Creating Space

Last week, I was invited to facilitate a session with an HR team. As they planned for 2024, they wanted to brainstorm techniques to improve their effectiveness as a team and in support of the broader organization.

They quickly generated over 30 ideas and then used multi-voting to determine which ones to spend time developing. I was surprised and encouraged to see their top choice was “Create Space.” We had such a rich discussion on strategies for creating space that I committed to devoting my next blog post to the topic.

Before we dig into how to create more space, let’s explore why it’s so important.

Slow Down to Speed Up

When we grouped ideas, one of the contributing ideas to the “Create Space” category was “Slow Down to Speed Up.” I’m sure you’ve heard this saying before. But have you ever embraced it?

My lived experience for most of my career was constantly doing. I was reorganizing meetings on my calendar to fit another one in. Mastering email and task management so I could be as efficient as possible. Embracing quotes like Mario Andretti’s “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”

I know I’m not alone. Many of my clients have a similar existence, and I imagine most of you reading this understand and appreciate this way of showing up in the world. In America, this mindset is ingrained at an early age. The benefit of this perspective is you can get a lot done. The risk is that you don’t take the time to think about whether the things you are getting done are the right things to focus on.

I know when I’m in this mode, I’m relying too heavily on the left hemisphere of my brain. The area that can focus on a task and filter out the background noise. The rational, systematic, logical area of my brain. I am looking at the individual trees.

Ideally, I have a healthy integration of both hemispheres of the brain. This means consciously slowing down, pausing, and shifting my perspective. I need to get up in the balcony and see the forest. I need to connect with my values and test whether I’m working on the most important things.

Painting a mural is my favorite metaphor to help me shift effortlessly between the two hemispheres. The painter is constantly shifting perspective. First, they are right up against the wall, painting the detail in a particular spot of the mural. This is left-hemisphere thinking, focusing on a part. Then, they step back from the wall and take in the entire mural to see how it is developing. This is right-hemisphere thinking. Taking in the big picture. Then, back up to the wall to do some more painting.

If you were to start at one corner of the wall and complete the entire mural without ever stepping back to look at how it’s unfolding, you are not likely to be happy with the result. Yet that’s how we often approach our work. We are so focused on completing all the tasks in front of us we keep painting without ever stepping back to see what our painting looks like.

Deep Thinking

When we take the time to create space for ourselves, we open up the space for deep thinking. We create an opportunity for critical thinking to occur. We allow our brain (and body) to make connections and identify new possibilities. This is when we are our most creative selves. If we don’t have a way to create space, we don’t have a forum for deep thinking. We are not tapping into our most uniquely human gifts.

I see this in coaching conversations all the time. I expect part of it is how I show up as a coach. I like to create a calm, open space and have grown increasingly comfortable with silence. I have some coaching conversations where I say very little, recognizing that the greatest gift I’m giving this coachee at the moment is a space that supports their own deep thinking. Theoretically, they could create this space without me. In practice, that coaching session is sometimes the only point in the week where they allow themselves the luxury.

This is where the magic happens. You shift your perspective when you successfully create space that allows for deep thinking and reflection. New solutions arise you hadn’t thought of. You connect the dots in an area of your life that brings clarity about the next action to take. You begin to gain insight into the things in life that are the most meaningful to you.

So, how do we create more space?

Creating Space

Creating space begins with the belief that doing so will be worthwhile. If you are not convinced you’ll get value from taking the time to step back and reflect, then you won’t prioritize it. If you could experience my lived experience, you’d know in your bones this is worth doing. Every time I allow myself the opportunity to step back and reflect, I am rewarded. So much so that next month, I will try my first two-day silent retreat, literally going off the grid alone to see what emerges.

Once you’ve committed to the practice, you want to find the right time to support this. In the team facilitation, one person recognized their daily lunchtime walks with their dog created space. Another leader noted she can do this most successfully in the evenings, once the quiet of the workday has settled down. I’ve come to cherish my morning runs and morning meditations as two very different ways I create space for myself.

You want to find the time of day when your energy will be suitable for deep thinking. For some, this could be early in the morning before the workday begins. For others, it’s the evening or the weekend. If you aren’t sure what time is right, keep a simple log for a week. Make a note of when you feel energized and when you feel drained.

Once you’ve found the right time of day, reboot your calendar. Figure out how to shift your schedule to support one or two dedicated blocks of time for deep thinking every week.

When you enter this reflective space, treat it as sacred. You need to shut down every possible distraction, including your phone and computer. If possible, change your physical environment. Get away from your desk. Go for a walk. Use a physical notebook to capture your thoughts.

Practice Teliodosis

It can be challenging for me to slow down like this. I’m a doer. Even if I’ve created the space and set myself up for success by eliminating distractions, I sometimes find myself hampered by entering into the reflective space with a detailed agenda for using that time. When this happens, I’m at the wall painting a detail when I want to be up in the balcony across the street, taking in the whole picture.

My best strategy to offset this is to practice teliodosis. I seek to integrate doing and being. For me, this often means permitting myself to just be for an extended period.

I awoke Saturday morning expecting to knock out this blog post and get in a longer run, but the energy wasn’t right. Instead, I had an extended meditation and let my morning unfold without any formal agenda. A little voice inside my head kept asking why we weren’t getting things done, but I asked it to step aside. When my wife came downstairs, she was surprised to see me at home. I’m out on my long run every Saturday when she wakes up. This created a “It doesn’t feel like Saturday” effect for both of us and also created a peaceful space. She remarked how nice it was to have me home on a Saturday morning.

So perhaps I should make that space a little more sacred.

Putting It Into Practice

Creating space for deep thinking and reflection is invaluable.

  • Tap into why creating space is valuable for you so you can connect with the commitment.
  • Identify the time of day and week where your energy is best for reflection.
  • Identify the activities that best support your reflection.
  • Create sacred times in your routine for reflection.
  • Practice teliodosis – balance your love of doing with a healthy dose of allowing yourself to just be.

I am an Executive Coach and Life Coach with software executive roots in Higher Ed and EdTech. I coach because I love to help others accelerate their growth as leaders and humans. I frequently write about #management, #leadership, #coaching, #neuroscience, and #arete.

If you would like to learn more, schedule time with me.

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