Cultivating Empty Space

Takeaway: We need empty space around us in all things to be our happiest and our most productive.

Our society as a whole teaches us from the time that we are born that empty space is a waste. The current paradigm for society is to fill empty space as much as possible, but this is an enormous mistake. Thankfully, there are huge gains that you can make in your happiness and productivity by cultivating empty space, especially since there aren’t that many of your competitors who will be doing it.

Fight Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law (Wikipedia) is the idea that things tend to expand to fill the space they are given to reside in. There are many ways to put this law and many applications of it, but it’s something that you must fight against as much as possible so that you can retain a sufficient amount of empty space.

The following are a few different ways this law can be worded:

  • Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
  • Data expands to fill the space available for storage.
  • The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource (especially if the price is zero).

The basic idea is that we tend to expand into the empty space around us. We can see this with buildings, our schedules, our hard drive space and plenty of other things in our lives.

Empty Space: Stress and Recovery

In Stress and Recovery, we noted how important it is to have sufficient breaks in order to maximize both happiness and productivity. There is a temptation to try to fill every moment of your day with something “productive,” and that can make you feel guilty about taking breaks and “doing nothing.”

This is the pressure of Parkinson’s law attacking the empty space of your breaks. This is why you must actively fight to maintain it by systematically and intentionally cultivating empty space. In this case, it’s about maintaining empty space in your schedule in the form of breaks. However, this same idea applies everywhere else.

Empty Space: Distractions

In Stop All Multitasking Now, we opened with the following:

In our society, there’s this culture of multitasking that is so prevalent that we hardly even think about it. If you look around, pretty much no matter where you are, you will see people trying to do more than one thing at a time. It’s just a part of how we are, for the most part, at this stage in the world.

The bad news is that multitasking is making you less productive, which is admittedly anti-intuitive. It’s also making you less happy. The good news is that you can get a massive competitive advantage against other people if you learn how to stop because hardly anyone else is kicking this particular habit.

The cultivation of empty space can also be seen as the campaign to keep distractions out of your space. If you are able to clear you space and your work area of everything except the specific minimum number of things you need to achieve your aim at any given time, then you will see a tremendous boost to productivity and happiness along with a serious reduction in stress and anxiety.

This is a way that the cultivation of empty space and the fight against Parkinson’s law can be taken in the physical sense, but there are plenty other arenas where you can make big gains by fighting against this law.