Last week I was on a Zoom call. The audio wasn’t working and my client on the other end didn’t realize I was there. While I was trying to get his attention, he sat in a state of presumed privacy. Sitting alone, he let out a huge, deflated sigh and then an all-nighter sort of yawn. Only then did he notice me, energetically snapping on his game face. I said nothing about the pre-call, but later I asked, “How are you all holding up?” He answered with slightly too much cheerfulness, “We’re good! We’re good! We were a little worn out around August, but we’ve got it down now.” And I thought, there they are, the two horsemen of this season in our lives: exhaustion and denial.
“There they are, the two horsemen of this season in our lives: exhaustion and denial.”
No wonder. We’ve been running the duration of a marathon with the intensity of a sprint.
And long before the pains of COVID-19, the global workforce was fried. Living every day beneath an avalanche of emails, meetings, decks, and reports, we tolerate a staggering amount of waste and weariness, and we soldier on. The next task is always looming, our brains overflow with projects and plans, we seamlessly keep moving every moment, and we’re chronically confused between activity and productivity.
We know this, yet we can’t seem to stop.But 2020 has shaken us to our core. Despite the loneliness, fear, grief, and tension, we throw ourselves headlong into work, both to save our companies and to mute our anxiety. Glued to the news that both informs and debilitates us, we try not to think and feel--so we can continue to act. But acting may not be the best next thing we can do. Stopping may be.
“Acting may not be the best next thing we can do. Stopping may be”.
Taking a pause is a powerful thing. In fact, I’ve spent my entire professional life, long before these weary days, teaching professionals that strategic pausing is a formidable source of professional power. The pause is where we can strategize and introspect and where we can be quiet enough to hear great ideas. It’s also the place to let our denied emotions finally arrive, shake our hands, and then fade.
Singular moments of pausing can make us more thoughtful and allow us to recuperate from exhaustion. When we make pausing a habit, we are able to develop something I call "white space"—an essential but often missing ingredient of work.
The term white space comes from looking at the unencumbered spaces between tasks on a paper calendar and realizing that seeing open time in the scheduling of a day was an indication of how much untapped potential that day would hold. When there’s no white space (literally) on a calendar there is no time to think; no time for serendipity, reflection, recuperation, pivoting, or unplanned action; and no time for your humanness to make an appearance at work.
So right now, before you even finish this article, take a small sip of white space. Lean back from the desk or your device, and just let the last nine months be exhaled. Let go of your game face. Just for a minute.
For today--and anytime you are stuck, overwhelmed, or numb--just do that. Pause.
Then, as your days roll forward, begin to experiment with tiny strategic pauses here and there. Try pausing after one meeting and before the next. Pause when you feel stress rising. Grab a few moments of white space when you actually need to think and not just do.
Let the pause be like a cool washcloth on your fevered brow, and then come back to this newsletter where together we will explore all sorts of ways to amplify creativity and results at work, get rid of unnecessary tasks, reclaim feelings of meaningful contribution, and so much more. I’m glad you're here, and I can’t wait to begin this journey together.
Featured in Forbes and Fast Company, Juliet Funt is a renowned keynote speaker, tough-love advisor to the Fortune 500, and founder and CEO of WhiteSpace at Work, where she helps organizations like Spotify, National Geographic, Anthem, ESPN, Nike, and Wells Fargo liberate their talent and speed execution. Her first book, A Minute to Think (HarperCollins), is coming this summer. This is part of a series of articles by Juliet Funt. To read her latest article, click here