Making Space

January 2020 · 1800 words · 9 minute read

This is a blog about doing things with your life. It’s about finding the time, no, not finding, it’s about making the time to work towards higher order goals in order to live the most fulfilling life possible. The blog is not limited to a specific subject, nor is it wedded to a particular philosophical approach. The only continuous theme that runs through my writing is how to get better at what you want to do. In other works I’ve termed this changing the world which, as a concept, still applies even if the frame of reference is something in your own life.

To that end, the most common stumbling block that we throw in our own paths is mostly self inflicted. It is the refrain; “I don’t have time for that, I’m too busy”. Why? Why don’t you have the time? Why are you too busy? What’s causing you to busy? What’s sucking up your time? Have you ever really, and I mean really, sat down and thought about this statement every time you’ve uttered it?

What you’re really saying in this case is that you haven’t prioritised your life to achieve the goal. To me, “not having enough time” or “being too busy” is an absolute red flag. It means something has gone drastically wrong for me.

Sometimes, it’s okay to be too busy or to not have enough time. It’s okay to have other priorities in life, it’s okay to place one of these priorities at the head of the queue while letting the others slip. That isn’t what this post is about. This post is about when we use non-priority tasks, chores are a better term, as an excuse to avoid working towards our goals. It’s a post about getting lost in the minutiae of life in such a way that you miss the big picture. It’s not even a case of missing the forest for the trees. In this case, you’re missing the tree for the leaf.

The only way out of this conundrum is to make space in your life for the big things. Making space means eliminating things from your life so that you’ve got the time to work on the big stuff. It’s about giving yourself the best opportunity to succeed. Indeed the Regime that I’ve written about previously is just a giant, probably overcomplicated, strategy to make space in my life.

I have found that making space has both a temporal and a physical component to it.

The temporal component to making space is refers to how many uninterrupted blocks of time you have in your life per unit block of time. A good number to aim towards here is a minimum of two hours per day of dedicated focus time. Dedicated focus time is not fucking around time. It’s not reading your emails, it’s not doing random odds and ends with four hundred browser tabs open. It’s sitting down and working.

The physical component to making space refers to the environment in which you’re working in. If you need to clear out a cesspool before you can get to work your physical environment is not conducive to good work. You make physical space by creating an environment in which you can work towards your goals.

Temporal Space

You can make temporal space in your life by:

  1. Identify things that are distracting you that are not core to your goals
  2. Eliminate them

There is no step three. If you’ve been dreading paying your phone bill for the last week, pay it now. If you’ve been putting off booking your car in for a service do it now. If you haven’t cleaned the house or gone grocery shopping yet then do it now. If you don’t know what you’ll be wearing tomorrow then pick it out now.

How can you expect to be able to achieve anything when the weight of a thousand different little tasks is hanging over you?

Better yet, seek to remove the cause of the task entirely. Can you set your phone bill up on direct debit? Make the appointment for the car at the time you pick it up from the most recent service. Every night before you go to bed ensure everything is put away so that the messiness never builds up in the first place, start meal prep sunday so that you have your meals planned out for the rest of the week and don’t need to stress about it.

There are a thousand different ways you can create additional time in your life but they all require you to be active. You must be ruthless here. Eliminate tasks entirely where you can and do them immediately when you can’t. Any menial, non creative, task that you do should be completely time boxed to ensure you don’t let it drag on and on.

What you’re trying to do here is to create large uninterrupted blocks of time where you can focus on what you’re trying to achieve with zero distractions. Not one or two. Zero.

It’s in these concentrated focus blocks that you’ll be able to achieve great things and be able to make lasting improvements to your life. Very little “good” things have ever been achieved in a fifteen minute calendar slot that you pencilled in between frantic tasks. You need long interrupted blocks of time and the only way to do this is to ruthlessly eliminate anything that may distract you from the rest of your life.

To be clear, I’m not talking about “productivity” hacks or ways to squeeze every little moment out of your life in a task driven fashion. I believe that these approaches, whilst useful for achieving little things, are death to meaningful creative work. As such, these hacks should only be used to clear away the dross in order to create big blocks of free time. No more and no less.

Physical Space

You can make physical space in your life by:

  1. Dedicating particular environments to specific tasks
  2. Ensuring that the environment is kept as “fit for purpose” as possible at all times

For example, if you want to get better at cooking but you cannot seem to get started you can try to make the physical working environment as conducive as possible to cooking. You should clean the work spaces, re-organise the pantry and put everything away (but in close reach as required) to make the environment as specific as possible.

In this case your goal is to get better at cooking and you’re going to make space for it by making the physical space as conducive to the goal as possible. If you’re trying to cut onions around dirty plates with a blunt knife you’re going to have a bad time. Actually, who are we kidding. You’ll never even bother cutting the onions in the first place. Having a shitty environment just means that you’ll procrastinate and then bang something in the microwave or order take-out.

To make physical space you need to create dedicated environments for your goals and then aim to keep them as productive as possible. My primary home working environments are:

If I let these areas go to shit then I notice my productivity falling off a cliff. A dirty desk means I don’t want to write. A slow, laggy computer, means I don’t want to write. A dirty yoga mat means I don’t practice, having clutter around means I won’t handstand and a dirty kitchen means I won’t cook. To ensure that each of these areas facilitate, rather than prevent, my goals I’m trying to keep them clean and put everything away each time I use it. Furthermore, you should also use your financial resources (i.e. spend money) to make these environments as productive and fulfilling as possible.

Sometimes the environments will be outside the home. Have a look at your work set up. Can it be more productive? If you’re working an office job you could get rid of loose paper, get a second monitor, improve your keyboard/mouse. Alternatively, it could be having a good systematic approach to work prioritisation and note capture. It may be having reference material (e.g. if studying) close to hand and immediately accessible.

Or, if you’re interested in a particular outdoor pursuit can you set up the related environments so that you can go as quickly as possible. I have preplanned bags that I pack in advance that I can just grab and run out the door if I’m heading towards a particular hobby. Or, all of the gear is in the same area and I have a check list I can use to pack it quickly and efficiently. Likewise, making sure all of the gear is clean, well maintained and ready to go is another requirement.

Hopefully these examples make the physical component to making space clear.

It isn’t about eliminating tasks or creating blocks of time, instead it is about creating an environment that when you have the time to work on something you can be as productive as possible without distractions popping in. If you have a problem with always checking your mobile phone for example then you should look to place it in a phone jail rather than having it sitting in front of you. Likewise, if you have a problem with browsing the internet too much then turn the WiFi off when you need to do a serious task.

Making Space

In a post modern society the most precious resource that we have is not money, nor time. Instead, it is our focus and and attention. Yet, most of us squander both of these resources and the world is actively hostile to our attempts to focus in many cases. To make the most out of our lives we need to fight back, we need to prepare ourselves and we need to recognise what is truly important.

It is only by creating space in our lives that we can strive towards our higher order goals. Without this space we’re doomed to be stressed, rushed monkeys whose days seem to rush on by while we stay in the same spot. Without focus we’ll just be running on a treadmill created by others to extract our lives from us.

Search for the things that are important and eliminate the rest. Put them up on your wall, ask yourself the question, “is this what I should really be doing?” Create the environments that make you productive. Personalise, customise, avoid the lure of one size fits all and pre-packaged and planned “experiences”. Go off the beaten track and make the spaces that work for you.