It’s not enough to “want” more space in your life. You have to create it.
And there are surprisingly simple ways you can start to create space today, even if you are ridiculously busy.
Ask Simone, a smart, 35-year-old project manager at a big firm, and by her own admission, a workaholic.
“I felt like work had become my whole identity. All I did was work, talk about work, socialise with people from work, think about work. Somehow I got addicted to it all. The first thing I did when I woke up in the morning was check emails on my phone!”
Her voice trailed off and she looked sheepish.
“I think a lot of people do that. You’re certainly not the only one,” I reassured her.
Simone looked down at her hands and then off to the distance out of the cafe window.
“I wonder how many of them checked their emails in the middle of the night, or while they were on a first date, or visiting their parents for the first time in months.”
She shook her head slightly and looked back at me. She took a big breath in and flashed a tense smile.
I felt her discomfort.
It seemed like the weight of expectations about who she was and who she was supposed to be had just landed on top of her and she didn’t have enough energy to lift them. I knew the feeling.
I listened as she talked and Simone told me more and more about what had driven her to make changes and how painful some of those changes were.
“I was so busy, my diary was packed with meetings, my to-do list was massive and I felt like I was a corporate gladiator hero because I was juggling so much.
It gave me some kind of perverse satisfaction that it was so hard and I was doing it. Looking back now I see what I was doing was fighting fires, operating on autopilot and just pushing through.
The irony is, it wasn’t a full life, it was a filled life.”
Simone went on to talk about how challenging she found it to bring some space back in her life.
When you’re busy and your days are packed, the idea of creating space can seem absurd and impossible.
The trick is to start small and create a habit.
Simone started by restricting how often she looked at her phone at home and remembered feeling like an addict.
“I committed to waiting until after breakfast to check my messages. You should have seen how fast I ate my toast the first morning!” Her face brightened as she laughed at herself. It was good to see.
A few months on, and Simone was finding it a lot easier to incorporate space in her days.
“I approach it the same way I approach other challenges I want to achieve. I’m disciplined about it, and I carve out the time and prioritise it. It feels a lot more like second nature now and has definitely impacted my leadership and my wellbeing positively.”
It takes a lot of courage and practice to change your busy habits, but the results can be transformational.
Over time, increased mental and emotional space in your life will help you with decision-making, relationships, and your performance at work.
As Simone gradually weaned herself off her self-confessed phone addiction, she noticed how uncomfortable she felt with the space that became available when she wasn’t checking her phone all the time.
At first she felt some fear and anxiety that she wasn’t keeping up with things, then she felt guilty that she wasn’t “always on” like other people in the office. With time, her feelings changed to relief.
“I’m relieved that I’m not identifying with my busy-ness in that way I was before. And also that I feel less stressed, definitely.
Checking my emails less has actually made me more efficient and saved me a lot of time.
I’ve also noticed that because people don’t expect an immediate response from me, they’re a lot more considered in the emails they send me. For example, they’ll send me one email with all their information or questions, instead of 5! And because they’re not shooting off emails to me as soon as anything pops into their head, I feel like my time is being respected a lot more than it used to.
I had to manage expectations early on, but in reality, there has been little downside to me changing the way I work. Mostly upside.”
Simone finished her coffee and smiled broadly.
We chatted about her personal life and how things were going. She seemed happy.
As we said goodbye, I tried to put my finger on what looked different about Simone from 6 months ago when we first met.
As she navigated her way out of the busy coffee shop without her phone pressed up against to her ear, I realised what it was.
She looked lighter.