The 15% White Space Rule

by | Jul 10, 2024

“Give it your all.” We’ve all heard this mantra, whether from motivational speakers or well-meaning mentors. But here’s the truth bomb: we’re not built to operate at 110% all the time. Heck, we’re not even meant to function at a constant 100%.

Trying to hit that mythical 100% leads to:

  • Stress and burnout
  • Overwhelm
  • Time scarcity
  • The nagging feeling of never being enough
  • Perfectionism

Maxing out your intensity and schedule isn’t a badge of honor. A day or week where your calendar is 100% full isn’t ideal. Though I used to think so. I thought if I had every minute planned I was crushing it and would conquer the world but I came to realize it was quite the opposite. If you or your team’s schedules are packed to the brim (or beyond!), that’s a recipe for disaster. Why? Because that 100% inevitably spills over. When I talk to people struggling with work-life balance, they often describe the chaos of unplanned interruptions: kids needing attention, clients with last-minute demands, sudden sickness, tasks taking longer than expected, or simply being human and having an off day. That 100% effort becomes 120% effort while often still not accomplishing what they originally set out to finish for the day. It leaves them feeling like they’re on a never-ending rollercoaster, defeated and drained by day’s end. And let’s be honest, who wants to feel like that?

Embrace the White Space

Enter the 15% white space rule. Strive for you and your team’s calendar to have at least 15% of unscheduled time. This white space is your room to breathe, it’s your buffer. It safeguards against overwork. It leaves room for greater connection with others. It’s where you recharge and find that creative spark and renewed energy for your work. It ignites innovation rather than rush. It allows you to be more present and ultimately, more effective. If or inevitably when things don’t go as planned, you have the flexibility to adapt without feeling as overwhelmed.

I won’t lie, this rule is tough for me to follow myself. As someone who was running a business while writing a book this last year, I worked some ridiculously long days. Work-life harmony was not a top priority for me and actually trying to prioritize my time outside of work would have actually harmed my well-being rather than elevated it, and our research backs that up. Read more about that here. Yet even if I know I will be working a long day I try and ensure that about 15% is white space penciled in. If I don’t need it then fantastic. If I do then it’s there.

Strategic Anticipation

The white space strategy is about anticipation. It’s anticipating the unexpected, prioritizing well-being, planning for disruptions, and accepting that you can’t control everything. Having buffer time might not work every day but it will more days than not if you make an intentional effort. 

So, next time you’re planning your day, resist the urge to fill every slot. Leave some white space and see how it changes your perspective. If you want to show your team you care about their well-being, while also increasing their productivity, motivation, and performance, have them do the same!