Breathing Room. Why You Need It in Work, and in Life

The hidden power of blank spaces

"Give it some breathing room." 

This line is something you'll hear from me in nearly every design review. Some call it padding, some call it white space, some call it margin, others call it unnecessary. But in a world saturated with visuals, there's something to be said about the areas left untouched. 

I'm a creative at heart, using marketing as my reason to fight for stunning designs and better ideas. I cofounded a marketing and design agency almost five years ago and most recently cofounded another venture, Mortarr. My world consists of an unwavering advocacy for striking logos, uncommon campaign strategies, heart-warming stories and breathtaking photography. 

In my career, I've come to realize that without breathing room in design, a distinctive logo becomes undistinguishable, an elaborate brochure translates to clutter, and that clever headline turns to noise. Breathing room allows the content that matters to be the center of attention. It gives viewers a "focal point" to make a decision. The areas left blank are actually quite powerful, as they invite attention to the areas carefully designed, allowing that logo to be recognized, that brochure to provide clarity, and that headline to speak volumes.

Enter my epiphany: To be successful, we need to incorporate that same "breathing room" into our lives. I know, I know—it's that whole talk on work/life balance. You've heard it before. But when I began to think about it in the same way I demand it in design, it's almost embarrassing. No, let me rephrase that—completely humiliating. 

Duh, Abby. You pack your schedule full of everything from owning not one but two startups, back-to-back-to-back meetings, three kiddos' sports practice shuttles on four different schedules (plus away games, tournaments and camps), homework help, math-masters and science fair projects, volunteer work with the church, room parent duties, remembering (most times) dental appointments for the family, orthodontia visits (for 2 tweens), oh—and tweens ... yes I have tween girls. 

I also have, well, you know, a house to keep clean and of course decorated for every season, laundry to tend to, bills to pay (I lie—that's all on my gem of a husband), oh—and a husband ... yes I have one of those, too. And thank God for him. Always cool, calm and collected in my life's storm highlighted above. You get the picture. 

I'd guess—give or take a few things—that your life's picture frames up pretty similarly. 

But now think about the areas of your schedule left untouched. Think about the moments when you can just think and reflect. When you leave extra time between meetings. When you weave in time at the gym. When you take time for lunch during the workday. When you take a day off to actually take a day off. When you leave work on time. When you decide to stop serving on one of three boards. When you listen to your favorite podcast episode in one sitting. 

I don't know about you, but when I think about the times I added some blank space into my life, I come to realize the remarkable that followed. Sometimes, it was a better way to manage. Sometimes, it was a better way to parent. Sometimes, it was a clear head to make that pivotal decision. Sometimes, it was a solution to a problem. And one time, it was an incredible business idea that spurred Mortarr (startup No. 2). 

Remember what I said earlier? That thing about breathing room allowing the content that matters to be at the center of attention? The thing about the focus that happens when some areas are left blank? Do you get it now? 

We work so hard on our lives that we tend to focus on the wrong things. The busy day-to-day mumble-jumble that crams us full of noise. If I take this one more meeting, I'll build a better business. If I volunteer this one more time, I'll become a better community member. If I add this one more activity, my kid will develop into a stronger athlete. All of it is with good intentions, but sorry folks, it's just bad design. It's clutter if we don't leave enough time to think of the next great idea, reflect on better decisions, and cherish the time we have with loved ones. 

Antoine de Saint-Exupery said it best: "Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. 

Let's start focusing on a better design in all aspects of our lives. Powerful things will happen if we just give it some breathing room. 

Profile picture for user Abby Murray
Abby Murray
Abby Murray is co-founder and chief marketing officer at Mortarr.