Life's missing white space
‘Space is the breath of art.' ~Frank Lloyd Wright
I'm not a designer, but I've always been in love with the design concept of white space.
It's the space in a design that isn't filled with things — as you can tell from the design of Zen Habits and my other blog, mnmlist, it's something I use (perhaps too) liberally.
But white space can be used in the design of our lives as well, not just the design of magazines and websites and ads. By using white space in our lives, we create space, balance, emphasis on what's important, and a feeling of peace that we cannot achieve with a more cramped life.
Let's look briefly at how to do this.
The principles of white space
Some of the things white space accomplishes in design:
- greater legibility
- feeling of luxury
- breathing room & balance
- more emphasis
These same concepts can translate to our lives:
- Clarity. Instead of legibility, white space can give clarity to the things in our lives — whether they're possessions, projects, tasks, or just things that occupy our time and attention. A nice piece of furniture is more beautiful when it's not surrounded by clutter. A well-prepared piece of food is more tasty when it's not smothered in sauces and piled with fries and cheese. A presentation is more effective when we don't use Powerpoint and have only a few points to make.
- Peace. When our lives are cramped, and our homes and workspaces are cluttered, we feel stressed. When we have fewer things on our schedule and fewer things around us, we feel peaceful.
- Breathing room & balance. Many people talk about finding "work-life balance", but this is very hard to do if you have no white space. Leave space between things to find the breathing room you need, and to easier achieve balance.
- Emphasis on the important. When our days are non-stop busy, everything is important and nothing is important. But put white space between things, and those things acquire more weight, and we place more importance on each individual thing.
Achieving white space
In theory, achieving white space isn't difficult: you remove non-essential items from your life, your workday, your surroundings, your possessions, and leave the essential items with space around them.
But of course in practice it's a bit different, and requires experimentation, learning, practice. I'd suggest starting small, with one area of your life, and making small bits of white space. Start by identifying what's important, and the slowly removing the non-essential things to create the white space.
- Breathe. Simply take a couple minutes between tasks, meetings, anything that you do, to breathe. After a meeting, for example, return to your desk and just sit still for a couple minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out. When you get home, pause and breathe. When you're done with a task on the computer, close everything and breathe, before starting on the next task. This creates space between tasks and allows you to focus on each one.
- Schedule. Don't overschedule. Leave space on your schedule, between tasks, instead of putting things back-to-back. The space gives you time to go between tasks, to recover, to refocus, to breathe.
- Projects. Do fewer projects at a time. Instead of juggling a bunch of projects at once, try to do one for as long as you can before switching to the next (sometimes you need to switch because you're waiting on information or on someone else to do something). If you can, take a short break between each project — as long as you can afford.
- Sit. Start your day with the white space of just sitting still for 10 minutes. It can be a meditation session, or simply sitting still with a cup of coffee or tea. If you like this, try putting it in the middle and end of your day as well.
- Remove clutter. Pick a few important things on your desk, or in your home, and remove the rest. This will give you visual space and create a more peaceful atmosphere.
- Savor. Slow down and savor everything you eat, everything you do. Breathe before you take each bite, and enjoy each bite.
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Read more about simplicity in Leo's books, The Zen Habits Handbook for Life & The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life. More here.