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Four Ways To Create Space In Your Life

Jun 4, 2008
When Donna came on the phone for her coaching call she was clearly overwhelmed. Her day had been the usual run of meeting after meeting with no time to do the tasks she had set herself for the day. In addition, she had just learned that one of her staff had had a grievance taken against her by a staff member in another department. Her husband was unhappy because Donna was increasingly spending more time at work . . . and so it went on. She was very certain that she needed help with time management.

The idea of time management gets so much attention it is no wonder that many of our clients come to us with similar situations as Donna. They believe that if they had better time management strategies, life would suddenly become much easier. People tend to think that time management is the answer. They are therefore very often surprised to learn that as coaches we do not 'do' time management. We can however offer space management!

Well, what is the difference? It is our view that time management offers strategies that are external to the person concerned. Focusing on managing time is like frosting on the cake and can disguise what is really going on and how the person is viewing her/his life. Better time management serves only to maintain the status quo. To make a real difference with the time available to her Donna needed to take a deeper look at her beliefs and expectations. These beliefs may be outdated ones that were no longer serving her and once she opened herself to more possibilities she could let go of rigid expectations.

Let's look again at Donna. What was she truly looking for? Where was she making choices about her life . .. and where was she selling out on herself? Was she in the 'must do' or 'should do' domain?

CREATE SPACE BY MAKING CHOICES

It is very easy for us to get hooked into patterns we think are essential. In the corporate world we often see people filling their schedule with meeting after meeting due to a sense of obligation. As coaches, it is our job to draw out the wisdom and inner knowing of the client. Asking a client to take a close look and honestly admit whether or not 'all' the meetings are absolutely necessary can result in a surprise for the client. In most cases, the client realises that it is not crucial to attend every meeting. We may then challenge the client to delete 50% of the meetings appearing in the next week's schedule. This can seem like a tall order . . . and it is. Yet the world will not fall apart if that client declines and sends her or his apologies to some of the meetings.

We call this getting into the driver's seat of your life. Wisdom, intuition and experience can tell you what choices to make if you care to listen. Most times it is our ego or fear that gets in the way of making choices that create meaningful space in our lives. Many times we do not even realise we have choices.

Was Donna unwittingly colluding with co-workers to prove that she does the most work by being one of the last to leave? Did Donna want to leave work earlier to spend more time with her husband but didn't because she believed she couldn't? Was staying late her choice because it honoured her values or was she scared of the consequences if she didn't? Were the consequences based on old beliefs instead of reality? The light bulb went on when Donna realised that she had got into the habit of filling her diary with meetings and staying late because that was the way things appeared to be done in her organisation. Choosing to change this habit took a lot of courage on her part.

LOOK TO THE SPACE

Overwhelm usually arises when we are thinking about too many things, past or future, and are not focusing on the present. There is no overwhelm in the present moment. It was evident that Donna felt overwhelmed; it showed in the way she spewed everything out and the speed at which she talked. It is good to be able to vent one's feelings and perspective on the situation, and it's even better if it leads to the realisation that there is a lack of balance in one aspect or another of one's life.

It is worth remembering that body, mind and spirit are intrinsically linked. When in alignment, our lives flow. When our minds are cluttered with minutiae and trivia we very often cannot see the proverbial 'wood for the trees'. Our minds are not in alignment with our body and spirit.

Donna was given a great exercise to try out and learn to listen to her body's wisdom. She was to walk in a busy place such as a shopping mall, a crowded tourist area or just her local high street on market day. Her task was to walk intentionally looking for the space and moving forward with flow. She was amazed just how easily space appears without force or deviation. Even more amazing to her was how her mind was able to drop the clutter making the path she needed to follow clear to her.

The key with this exercise is to hold the wisdom that our body has shown us and act upon it. The old pattern will soon want to jump in so it's a prime opportunity to start developing our space management skills.

CREATE INTENTIONAL SPACE

Working with many managers over the years we've noticed that often they regard some aspects of their role as intrusions. What we believe 'should' or 'shouldn't' be a part of our life influences how we deal with it. As an example, if a manager views it as an intrusion when team members ask for information or advice, it indicates that she/he does not consider assisting team members as part of her/his role as manager. In addition, the manager may be overestimating the amount of tasks she/he can complete in one day. The manager's viewpoint is what affects the attitude she/he has toward staff members asking for assistance. This was the case with Donna. Staff interruptions were not part of her perspective on her work.

From a social perspective we've had clients who have complained that their social life is so hectic they have no time to complete the jobs around the home they want to do or they aren't even able to have a night-in to themselves. How much of a habit is it to fill one's social schedule so tightly? The belief that it is not possible to say 'no' to an invitation without breaking up a friendship leads to dissatisfaction and frustration with the way one's life is panning out. Typically this fear is an unwarranted one. Would a so-called friendship be worth maintaining if saying no from time to time would break up the friendship? All of this is totally within the individual's control and is a matter of perspective or mindset.

Mindsets play a crucial part in determining how we see our lives and what options we have. Choosing to see those aspects that appear to be an intrusion or that are escaping us as an integral part of our life helps us then consciously to create the space for them. To achieve this we often have to break old habits of thought and create new ones. The way forward may be to actually schedule the night-in by placing it in the calendar or to leave sufficient space in the 'to do' list for staff conversations. This will only happen if we change our perspective to one that works for how we want to see our life.

The challenge for Donna was to change the way she was seeing the grievance taken against the member of staff. Bemoaning the fact that it had been taken and using energy to justify the injustice of it was not serving her. Her perspective needed to shift so that she could focus clearly on what was needed from her to work with and support her member of staff. And to start to see her conversations with staff as part of her working day, not additional interruptions.

SPACE FOR ME

We often hear clients say "There is no room (space) for what I want--for me. It's not possible, I've tried". Actually we've never had a client who is new to the coaching process who is already making space for self. They come to coaching with a long list and it's no surprise that their own personal needs are at the bottom if they are on the list at all. A serious question we can ask ourselves is, "If there is no 'space' for me, how effective can I be in the other areas of my life? How well do I function when much of my energy is depleted?"

How could Donna fully be available to fulfil her relationship with her husband when she was not allowing herself to fulfil her relationship with herself by giving herself the vital space she needed.

Knowing what matters most and what is most important to you is the place to start. Recognising that creating space for "me" can start with small steps. Look to the space in the calendar, surely there's a half hour or more during the course of a week. Commit to soaking in a hot tub, reading, walking or riding a bicycle in the park, playing with the dog, meditating--whatever would feel like a luxury at first - and truly savouring that time. Your pattern may be to worry about what you could/should be doing instead. That habit of filling your mind space has to stop. You'll see it's possible and rather than being a luxury, it is rightfully yours. You will learn that there is more space than you thought and you'll find more opportunities to make 'space for me'. Again, you will be placing yourself in the driver's seat of your life and you will be amazed how addressing your need for space will help you get clear and focused about other things too.

Space management comes down to how you view your options to create space in your life--seeing that you do have choices and making the choices in alignment with your body, mind and spirit. If you do, you'll find you have much more time for what you want in your life. For Donna, a couple of months since that phone call she is now making space in her life following these three principles. She is attending only those meetings where she knows she has a real contribution to make by her presence; the grievance against her member of staff has been positively concluded and she includes time for staff conversations in her weekly schedule. She leaves work at the normal time on at least two evenings a week; has cleared her weekends of work declaring them as time for herself and her husband. All in all, with space management life is so much better.

2008 copyright Lynn Hull and Julie Molner
About the Author
Lynn Hull and Julie Molner, professional life coaches, co-authored "Your Life Your Way: The Essential Guide for Women" despite living across the Atlantic Ocean from one another. They are passionate about the unlimited possibilities that exist for all! http://www.essentialguideforwomenblog.com
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