Where’s the Slack?


Last year, I watched my son load his backpack before heading off to school. He stuffed it with binders for math, language arts, science and social studies. He added a calculator, a bag for pens/pencils, and a water bottle. He stuffed his gym shoes in the side pockets and a t-shirt and shorts in any remaining space. Lastly, he fought to squeeze his lunch bag into a remaining front pocket.

The seams bulged and eventually the zipper burst. This year, we got him a bigger backpack. Eventually he found more ‘things’ to put into the new backpack. Once again, the seams bulged and the zipper burst.

Is this an accurate metaphor for your life? Look in your drawers, closets, and refrigerator. Is everything filled to maximum capacity? Have you ever bought a new house to have ‘more space’, only to find the space completely filled one year later?

Does this same tendency to fill space pervade your work and life calendar? Will you burst at the seams with one more action item, calendar invite, or email request? Do pressing fires quickly consume any intended ‘free time’? Are you able to sustain any slack in your schedule for creative or strategic thought? Or do you sacrifice the important for the perpetually urgent?

Individuals and organizations that desire innovation, creativity, and/or balance learn to create and support ‘slack’—available time for independent growth and strategic thought. While the reality of Google’s ‘20% Time’ policy is debated, the philosophy and intention is certainly noteworthy. Build time into your schedule to be strategic, to think, and to create. Maintain routines that restore your mind, body, and spirit. Individual and organizational growth can most effectively occur where slack exists. Without it, you might just burst at the seams.