I love solitude. I look forward to time alone with a cup of coffee and a comfortable chair — it is a life-giving and energy-restoring discipline for me. Ten to 20 minutes alone fuels me up for hours of productivity.
But until recently, I did not know there was a term for what I was experiencing. While listening to a short series of video lessons from author and psychologist Henry Cloud, I learned more about the value of time alone.
Cloud’s guest was Juliet Funt, who refers to this time as WhiteSpace — “a strategic pause between activities.” She goes on to say that this time spent thinking contributes to the mental health, productivity and overall wellness of a leader.
In this interview, however, Funt reveals there are WhiteSpace thieves that rob us of this healthy time alone. These thieves, while not necessarily bad in and of themselves, may keep us running at a frantic pace and distract us from important time for thinking and reflection.
Here is a summary of Funt’s list:
1. Drive: I am the type of person who has a new idea for ministry every 15 minutes and never had an idea that I didn’t like. Author Carey Nieuwhof has said, tongue in cheek, that even his ideas have ideas. I can relate to that sentiment. Each leader has a limited capacity. Before we can take on new things, we may have to let go of old things — which means we must be wise about the new things we take on. While drive can be helpful, it can also keep us so busy that we do not have time to think and reflect on where we are going.
2. Excellence: Those individuals who strive for excellence may rewrite an email five to seven times before hitting send. These are the people who want to do all things at the highest level and with excellence. The rest of us are grateful for their skill and proficiency. At some point, however, their desire for excellence can become a time waster. Those who strive for excellence will need to ask when is good enough, good enough?
3. Activity: Many leaders do not need to have their hand in everything, but they do like to know what is going on. This otherwise healthy tendency can potentially draw them into meetings and giving input where their presence or input is not really needed. They must continually ask what part of their team’s work needs their attention and which parts can be handled by others.
4. Information: We live in a day where there is a plethora of information about every subject. If you would like to learn more about long range planning, for instance, you could read books, articles, take classes, attend seminars, engage a coach and so forth. While information is helpful, the pursuit of more and more of it can use up valuable time. At some point a leader must decide that he or she has enough information to move forward on the subject at hand.
Our days are filled with more activity and potential opportunity than we can adequately fulfill. Ephesians 2:10 tells us we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
While it is helpful to remember that we all have important work that God has given us to do, we each have limits as to how much we can accomplish.
Which of these four WhiteSpace thieves keeps you from enjoying time for helpful, reflective — or even critical — thinking? What will you do this week to ensure you have some time alone to think about and reflect on your work, family or ministry?