Pat Henneberry is vice president of global learning and development at Hearts On Fire. She also is founder of The Jewelry Coach, a sales training community for jewelers. Reach her at pat@thejewelrycoach.com.

What the heck is white space? In computer programming, it is any character or series of characters that represent horizontal or vertical space in typography.

But that’s not the white space I am talking about here.

Recently, at Hearts On Fire University, we had a couple keynote speakers talking about creating more white space in your lives--basically, more time that is not filled with stuff to do (I am keeping it real here, folks.)

Our lives are filled with so much noise that we can’t hear it all. This isn’t anything new, but I believe it’s gotten worse.

How do you choose to spend your time? If you’re like most people, you spend your time in meetings or at the computer sifting through the hundreds of emails about the next fad diet (my algorithms) or other seemingly useless email chains that soak up even more precious time, not to mention social media. The human brain, like every other muscle in the human body, needs time to recharge and if you keep plugging away at the keyboard all day or attending back-to-back meetings, your brain doesn’t get the rest it needs and soon runs dry, or empty.

White space is how learning to nurture the downtime and not fill up every moment with a to-do list. By creating white space, it will help you lead happier, healthier life.

At first glance this seems to make sense, and I love the idea. Taking time to slow down and just be seems like a beautiful thing to do and something all of us probably need in our lives.

I will come clean right now, though, and tell you I tried it and I failed. On a recent weekend I decided to have more white space and less plans. So I didn’t plan anything for my Saturday. I failed because I immediately started cleaning a closet and the list of things filled my day--Goodwill bags, redesign closet, paint … the list went on.

Here’s the difference in the type of white space you create: When I create white space for friends and family and less of the “busy,” I feel successful--when I jump on my bike and ride to my nephew’s soccer game, Facetime my nephews in Kansas, or jump on a group text with my sisters and mom. In making space that I don’t always create, I feel that I am successful in creating white space.

Recently, I had one-on-one time with a dear friend of more than 30 years, Zoe King. It was the first time we’ve had together in years where we stopped our lives and just planned time to visit (we live in the same city.) We spent four hours catching up with no interruptions. We didn’t look at our phones except to take a photo. We both walked away saying we needed to create that time and we need to do it again soon. That was successful white space. You must create it for it to happen.

In an effort to help us all simplify our lives and make room for white space, I put together a list of things that have helped me move more in that direction. It is a process that won’t happen overnight (not for me at least), but something worth striving for.

I hope these tips can help you make more breathing room in your schedule too.

Schedule it. I wish I could tell you to dedicate a block of time every day where you focus on white space, but during this time of year you would say “Pat, you’re crazy, don’t you dare tell my sales team to do that!” LOL. Let’s just say we do block out a little time every day. Doing so allows you to set the conditions for imagination to occur, or to do whatever else is important to you such as exercise, meet with employees or put out the office fires that (always) arise unexpectedly. If Leonardo da Vinci had locked himself in his office all day and stared at the computer screen, how many new ideas do you think he would’ve generated?

Just say “no.” All too often, it’s easy to say “yes” because we, as humans, have a natural desire for acceptance and saying “no” is the antithesis of approval. If you are making work decisions that people two levels down from you can make, then you’re not doing your job, you’re doing theirs. Learning to say no to some things has opened so much space in my life for things that are better for me in the long run.

Be more productive and less busy. I am sure you have heard this saying before, but being busy doesn’t mean that you are being productive. Here is the perfect example for you: When I used to say “yes” to everything, my plate was quickly full of random projects, activities and meetings, some that I enjoyed and others that I dreaded. Needless to say, I was always busy but that “busy” was not always things that were important. I felt like I was doing a lot but not getting a lot done. That’s exactly what happens to a lot of us and it’s how we end up just being busy with meetings that are getting us nowhere instead of being productive by doing fewer meetings.

Schedule time for something you enjoy. Do something that you enjoy regularly by putting it in your schedule. If you schedule time specifically for that activity, you will feel less guilty about doing it. This goes back to making room for white space. By intentionally planning to have breathing room in your schedule, it will become a natural part of your life and eventually be something that you automatically do.  

Simplify your life. Less really is more sometimes, especially when it comes to your life. By simplifying your life, you end up with less to do, less to manage and take care of, and more time for things that bring you joy, or more white space, literally and figuratively. I am all about simplified living because I know that it helps us focus on what is important. Over the last several years, I have worked hard to keep my life simple and it truly makes a difference in my overall mood and happiness.

When you look up the meaning of white space, you get a ton of different definitions and it can be confusing. Let’s keep it real and simple. This is what I would do. Look at your personal white space and your professional white space and determine, where is it? I look to see if I have any and then ask myself, can I create more?

I suggest you sit down with your teams at your stores and literally ask these questions. Help your teams create white space around their days and you might just find them being more creative. Google did it and they came up with Gmail!

Pat Henneberry is vice president of global learning and development at Hearts On Fire. She also is founder of The Jewelry Coach, a sales training community for jewelers. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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