"The first step in any creation process is to clear a space."
— Rev. Rick Hoyt
Issue 7 : Personal whitespace
I'm about to go "off the grid" for about a month to take my annual summer holiday abroad. I'm visiting one of my favorite cities in the world — Stockholm — and will be out of commission while traveling.
When I tell people I take a month for vacation every summer they look at me with envy and tell me how "lucky" I am. Lucky? Not so much. I've learned that taking time off to reflect, relax and go away is an essential part of the success of my business. Since I place high value on my health and sanity, I design my business in a way that allows proper whitespace.
This issue is dedicated to whitespace. Not the whitespace you would find on a printed page or a website, but the whitespace we need in our life. Owning a business can easily lead to stress and burnout. Unless we consciously create whitespace in our lives, our business is going to be as stressed as we are.
In America, we live in a culture that values money more than time. We will fight more for getting a raise in our income and less for getting more time off. The irony is that even when we make more money, we still don't take time off and we become slaves to our business.
I've always thought that a two-week vacation in one year sounds absurd. It sometimes takes me that much time just to recalibrate and get into a relaxed vacation mode. My personal goal is to live like my friends in Sweden and take 8 weeks of holiday a year. I'm slowly getting there…
It was the beginning of the year 2000 and I was returning to work from a much needed two week holiday break when I sat my staff down and made an announcement that shocked them all: "Starting today I'll be taking off every Friday."
My team looked at each other with doubtful expressions on their faces, turned back to me and said, "Yeah, right!"
Until that moment, my staff was used to seeing me at work all the time without taking much time off. I was at the office every day, coming in early, leaving late, working weekends and not really having a life outside the studio. These were the early days of my business when I was convinced that I needed to be there all the time for the business to run smoothly. I worked crazy hours, hardly took any time off for myself and constantly felt on the edge of burn out.
But during that vacation in 2000 I realized that this pattern wasn't healthy. After all, one of the reasons I went into business for myself was to have a better quality of life and make my own rules. Yet, I found myself working in my business as if it was a stressful job under a slave-driving boss.
Every designer knows and values the power of whitespace. Whitespace is the empty space between and around the elements on a page layout. It's the space with nothing in it. Although whitespace is made of nothing, it shouldn't be treated as worthless. Whitespace increases focus, brings more clarity and helps the important ideas on the page stand out.
Taking Fridays off was my first step into bringing more whitespace into my life. One extra day off helped me feel less overwhelmed and brought more focus and clarity to the rest of my week. And, I didn't stop there. In addition to taking Fridays off for myself, I decided to close the whole shop on Fridays at 2pm so the rest of the team could have some extra time for themselves (you can imagine how happy everyone was with this news!).
The time away from my business gave me better perspective. It helped me see things from afar and created space for me to CREATE more. I would spend these Fridays growing ME and in turn, my business grew right along side.
Creating whitespace wasn't easy. I needed to get over some major fears. Fear of losing business, upsetting clients, missing deadlines. But the business didn't suffer. The agency got better because I got healthier. The team became more efficient, productive and responsive and our clients started telling us how much they admired and respected the way we work.
You are the owner of your business. You’re the top decision-maker. So, stop working like an employee. You have the right—and permission—to take more time off to relax and grow. A healthy business cannot exist and succeed with an unhealthy, tired and anxious business owner. It's only when you create whitespace in your life that you'll have the space to reflect, grow and get clarity.
People don't burn out. Machines burn out. It’s only when we treat ourselves as machines by overworking, eating poorly and not getting enough rest that we feel burn out. It’s time we stopped treating ourselves and our businesses with machine-like attitude. We are creative, energy-driven people who need time out to restore balance into our lives.
After I learned the value of my Friday time off I looked for ways to create more whitespace in my life. I soon upgraded my vacation time to 6 weeks a year. Later this year I'm planning a three month sabbatical where I will open up even more space for new things to emerge (more on that later).
If you're thinking of adding more whitespace into your life here are a few tips on how to get started:
1. Make the decision. Move from wishing for time off to making a decision about it. Your commitment to yourself is the most important part of making this work. Most people talk about what they want but never take action. Once you make a decision and stay committed to that decision, everything around that decision will work to support you.
2. Let people know. Once you speak your commitment to your employees, clients and vendors, your spoken words will help you stay in that commitment. By speaking your decision to others, you help them support you in your being away and create new boundaries in ways to work with you.
3. Calendar it. My rule of thumb for creating anything is — if it is in the calendar — it happens. Life happens so fast these days that unless time out is scheduled it generally never happens. It's much too easy to get sucked back into the day-to-day, fast-paced nature of running a business. So treat yourself as the most important person to have dates with and calendar time off as an appointment with yourself
4. Work smarter. If it feels like you are working too hard chances are you are not working smart. Your time in your business is the most valuable billable time. If you're spending time on things that could be delegated but are afraid to let go of, just think how much those tasks are really costing you. Figure out which are the valuable activities that only you can do in your business and focus on doing just those.
5. Be unreachable. The best way to empower your team is to give them a way to become leaders in your business. That will never happen if you babysit their every move. When you take time off, truly disconnect. Let your team figure things out. If you have done a good job in hiring the right people you should not have much to worry about. Sure, they may screw up on a thing or two but that is a small price to pay for your well-being.
6. Give notice. When you plan your next vacation let your clients and team members know at least one month in advance. You may find it surprising, even magical, as suddenly more business comes in and your clients get more organized in their work with you. Scarcity creates desire and desire leads to action. Your clients who value you and who know you will not be around will get motivated to move quickly on their projects while you’re available.
Creating consistent whitespace takes work and commitment. But if you give yourself permission to relax you will find that you can create a lot out of nothing.
Colorado Springs designers launch wildfiretees.com,
a T-shirt project to raise money for wildfire relief
For much of my design-related career, I spent years working with non-profits and cause-related organizations. In 2008, I even wrote the book Designing for the Greater Good. So, when I come across a powerful campaign that celebrates design and helping others I know I have to let you know about it.
If you've been watching the news, you know about the devastating Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs. The fire covered 18,247 acres and destroyed 346 homes. At its peak, an estimated 32,000 people were evacuated.
A group of Colorado Springs designers (including my friends over at Design Rangers) are putting their design talent and creativity to good use by selling a line of beautiful custom designed Wild Fire Tees — meant to raise money to support the people victimized and displaced by the fires raging across Colorado. 100% of the proceeds go to the Colorado wildfire relief efforts across the state.
The idea is simple: buy a shirt, give money to the relief effort, show your support for the Colorado Springs communities and the enduring spirit of Colorado residents currently living through fire.
So far, wildfiretees.com has raised over $300,000 worth of smokin’ hot T-shirts in less than a week to benefit the statewide fire relief efforts.
Wild Fire Tees is also looking for designers and artists who are willing to donate t-shirt designs for the website. Contributors are encouraged to send their work to firstname.lastname@example.org. Criteria is posted on the site.
All shirts are $20. A fashionable, worthwhile purchase!
Got a creative project that supports the greater good? Click here and submit your project to be showcased in a future Pomegranate issue.