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The White Space of a Productive Mind

In visual arts there is a concept known as white space. It’s also referred to as negative space.

Think of the metaphor of the glass that is half filled with water. It’s the other half, the empty half that is negative space. But, in art, this space is not just empty; this blank space is actually filled with meaning. Without the negative space, the full space would not have a positive charge; it wouldn’t exist, nor would the two halves create balance and make up a whole.

The key to aesthetic composition is the balance between the use of positive and negative spaces. You can look at a balanced mind from a similar vantage point.

The glass half full or half empty is a rhetorical device that paints a picture of your psychological worldview. For me, for quite some time, I tended to view the glass as half empty—negatively looking at life events, flaring emotions, and my past as being lacking—even as a series of outright failures. But recently, I’ve more fully embraced the negative space in that empty half of the glass.

There’s something beautiful in the unfilled space. It’s the negative space of our lives that gives every positive moment meaning.

The space we create around ourselves and in our minds is an unfilled buffer, one which allows us to concentrate on our creative projects. A single colorful dot is so much more active when it’s surrounded by a canvas of white.

Embrace the Half Empty Space

We allow a massive amount of clutter to take over our minds. We hold onto incoming information, requests, ideas, tension, worries, needs, and hundreds of unnecessary concerns every day. We open emails, and check updates frequently, when we should be concentrating on our creative work. We pile on more, and we take on more, thinking more input will spur greater output. Like hoarders, we pack our mental and physical spaces to overload.

Now let’s image that we could empty this space. Unpack all those boxes. Take the trash out. Start everyday with the focus that comes from a clear mind.

Leo Babauta writes about the concept of the stateless mindset. This is a programming concept. “It means that each request is treated anew, without memory of previous requests.” He writes about the power of clarity. How you can focus on the task at hand, while not getting weighed down by all the junk we allow to pull at our attention.

While it’s not possible to completely clear our minds everyday, like a stateless object in a computer program, a clear mind is a compelling notion. We can get a whole lot closer to this concept, if we create purposefully negative spaces around ourselves. Here’s how:

  • Declutter Your Surroundings. How much crap do you have around your office. Piles of books, half completed projects, reminders taped to your wall—all of which are filling up your physical environment and competing for your attention. Instead, I work in a white room with blank walls. That’s my home office. I enter this room everyday with the goal of filling this empty space with meaning. Your work setup may not be as extreme as mine, but consider tidying up, and at least limiting your office clutter.
  • Limit Your Distractions. How much is fighting for your attention when you’re creating—all those devices, all those steams, all that incoming noise? Give yourself the permission to turn this all off, so you can turn your creativity on, and readily get into flow.
  • Download Your Brain. Create systems to hold your tasks, getting all your non-now actions out of your head. Any negative feelings or emotions feel like they are on the tip of your brain, then journal about them, which takes them off the front of your consciousness and frees up your mention load.

There’s more to it then just these few simple steps though, you can shift your mindset more holistically across your entire work and life. If you let go of your preconceived ideas, you’re open to the unexpected.

Create unfilled spaces. Once opened up, there is now room to let positivity in.

Make Blank Canvas Moments

This isn’t just about creating more or producing more. How many of you want to build meaningful relationships with people in your field?

Take a lesson from my friend David. He always takes the time to talk to everyone, be friendly with them, chit-chat, and open up a moment to genuinely engage with them. He may be at the supermarket, and in a hurry like everyone else, but as soon as he sees a familiar face he let’s all that go and spends a few minutes completely in that moment with them.

By clearing his mind of previous concerns, he allows for a real moment to evolve, and a connection to grow with that person. He isn’t so cluttered, or weighed down in that few minutes, but instead he creates a blank canvas moment. He takes all the paint off the canvas of his brain, allowing new colors to be splashed on. You can do the same thing at the next meet up or conference you attend.

The Open Opportunity of Emptiness

If you want to accomplish more, try clearing your mind, downloading your brain, and approaching new tasks with a stateless mindset. Create within a buffer of white space. If incoming distractions are fighting for your attention, turn them off. If your office is too noisy, then turn on a barrier of white noise to drown it out.

Create blank canvas moments, ones which are devoid of outside concerns. Within these moments you can focus on the project you’re currently working on—deeply in creative flow. Or really get to know another human, spending real time with them, invested in a meaningful conversation.

Are you creating purposefully open moments, so you can fill them with colorful meaning?


Graphic Credit: Canvas designed by Kelly Ness from the Noun Project.