John Edwards was Managing Director at a small packaging company I joined in 1990 as the Production Manager. I threw myself into the business and spent many hours in the factory learning and understanding the way the production flows worked. I spent much time walking through the companies processes from order to invoice.
We were only a small management team, all work as done as and when it came in. In 6 months I was running the business, chasing new work and getting the production process working more efficiently. I introduced ISO 9001 and health and safety processes to ensure the company and workforce were compliant with all legislation. My life was wrapped up in the running of the business.
At the end of the first year I had a review session with John in which we talked about how the business developed and discussed a pay rise and bonus scheme from the work and efficiencies I had introduced. He then went on to discuss the time I was spending in the business and working in the business. He then said to me “If you are here all the time where and when do you find your white space?
I was confused, I had never heard of the term white space before and asked him to explain. It is the time you spend developing the company not running it. As you get higher up in management you should spend more time working in the business and less doing the business. Take more time for thinking about where and what the business be like in the future. Read up on the industry and investigate opportunities that we can take up to take the business forward and ensure there is a future for the business. Delegate the day work to others in the business so it frees you up.
This has stuck with me all my working life and whether as an employee or a as a business adviser I always speak about white space and giving yourself permission to stop and think about the business.
Back in the early 90’s the pressures on time were mainly in relation to customer calls, production scheduling and the other daily activities of the business. I had a secretary who would pick up the minor actions and vet calls to avoid sales and time waster phone calls.
In today’s business set up we see fewer secretaries and more of the mundane business activities to fall to managers who now must deal with all their communications, from postal mail to email, from messaging services to social media not forgetting the direct contact of mobile phones and text. As more communications systems become available managers get bogged down into a quagmire of work that does not allow the freedom to seek white space.
Businesses development has slowed down, and management productivity has also suffered from this demand by communications and always available technology. A recent email I sent to confirm a booking was responded by someone who replied to me at 5:22am whilst they were having a day off work.
A few years ago, I with my wife took up camper vanning. Over the last two years we have toured around the UK staying on small farm campsites. After visiting quite a few over the last few years we have found a perfect spot in west wales.
It is only ninety minutes’ drive from the house, the roads are narrow and slow and the bonus of there being no phone signal make the campsite perfect for my white space. We have all the facilities of open spaces, showers and services and the site is quite in the week.
The drive to the campsite involves a motorway, dual carriageway, and then a series of two-way roads that slow you down at each turn. The last mile is on a road with passing places. As you leave the trees to drop down into Cresselli Quay you pass by a local pub filled with tourists. Forget the phone signal as you just went into a not zone.
A short drive along the road passed the river and across a bridge to the campsite. An open 4.5-acre meadow that has plenty of space.
It takes an hour to set up camp and get all the equipment for a peaceful stay. By the time you have finished you have stopped thinking about work and your head clears from the day to day activities. If there is a problem at the office nobody can get in contact and you soon realise that you have been freed from the shackles of daily work life.
You would think that you’re here to work, yes you are, but that is the point, you must free your mind of the daily routines to focus on the direction and development of any of your plans.
It is not until day 2 when we have had a good night’s sleep that you can start to think about your project or focus. Assured in the knowledge that there will be no interruptions.
Most of my projects are for clients and this is a great place to clear the mind and focus on their problems and fond strategies and solutions for them. Twice a year I work on my own business and with the aid of a small lap top I make all the necessary notes to put the action plans in place.
The two or three days I spend at Cresswell Barn Farm are very productive and although there are some occasions when an internet connection would be useful they do not stop me developing successful business models for my clients. They become action points when I return to the internet after the solace of the countryside.
Finding your white space may be not be easy, but you must find it. It will help you reduce work stress and give you the freedom to think clearly.
If you lead a team and they are part of the solution find your own space and action plan the team session.
Book a small hotel or country retreat for the whole team it will give them the same opportunity to bond and you will find the space to be productive. Remove all mobile and technology devices, avoid the news and switch off from your daily work activities for the duration. You will get a lot more done than if you hold a session in the workplace.
Nigel T Packer
After 23 years working in electronics, production and mechanical engineering fields, Nigel has spent the last 18 years working in the field of business development specifically on the internet.
Being at the start of the digital economy, Nigel has adapted and applied the principles of business development to the rapidly changing scene of the internet. With it, the creation of new internet business models that work for his online clients is his objective.
An author and digital business speaker his book “How to Get a Website that Works for your Business” has helped hundreds of SME business owners understand the principles of online success.
Today Nigel has been running a digital consultancy and training practice PelaTis Online Ltd. An independent eBusiness consultancy working with retail, manufacturing and service businesses. His insights and understanding of the way the internet works and the direction it is going makes him the go to consultant for online business success.
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