Own Your Hours - What Are You Doing With Your White Space?

168 hours in a week. What you do outside of work matters.

I’m a huge fan of going beyond your 9-5. Hence why I’ve always had a side project - that is a project I start when my working day concludes. I call this time my “white space.” The time I can be creative, work on creative projects and upskill. My side projects make me happy, confident and fulfilled.

Your hobbies and side projects are a reflection of who you are. They’re your life experiences you can hold close to your chest. I never wanted to be one of those people that went to work, came home and sat on the couch and became a TV/Netflix zombie.

If you’re not doing something after work that excites you, well you’re wasting time. If you work 40 hours a week and manage to get the recommended eight hours of sleep each night. That leaves you with 72 hours of free time. Even if you’re work week is hectic. Let’s say you’re working 60 hours a week and still getting eight hours of sleep each night, that is still 52 hours of free time every week. 52 hours of “white space.”

There is no mystery energy reserve. You just have to make a commitment to maximise your time. The trick is prioritization. Author, Laura Vanderkam of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think says the people that seem to be able to accomplish everything are just prioritizing their life correctly. “Instead of letting the daily grind crowd out the important stuff, they start by making sure there’s time for the important stuff.”

Life audit

You’re not too busy, you’re just choosing your priorities. It’s the one thing in life we completely own - our priorities. If you’re like me, you probably have too many skills you want to learn, too many goals, which inevitably leaves you piling up your plate with an unrealistic workload. This is a bad habit of mine, so I did a little research to see if I wasn’t the only one. Ximena Vengoechea talks about doing a life audit. That is a brutal, realistic look into what your goals are and how to prioritize them. You can read about her journey here. 121 post-it notes later, Ximena had found out what was truly important to her by categorizing her goals into themes and selecting from there.

Ban the word busy

“Busy” is my least favourite word. It assumes that being “busy” is a good thing and should be worn like a badge of honour. I prefer to use the term “productive” when I’m asked how I’ve been. You can start a side hustle, freelance or learn a new skill every single day. Try Coursera, or Skillshare. It’s pretty cool we live in a world that gives us new learning capabilities at the touch of a button. The internet is making education affordable and accessible.

Create a skill chart

When I think of the possibilities of what I want to learn, achieve, do, visit, upskill ect. I feel pretty overwhelmed. I get overcome by this anxious feeling that I’m running out of time to achieve everything I want. I call this my ambition anxiety (more on that at a later date). After a few minutes of panic about how I’ll never find the time to do it all. I created a skill chart. And not just a ‘professional skill chart’ either. I filled a spreadsheet with professional and personal achievements and an accompanying timeline. Take a look at my example below.


Prioritize this

Each and every hour is an opportunity to learn something new. Engage in topics that can make you a better conversationalist or discover new interests. I’m in no way saying that you should work around the clock and head towards a burnout. I’ve been there too. It seriously sucks. We now know that overwork actually reduces productivity. Those Sunday morning coffee dates, that yoga class, that hour gym session. They are important too. Time spent relaxing isn’t wasted time. It’s helping you refuel.

Own your 52 hours and use it to make progress. As soon as I took a long hard look at how I was spending my time, I found there was time to do what I wanted. There is something empowering about not accepting your own excuses.

Tania Clarke