Spend a Minute Thinking, Gain an Hour’s Insight

To enhance productivity and creativity for all employees, consider building in time to zoom out, reflect and refuel at work.

Jul 26, 2022  |  By Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE

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“White space is the oxygen that allows everything else to catch fire.” – Juliet Funt

Earlier this month, the NBOA staff team held its annual summer “offsite” retreat to reconnect in person and celebrate the association’s 2021-22 school year accomplishments. This year we convened in Philadelphia and were hosted by  Friends Select School and Matt Rosen, FSS’ director of financial operations since 2019. Thank you, Matt! Over two days, we enjoyed full-staff professional and culture development trainings and activities, and planned for an impactful 2022-23 school year ahead and beyond, with our new strategic framework as our roadmap.

During the program, a staff-led session on employee wellness brought the work and insights of Juliet Funt to my attention. Funt is the founder and CEO of an efficiency training firm, a keynote speaker, and author of “A Minute to Think.” Her book was nominated for the Next Big Idea Club, which is curated by Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Pink, Susan Cain and Adam Grant. Funt is an evangelist for unburdening organizational talent from busywork and unleashing employees’ potential, and she has brought her powerful concepts to some of the world’s leading businesses and brands.

One of Funt’s central concepts is that of “white space,” unstructured time for thinking that is a strategic pause in between activities. As noted in the quote above, it’s “the oxygen that allows everything else to catch fire.” She outlines three key tenets:

  1. In a practice or culture of white space, spending time in thought is emphasized.
  2. This thinking time is a key to maximizing one’s creativity and productivity.
  3. On the organizational level, a lack of thoughtfulness costs businesses dearly, while the presence of thoughtfulness improves strategy, execution and effectiveness.

We chose to take in Funt’s insights by watching a few brief videos available on her website and YouTube, specifically: The Power of Thinking, The Thieves of The Thieves of Productivity, and Email & The NYR Codes. Many of us are now off to read her book for individual betterment, but the videos alone offered plenty of fodder for small- and full-group discussions.

Our team had healthy conversations about how we communicate with one another, what is currently working and opportunities to improve going forward, and the various modes of staff communication: Outlook (email), Teams (chat and video conference), text and phone. We’ve decided to take these learnings a step further by creating “norms” or guidelines for how we communicate internally with each other and what mode of communication is most aligned with the content of the message. While the answers may sound simple, we have found that increased ways to communicate with each other do not always led to improved inter-staff communication. 

NBOA Staff July 2022 at Friends Select School

NBOA staff at the July 2022 "offsite" retreat in Philadelphia, at Friends Select School.

Our hope is mitigate or eliminate the tendency to ask a colleague “Did you read my email?” which was only sent a few minutes earlier. Or to spend time wondering when a colleague is going to respond to you even though you never said when you needed the information. I can’t help but think a work culture that promotes white space may be beneficial to any school’s leadership and/or business office teams. Imagine any or all of the following that may be accomplished, in Funt’s own words:

  • Regain control of your overloaded, caffeinated, email inbox-worshiping workday.
  • Reclaim creativity and focus despite the chaotic pace of communications.
  • Bring thoughtfulness into designing your work norms.
  • Tame the beast of email.
  • Find your precious minute to think.

The entire team found the insights illuminating and empowering. It felt like we were finally talking about “the thing” that rarely gets discussed in the workplace. I’ll be happy to report back our results after we’ve given it more time and thought — pun intended.

So as we think about how to approach the upcoming school year to ensure success, finding the white space in our day and the time to “think” in our heads on behalf of our missions and schools and organizations should certainly top our list.

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.


Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO

National Business Officers Association (NBOA)

Washington, DC

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE, has served as president and CEO of the National Business Officers Association (NBOA) since 2010. He currently serves as a member of the American Society of Association Executives’ (ASAE) board of directors as well as a trustee for the Enrollment Management Association (EMA). Previously, he served as a trustee for One Schoolhouse, an innovative online school offering supplemental education to independent schools, and Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. Prior to his current role, Shields was senior vice president and chief planning officer at the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), where he worked for nearly 10 years.

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