It’s Not You, It’s Me: Breaking Up With Non-Priorities.

It’s taken me a long time to admit that every thing I do necessitates me saying no to a dozen other things. It’s just not a priority. It’s not that it isn’t cool, fun, or worthwhile, it’s just that I have a limited amount of attention, and it can’t go there. And yet, it’s so seductive to think that if I could just do things more efficiently, be better organized, I could shoehorn it all in. 

Your Energy is More Precious Than Diamonds

Time and again, I’ve found that I’m most productive, relaxed and happy if I have a lot of unscheduled, unearmarked time in my day. But keeping that time footloose and fancy free? It requires constant vigilance. I have to be in touch with more than what I want to do… I have to be in touch with what I’m willing to let go of in order to achieve what I want the most.

The Importance of White Space

White space is a design term for the empty space in a layout. It’s absolutely crucial, because the more you add, the less enjoyable the overall effect is– in fact, the white space makes the important stuff more impactful.

And so it is with white space in your life. The more you take on the “hey, why not?” stuff, the more it detracts, not only from your priorities, but from the important stuff in your life.

Everyone Will Try to Tell You What’s Important

It’s so important to figure out what YOU can’t live without, because unless you’re vigilant, you’ll end up adding all sorts of stuff that only seemed important. And the reason it seemed important is that it’s important to someone else, and they’re trying to impress its importance upon you. Look up the old fashioned definition of ‘impress‘. That’s not something you want to have happen to you.

I like having long conversations with friends, cooking good meals, leisurely drives to nearby towns just to have good coffee in a quirky atmosphere. I like to teach, and I like to learn from people. I like to help people. I like to read, do yoga, garden, and write. I have three businesses to run, and to top it all off, I like to take road trips.

If I’m not careful, every waking minute will fill with a range of want-tos. So many that it will obscure the really important ones.

It’s Time To Make A Clean Break.

You know how, when you clean your desk, the first thin you do is take everything off of it, and then only put back the things you need?

Same thing. Imagine a wide-open schedule. Then, put in only the things you can’t live without. Your work, since you need to pay the bills. But not more than what you need to pay the bills. Family probably is next on the list. Then maybe one or two things you’re really passionate about. These are the things that if you didn’t do them several times a week your life would start to really suck.

Everything else? Brunches with the girls, spin class, art galleries, all that sort of thing: That’s garnish. You get the most impact from the most sparing use of it.

So, with that list, start scaling back. Which, for most people is way, way back. People brag about how busy they are, and that’s just weird. It’s like a design that has way too many whozits and curlicues and popouts and cool fonts. It all seems like a good idea…but it’s not.

It’s like when you go on vacation and hustle around to so many things that it all blurs together and you come home tireder than when you left. Don’t do that! At least not any more often than you have to — hey, if you’re in Paris, you’re in Paris, bay-bee.

But let’s face it: While there’s nothing wrong with most of the stuff that fills your day — It’s fun, or productive, or whatever — it’s also not the thing that makes your life meaningful. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be, y’know?

Personally, I try to stop at two “garnishes” a day. Any more than that and I barely enjoy anything, let alone the white space itself.  Like working on a screen porch, listening to the frogs sing in the rain, and the way the texture of the carpet feels against my feet, and the taste of a cup of coffee after an hour of satisfying work. Does that really sound like it needs flourishes?

White space, my friends. White Space is the answer.

Your turn:

What are some ways you incorporate white space in your life?


14 thoughts on “It’s Not You, It’s Me: Breaking Up With Non-Priorities.”

  1. Ohh, I love this.. You’ve given ‘white space’ a whole new meaning for me 🙂
    And the timing is great.  I’ve had the most UN-focused week, lacking all sorts of clarity, and right now I’m thinkin’ I could do with a lot less ‘garnish’.

    1.  @denisesmedley Isn’t it a great reframe? The garnish isn’t *bad*. Usually it’s cool, even borderline awesome. But too much of a good thing… I’m trying to cut back on garnish myself right now. Good luck!

  2. Love this one, Shanna! This is part of the Taos experiment for me… starting from zero (in an environment where I have very little choice!) and then consciously thinking about what I need to put back. I’ve recently started to realize that despite being a lover of garnish (and a newly-created lover of that metaphor) more than one or two garnishes in a day just sets off all my HSP stuff and I end up not enjoying any of it. I tend to overplan weekends with fun stuff, fun stuff and more fun stuff, and I end up exhausted and disoriented by Sunday night. Getting overachiever me on board with white space, however, requires relocation to the desert. Glad it’s less complicated for you!

    1.  @sarahemily Ha! I relocated to to Walden. It’s been GREAT. I can’t recommend it enough. I thought that I would get bored or lonely, but it’s been almost 9 months and it hasn’t happened yet. Even though I have met literally *no one* in my new town. But yeah, New York would be tough for me, too.

      1.  @Shanna Mann I was going to say, “the actual Walden?!” but I’m pretty sure Walden pond is in New England.  I’m a huge “social butterfly” and have been seriously over-scheduled and over-committed for my whole life, so this is going to be a very interesting experiment.

        1.  @sarahemily Yeah, Walden’s in Mass. I think. This is just a tiny little acreage, five miles from the post office, backing onto the woods. The phone never rings here, we’re away from the road. It’s seriously about as idyllic as you can get and still have hi-speed internet (without internet, this would all suck horribly)
          I have a constant push-pull relationship with over-commitment. I’m working on evening that out some. I can’t wait to see the results of your experiment. 🙂

  3.  in your experience, once you created all this white space doesn’t it end up just filling up with stuff that you really want to do? I think one of the biggest challenges (for me) and most important distinctions here, is that you have to know when the new thing is something that you want to have extra time for versus something that will just detract. 
     One example from my life, is that I chose to give up something that I really truly love, at least temporarily. I used to balance a full-time job with near full-time songwriting and performing. When I recognize that the full-time world was not for me, I knew I needed to launch a business. In order to find the time for cloud coach, I made a conscious decision to remove the music for my calendar. I created the white space for what was most important.

    1.  @ethanwaldman It’s true. Nature abhors a vacuum, and it will seek to fill it. That’s the biggest reason why you have to be really, really mindful of what you trade it for. 
      I use the white space to experiment with new things. I’m always trying stuff out. But I’m also mindful of the point where I start feeling overwhelmed or dragging my ass, and I know it’s time to jettison that stuff. 
      So I don’t think it’s a problem for you to remove something that’s *really* important to you and replace it with something that’s *even more* important to you, and to choose to protect the remaining white space you have rather than fill it with performance. And even when you leave your job, I know you have that Tiny House planned, so it’s conceivable you might *still* choose not to perform. On the other hand, you might try the odd open mic nite as a garnish. No pressure if in the end you don’t feel like showing up
      I think that’s the really tough part about this. In order to protect your quality of life, you need to be really judicious about even the most awesome stuff.

  4. HI Shanna!
    I love the idea of wiping your life clean….and starting over one piece at a time.  Making a list of  ” I can’t live withouts” is a great way to start.  People can gain a great deal of perspective using your method.  I like the way you broke it down to:  ” While there’s nothing wrong with most of the stuff that fills your day — – It’s fun, or productive, or whatever — – it’s also not the thing that makes your life meaningful.”  YOU SAID IT!  White space is…. the moments within the moments…… that we all miss..Thanks for this insightful post!  Non priorities begone!

  5. “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”
    — Steve Jobs

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