Introduction: The Age of the Cluttered Calendar

Let me paint you a picture. It’s Monday morning, the alarm blares, and I roll out of bed. I grab my phone, blink the sleep out of my eyes, and check my calendar. Back-to-back meetings, calls, brainstorming sessions, and more meetings. I don’t see a single free hour until…well, until sleep claims me again. Sound familiar?

I remember the days when my work calendar was so jam-packed that you couldn’t squeeze a toothpick between appointments. Even the thought of gathering a small group of people for an ad-hoc meeting was like trying to herd cats in a thunderstorm. On steroids. And you know what? I wore that overbooked schedule like a badge of honor. Because I bought into the illusion – the illusion that a cluttered calendar is the sign of a successful leader.

But let’s take a step back here. What’s leadership really about? It’s about listening to and influencing others, right? And how the hell are you supposed to do that if you’re bouncing from one meeting to another like a pinball on double espressos? You can’t. It’s like trying to paint the Mona Lisa on a rollercoaster.

Alright, so let’s not beat around the bush here. There’s a cost to this constant busyness, a toll that it takes on us and our teams. It’s the death of deep work, that sweet spot where innovation, creativity, and productivity intertwine. You can’t reach that zone if your day is chock full of distractions and interruptions. You need space. You need time. You need…whitespace.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been there. I’ve tried the whole ‘no-meeting Fridays’ thing, and other well-intentioned but ultimately doomed initiatives. They never stick. Why? Because we’re treating the symptoms, not the disease. And the disease, my friends, is a deeply ingrained misconception that a jam-packed calendar equals productivity and status.

So let’s dive into this, shall we? Let’s dissect this busyness beast and find out how we can slay it. Because I don’t know about you, but I’m done being a slave to my calendar. I’m done sacrificing deep work on the altar of constant busyness. And I have a sneaking suspicion that you are too.

Breaking Down the Myth of Busyness

Alright, so let’s start by taking a sledgehammer to that shiny pedestal we’ve put busyness on. We’ve made it a status symbol, a marker of success. We’ve glorified it to the point where we’re practically worshipping at its altar. And it’s high time we called bullshit on that.

Because here’s the thing: busyness is not a virtue. It’s not a measure of your worth or your success. It’s just…busyness. It’s motion without movement, sound without substance. It’s like running on a treadmill and wondering why you’re not getting anywhere.

And yet, we’ve somehow convinced ourselves that the busier we are, the more important we must be. We’ve equated activity with productivity, conflated being occupied with being accomplished. But those things are not the same. You can be busy all day and accomplish absolutely nothing. Trust me, I’ve been there. It’s like spinning your wheels in the mud – you’re doing a lot, but you’re not going anywhere.

Now, this myth of busyness doesn’t just affect us on an individual level. It’s infecting our organizations too. We’re rewarding ‘hard work’ (read: busyness), often at the expense of creativity and productivity. We’re promoting people who are always ‘on’, always ‘busy’, always available. But are those the people who are actually driving your business forward? Or are they just the ones who are best at looking busy?

Because here’s the rub: rewarding busyness doesn’t just overlook creative and productive talents, it actively discourages them. It tells your employees that it doesn’t matter what they achieve, only how busy they appear to be. It fosters a culture of presenteeism, where people feel they have to be ‘on’ all the time, even when they’re not actually doing anything productive.

And let’s not even get started on how this busyness culture feeds into the unhealthy glorification of overwork and burnout. That’s a whole other can of worms.

So let’s get real here. If your company is rewarding busyness, if it’s promoting people based on how ‘hard’ they’re working rather than what they’re achieving, then it’s time for a reality check. Because that’s not a recipe for success, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Now, I know this might be hard to swallow. We’re challenging deeply ingrained beliefs and habits here. But let’s remember, just because something is common, doesn’t mean it’s good. Just because something is familiar, doesn’t mean it’s right.

So let’s have a laugh about it, shall we? Imagine busyness as a virtue is like buying a flashy sports car that doesn’t have an engine. Looks great on the outside, makes a lot of noise, but ain’t going nowhere fast. Kinda puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

Rethinking Workplace Norms

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Yes, the big, fat, COVID-19 elephant. The pandemic sucker-punched us right in the gut and left us reeling. But it also forced us to reassess. To rethink. To reconsider. And one of the biggest areas of reevaluation? Our work routines and schedules.

Now, I’m not saying the pandemic was a good thing. Far from it. But every cloud has a silver lining, right? And the pandemic-induced rethink of our work norms is definitely one of those silver linings.

For years, we’ve been stuck in a rut of traditional work schedules and norms. The 9 to 5 grind, the Monday to Friday slog, the dreaded commute. But when the pandemic hit, and we all had to adapt to working from home, we started questioning these norms.

Why do we need to work these specific hours? Why do we need to be in the office every day? Why do we need to have so many meetings? And, most importantly, why is our calendar so damn full all the time?

This shift in thinking isn’t just a blip. It’s not a temporary response to a global crisis. It’s a fundamental shift in how we view work. It’s a shift from time-based to task-based, from presence to performance, from hours to output.

This, my friends, is a golden opportunity. An opportunity to break free from the shackles of traditional work norms. An opportunity to redefine what work looks like, feels like, and, most importantly, what it achieves.

We can now shape our work around our lives, instead of the other way around. We can prioritize tasks that add value, rather than just filling time. We can focus on results, not hours. And we can finally, finally, free up some much-needed whitespace in our calendars.

It’s time to stop treating our calendars like a game of Tetris, trying to fit as many blocks into our day as possible. Instead, let’s treat them like a canvas, where we have the freedom to create, innovate, and truly make our mark.

Remember that episode of “Friends” where Ross keeps yelling “Pivot!” while trying to maneuver his new couch into his apartment? That’s us right now. We’ve been stuck in a certain way of doing things, but now it’s time to pivot. To rethink. To reassess. And to finally free up some much-needed whitespace in our calendars.

Prescriptions for a Healthier Schedule

Alright folks, let’s roll up our sleeves and get down to business. We’ve talked the talk, now it’s time to walk the walk. Here are some concrete steps we can take to start uncluttering our calendars and embracing that sweet, sweet whitespace.

Output-focused evaluation

First things first, let’s ditch that archaic mindset that equates busyness with productivity. Instead, let’s start evaluating employees on their output. What are they actually achieving? How are they adding value to the company? These are the things that matter, not how many hours they’re logging in or how busy they appear to be.

Now, I know this might be a bit of a culture shock for some. But trust me, once you start focusing on output rather than input, you’ll see a dramatic shift. You’ll see increased productivity, greater innovation, and happier, more engaged employees. So let’s get on it, shall we?

Conducting audits

Next up, audits. Now, I know that word might make some of you shudder, but hear me out. I’m not talking about financial audits here (though those are important too). I’m talking about task audits. About taking a close look at what tasks are filling up your calendar and asking yourself, “Is this really necessary?”

Let’s face it, a lot of the stuff that clutters our calendars is low-value, time-sucking nonsense. Meetings that could be emails. Emails that could be Slack messages. Slack messages that could be… well, not sent at all. By conducting regular audits, we can identify and eliminate these tasks, freeing up more whitespace in our calendars.

Discouraging after-hours email

Alright, onto one of my pet peeves: after-hours emails. Look, I get it. Sometimes, you’ve got to burn the midnight oil to get stuff done. But that should be the exception, not the rule.

Regularly sending and responding to emails after hours sends a clear message: you’re never off the clock. And that’s a dangerous message to send. It leads to burnout, decreased productivity, and a whole heap of resentment.

So let’s make a pact, shall we? Unless it’s an absolute emergency, let’s keep our inboxes closed after hours. Let’s give ourselves and our teams the permission to disconnect, to recharge, to live our lives outside of work. Trust me, your calendar (and your sanity) will thank you.

Leadership modeling

And finally, the big one: leadership modeling. Because at the end of the day, all the policies and procedures in the world won’t mean jack if the people at the top aren’t walking the walk.

If leaders are constantly overworked, constantly busy, constantly ‘on’, then that sets the tone for the rest of the organization. It sends a clear message: this is what success looks like. This is what is expected.

But if leaders model healthier behaviors, if they embrace whitespace, if they prioritize balance and wellbeing, then that sends a very different message. It shows that it’s not just possible to succeed without burning out, it’s desirable.

So to all the leaders out there, I challenge you: be the change you want to see. Model the behaviors you want your teams to adopt. Show them that it’s not just about working hard, it’s about working smart.

Conclusion: Embracing Whitespace

Alright, folks, we’ve arrived at the finish line. We’ve navigated the perils of the cluttered calendar, debunked the myth of busyness, rethought our workplace norms, and concocted a recipe for a healthier schedule. Now, it’s time to embrace the whitespace.

Whitespace. It’s such a simple concept, but oh so powerful. It’s not just about having empty slots on your calendar. It’s about creating room to breathe, to think, to innovate. It’s about prioritizing quality over quantity, output over hours. It’s about finding balance, avoiding burnout, and creating a healthier, happier work life.

Remember when we were kids and we’d lie on our backs, staring up at the clouds, letting our imaginations run wild? That’s whitespace. That’s the power of unstructured time. It’s in those moments, when we’re free from the shackles of busyness, that we’re at our most creative, our most innovative, our most productive.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d take that over a jam-packed calendar any day of the week.

Remember that time I had to dash off to a meeting in the middle of our conversation? Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve seen the error of my ways. I’ve decluttered my calendar, embraced the whitespace, and never felt better. And you know what? I reckon you could do with a bit of that magic too.

So let’s recap, shall we?

Busyness is not a badge of honor. A jam-packed calendar is not a status symbol. And working yourself into the ground is not a pathway to success. It’s time we kicked these outdated notions to the curb and embraced a new way of working. A way that values output over input, that prioritizes wellbeing over work hours, that sees the value in whitespace.

It’s a brave new world, folks. And it’s high time we started living in it.

So, what are you waiting for? Go on, take a look at your calendar. See all that clutter? It’s time to clear it out. Time to free up some room. Time to embrace the whitespace. Because, trust me, once you do, you’ll never look back.

About the Author: Geoffrey Byers
Geoffrey is one of the world's foremost Designers. He is also a Serial Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, and Mad Scientist. Hypothesis-Driven experimentation is his love language.