By Andrea Michelle
From the moment I got onto Old South Head Road it was chockas. Cars were moving at the pace of a child trying to gag down the broccoli they had to eat to get dessert.
I’d allowed 45 minutes for the trip to get my son to his new school – a trip that would usually take 25 but I was hoping for an early drop off so I could get to my morning meeting on time.
43 minutes later, so close to the school gates I could smell all of those pre-pubescent boys, and my ten year old was freaking out that he was going to get detention for being late. So I shot down a side street thinking I could cleverly pass between the dinged up maroon Toyota with P plates parked on the left hand side of the road.
As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman:
My car crunched and moaned as it rubbed up beside the Toyota like a child grinding their teeth at night.
Trying to placate the Year Fiver who was crying by then terrified of imminent detention, I scrambled around the inside of my car to find something to communicate with the other car’s owner about the additional scratches and dents that were now on its side.
I couldn’t even look at my own car. I knew in my rush I had made a big mistake.
Orange texta on grocery receipt I scribbled my details, and then I started crying too.
Not only was my son going to be late for school, my car was damaged, and I had to cancel an important meeting – one with a big cosmetics company, and one which I had woken up extra early to try to style my hair and makeup into something that didn’t reveal I work from home most days with my hair in a messy bun and without a scratch of slap. Emotionally I’d run out of gas trying to do it all.
Whenever I find myself caught up in a ‘cascade of shitness’ (what I call those situations where one shitty thing triggers another … and another … and I end up crying in my car) there is usually one major reason: there is not enough whitespace in my life.
This is what my good friend, and author of “Practical Perfection” Kelly Exeter told me later that day when I called her to download. So I asked her to explain further.
Whitespace is what I call the little buffers of time I build into my day that allow me to move slowly, but still get everything that needs to be done, done, she said.
Whitespace reduces (or even removes!) the feeling of rushing and gives me the capacity to deal with things like side-swiping a parked car without telling myself how stupid I am for having done such a thing.
So the most important by-product of whitespace, (beyond reducing stress by removing rushing), is that it gives me the ability to talk to myself in the same way I’d talk to a dear friend when they’re dealing with something crappy.
If my friend side-swiped a parked car, would I tell her how stupid she was? Nope! I would tell her, “Mate, these things happen. I know you’re a bit shaken so take a second to breathe and gather yourself before trying to do the next thing.”
This ability to practice self-compassion is lacking in so many of us … and I really feel whitespace is key to finding our way to it.
TIPS FOR FINDING YOUR WHITESPACE
1. Resist the temptation to schedule every minute of the day in advance.
2. Practice deliberate inefficiency – schedule pockets of time in your day where you have much more time than you need to get through the tasks at hand.
3. Learn to say ‘let me get back to you’. One big reason we’re all so over-scheduled is because we don’t like disappointing people. So we say ‘yes’ to every request made of us. If you don’t like saying ‘no’ on the spot, say ‘let me get back to you’ instead. This gives you time to go away, think about whether you should really say ‘yes’ to that particular request – and also lets the person asking know that there is a distinct possibility you might say no. Then when you do say ‘no’, it won’t be a shock to them.
Since that day – and Kelly’s advice – I’ve been practising her theory about making whitespace.
And since then I’m yet to scratch my car, make my son cry, or miss a meeting.
With some of that new found calm I’ve also made time for a spot of retail therapy. However unlike Vivian in Pretty Woman I can fund my own sprees thankyou very much.
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Image reference: Iris van Berne by Damon Baker in Domestic Disturbia