosing decor that makes me feel peaceful when I look at it is super helpful. Depending on your job, you might be able to apply this same idea in your workplace.
– Candles and soft lighting
Just walking into a room and seeing a candle flame makes me automatically feel more relaxed. I don’t know if that applies to everyone but it certainly works for me. As does softer, warmer lighting in the evening. I often use lighting tricks to make me feel more relaxed, even while I am still working on important tasks (for instance, I might light a candle in the kitchen while cooking dinner).
– Turn off notifications
Divided focus always makes me feel more frazzled. And there’s nothing like regular, randomly spaced dings and beeps and banners on my phone or computer to divide my focus. I usually keep my phone on silent, and have turned off almost all notifications. I’m experimenting with checking notifications only at set times and intervals, so that I know I won’t miss anything important, but I’m not constantly barraged with messages or compulsively checking them either. My mind feels so much clearer and focused this way!
– Savor the moment
Sometimes finding mental peace and clarity is simply a matter of savoring the moment. Focusing on the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of what I am currently doing, and leaving the rest of the world to it’s own devices for awhile. This might look like stopping a minute to soak in the sunshine and appreciate the mountain view on my way to the car, focusing all my attention on enjoying the smells and flavors while cooking dinner, or taking a moment to be thankful for the flavor of my tea and the sounds of birds outside the window while I’m doing my scheduled reading for the day. Being truly and completely present, even for a short period of time, instead of racing ahead in my brain to the next thing on my list, can do wonders for changing my perspective and helping me to feel at peace instead of flustered and hurried.
4. DON’T FORGET TO ASK FOR HELP (both human and divine)
Finally, in your search for white space, don’t forget you can always ask for help. Sometimes you really need an outsider’s perspective to sort through the chaos and point out what you could do differently.
For instance, my husband was the one who came up with the idea that I should set aside a weekly “author day”, where I don’t worry about any of my other responsibilities and just focus on being an author like it’s my job (because…um…it kinda is one of my jobs). I’d been struggling to prioritize author work when day-to-day stuff, like making dinner or moving the laundry over or weeding the garden, always seemed more urgent. By opting for one day that I just focus on being an author, I gave myself permission to NOT do all that other stuff for a full day. We eat leftovers for breakfast and lunch, and Hubby makes dinner. So basically, once I finish my morning routine and devotions, the rest of the day is earmarked for ONLY author work. This has helped so much that I have recently upped the anti, and moved author business work (like advertising, website editing, budget managing, newsletter formatting, etc) to a separate day, so that my author day is specifically a writing day. It’s a day for actual writing, brainstorming, outlining, etc, not a day I answer business emails. This shift has been amazing so far!
And of course, the most important place to go for help is the one Person I far too often forget to go to, even though He is the one Person who has perfect knowledge of me and my circumstances.
Crazy as it sounds, our heavenly father actually does care about the details of our lives, including how busy our schedules are. And we CAN go to Him for help when we know we are burning ourselves out. He knows our frame. He knows we can only accomplish so much in a day, and He cares enough about us to want to help us focus on the really important things. I love this quote by Elisabeth Elliot:
I love this quote not only because it is so simple and powerful, but because it is extremely practical. And as I can attest, IT ACTUALLY WORKS. About a month ago, (before I had even read the quote), I came to a point of such frustration with my inability to manage all the things I thought I “had” to do, that I quite literally asked God to step in and fix it. To somehow show me how to eliminate some aspect of my duties so that I wouldn’t feel so utterly overwhelmed.
And guess what? He answered! I won’t go into a ton of details here (I’ll save those for my newsletter). But suffice it to say, within only a few hours God revealed a solution I had never thought of, but which I think is going to make a huge difference in my author business going forward (namely, hiring a virtual assistant to handle a lot of the business and marketing details so I can just focus on writing).
So in your quest for quite space, don’t forget there’s Someone you can always go to with your problems. Sure, sometimes we’re only superficially busy, and in that case we can probably fix it by using a few blog post hacks and taking a break from social media. But sometimes, the problem is much deeper, and it’s not something we can solve alone. That might be because it’s a heart/attitude problem, and we are worn out because we are trying to control things outside our control, or because we think we are more indispensable than we actually are. But it also might be that we have inadvertently taken on more responsibilities than God intended for us to carry. Either way, laying the problem before Him and asking Him to show us the solution isn’t just the “spiritual” thing to do. It’s quite likely the only thing that will actually work!
Remember what Jesus promised:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.Matthew 11:28-30
If your busyness and exhaustion goes soul-deep, then go to the one who offers rest for your soul. You can’t get that by emptying your inbox, but you CAN get it by continually submitting your life and your schedule to Jesus. He never gives us more than we are able to accomplish, as long as we are getting our strength and our marching orders from Him.
Well, that’s all for today. If you’re feeling harried, hurried, and in need of white space, I hope some of these ideas will be helpful to you. Most of all, I hope you’ll remember that there is always time to do the will of God. So seek first the kingdom, and all the rest will be added unto you.
Go find rest for your souls!
How about you? What have you found helps you get the mental clarity and focus you need to be creative? Do you feel like you need more “white space” in your life? Let me know in the comments!