It’s no secret that I love and abuse white space. One of my clients once thought the printer messed up the scaling of my artwork because of what looked like too much white space on the finished product. Ouch.
Bruised ego apart, white space in design provides relief, rest, breathing room. It shapes what you’re trying to express visually, and gives your work balance. While there’s no shortage of white space in design these days, we somehow completely deny it to ourselves.
And yet, sufficient white space in our lives is essential not only to our wellbeing but to our work too. As a creative person, your mind is likely to be pulled in a million different directions, and we tend to surrender to the idea because of a skewed belief that the messier the mind, the more creative. While there is some truth to creative minds being somewhat “messy”, this doesn’t mean an overly busy brain is good for your creativity. Quite the opposite.
Busyness & clutter are killing your creativity
Alright I’ll go first. “Hi, my name is Marie and I’m a recovering Busyholic.”
That’s right, I suck at leaving white space in my day. And I’m gonna hasard a wild guess here and say that you do too. We’re all guilty of it. For a lot of entrepreneurs, that’s because you have a fire under your derrière. You’re driven, you’ve got an urge to create things and make a difference, and you will not rest. Until. You. Do (I know. I fit the description too).
Drive in itself is not a bad thing. The problem comes in when you couple this with a society that glorifies busyness and hyperconnectivity. We’re the kings of FOMO (What if someone needs to get hold of me? What if someone comments on my post? The algorithm doesn’t sleep and neither should I!).
We suffer from information overload. We have every minute of every day accounted for. We live in constant noise and clutter, and while we try to exercise regularly and eat healthily, we tend to neglect our most important organ. Our brain.
Yes my friend, we’re brain beaters. We overwork it, never give it time to breathe and the poor thing’s got no other choice but to give us the silent treatment. Writer’s block. Lack of inspiration. You just can’t figure out your next move, you don’t only feel stuck, you are stuck. Congratulations, you’ve now entered the realm of decision fatigue and caused your creativity to go on airplane mode. That’s right. Busyness is suffocating your creativity.
Thankfully, there’s a cure to that. And I can back this with science. Watch me.
A gateway to creativity
You’ve probably heard of the left brain / right brain concept. And while I’m no neuroscientist, this is how I understand it.
Think of your left brain as your hard drive. It can store all the information you learn, perform complex operations and is rather predictable. It’s practical, logical and should it fail, you’re in serious trouble.
Now, think of your right brain as a cool design software. It’s intuitive, colourful and allows you to drag and drop and play ad libitum. But it needs the files located on the hard drive in order to give life to anything or save what you’ve come up with.
Contrary to popular belief, creativity doesn’t solely reside in the right part of your brain. Well, your intuitions and emotions do, but without the help of the right side of your brain, you wouldn’t be able to do anything with it. So creativity really lives somewhere in between. It floats around until you have the left and right parts of your brain singing in unison.
That’s the magical state when you can freely tap into your unconscious while finding a concrete way to bring an idea to life.
So where is that magical state and how do we get there?
That’s when the nerdy part comes in. In a nutshell, your brain goes into different modes depending on your level of cerebral activity during the day. If you watch medical dramas (Yes Shonda Rhimes I’m looking at you), chances are you’ve heard of brainwaves. They rank from a state of near coma to hyperalert (think Droopy vs Bugs Bunny), and several stages in between.
The one you’re after my friend, are the Alpha brainwaves. That’s where you’ll gain clarity, while being able to tap into your intuition and inspiration. That’s what creativity expert Denise Jacobs calls “the Gateway to Creativity”.
How does one access this magical brainwave mode? Well, it’s not by scrolling on your phone or rushing from one activity to the next. It’s by giving your brain some relief, rest and breathing room. Yip, you guessed it.
By giving yourself some white space.
10 practical ways to include white space in your day
That’s when minimalism comes in.
As you know, I’m a big believer in minimalism as a tool to make space for what matters most.
Now relax, I’m not going to suggest you get rid of all your belongings and dress only in black, white and grey. But as a creative person, I’d guess creativity and inspiration rank pretty high up on that list of what matters most. And by adopting a minimalist mindset about what you allow to enter your brain (like you would with your house), you will free up the space your brain needs in order to tap into your subconscious and unlock your creativity.
Why is minimalist decor so calming? That’s because it leaves plenty of negative space to rest your eyes and to let the light in. That also makes the simplest piece of furniture look like a rock star because it has a rightful place in the room, and is totally free of clutter.
I picture my day the same way. By making a conscious decision of what you allow in, you can focus on each task or activity fully, which leaves your mind plenty of white space to rest in between. Which, in turn, gives your creativity a much higher chance to manifest.
Denise Jacobs gave a brilliant talk on the topic of white space, and suggested the following ways to bring white space into your day and access that Alpha-brain-waves mode:
1. Lie down.
Let your body relax, close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
2. Space out.
This is probably the easiest and quickest of them all: look outside the window, watch clouds, waves, a fire cracking, whatever is near you and will allow your eyes to glaze over.
3. Day Dream.
Einstein and Dali swore by it. I say that’s worth a try, isn’t it?
in mindless activities that is: colouring, calligraphy drills, washing dishes… Don’t actively try to practice something, but use a repetitive, soothing physical activity to allow your mind to unwind.
Yip. Showers have been idea generator since like forever.
Cross-channel movement (as in using opposite sides of the body at the same time) are a great way to let white space in – Just go for a walk by yourself and come back feeling refreshed and clear.
I like starting work with a light meditation session focusing on my breath. For me it’s like a shortcut to get in the zone.
Dr. Lee Berk, researcher at the Loma Linda University said that ‘Joyful laughter immediately produces the same brainwave frequencies experienced by people in a true meditative state.’
with your kids, your dog. Be silly. Let your left brain’s guards down for a bit and don’t ever take yourself too seriously. It ain’t good for you.
This is my own addition, but I swear by it. Listen to classical music. I made a little playlist for you to get you started right here.
Alright so you get the picture. Here’s a little summary in case you scrolled all the way down:
Ain’t good for you or your work.
Allows your brain to enter Alpha brainwaves mode, a.k.a magical creative mode where both parts of your brain chat to one another, which is more conducive to increased focus, productivity and of course, creativity.
So here’s what I’d like you to do.
Schedule some white space in your schedule in the coming days and if needed, pick one of the suggestions above to get you started. Don’t overthink it, otherwise you may miss the whole point of the exercise. Snap a pic on Instagram and tag #aBreathofWhiteSpace.
I know how quickly one can get caught in the spiral of keeping up with work, social media, social engagements, relationships, exercise, admin etc. but try to put on the breaks every now and then. Your creativity needs room to grow and flourish.
And remember. You got this.