The Power of Space…in grant writing, work, and life


Recently, someone asked me to review a couple of their grants that were almost, but not quite, funded. I took a look and sure enough they were well-written but there were a few tweaks that could really help them stand above the crowd. The first one being….space.


Space…the final frontier


As a culture we are fixated on stuff. We buy a lot of stuff, we fill our days with activities, and we talk a lot (me included). Successful people are rewarded for being in action and getting a lot of things done. We focus on the objects in the world rather than notice the space that exists all around the objects.


Right now, you are paying attention to the words on the screen and not the white space on which the sit. Our focus on objects is so pervasive that we don’t even think it’s unusual.

We undervalue space.

A lot.

In so many ways.


The Value of Space

Energy flows through the space that’s available to it. Powerful things often emerge in a context of spaciousness.


I live in a beautiful part of the world where I am surrounded by waterfalls. There are beautiful, stunning falls everywhere I go.  Some of them are small and pencil like and others are wide and dramatic depending on the space that they have to flow through.


Think about times when a friend or a colleague has told you something from deep within them because you just listened and gave them the time and space to talk.


Think about how Apple makes such good use of white space so that their products pop. Or, how ideas pop into our heads when we’re resting in the hammock on a summer’s day or taking a shower. Beautiful things emerge when we create spaciousness.

Let’s look at what happens when we don’t make space in our writing, our work, and our lives.

…in grant writing


When we write proposals we are often painfully short on space. So we are tempted to cram as much information as we can into the space available. And when it comes down to the last editing, delete superfluous lines, reduce bulleted lists to text paragraphs, eliminate subheadings, and take out as much white space as possible. The problem is that this all impacts the reader. The reviewer can feel the crampedness of the whole approach. Blocks and blocks of text without pictures or space feels as inhibiting as a city street block with no windows to the reader. It really hard to see the big picture and understand what the writer is proposing without concentrating hard and sorting out the structure in our heads.

Just notice how accessible the last paragraph feels to you.

…in work

When there is a deadline looming, we tend to move our meetings along at a fair clip and rarely take the time to just listen to one another. And yet, when we do we often come up with better plans and ideas and certainly a stronger sense of teamwork that can carry us through the rough spots.


And the reader can just tell when planning process has or hasn’t allowed enough time and space for consensus to grow naturally.

…in life

And then there’s the impact of the endless deadlines and pressure to get things done on you, my friend. We think that if we work harder and do more we’ll finally get ahead of the game and begin to slow down. But, how often have you found that to be true?


We all need space in our lives.


We need space for ourselves.


We need time to exercise, time with our loved ones, time in nature. We need space to kick up our heels and dance once in a while. If we don’t get it for a long enough time, there is a huge toll on us physically, mentally, and emotionally.  We’ll be talking about this in the Be Less Stressed and More Productive webinar coming up next week.

How to Create Space


So, I invite you to create more space when you are planning and writing your next grant application. I know this isn’t easy but it is possible and it makes a huge difference for the reviewer.  Let’s look at how we can do this.


…in grantwriting


When you’re editing you simply must insist with yourself and others that you can’t cut out white space in favor of more words. Its counter-productive to do so but very, very, tempting.  Try your best to consider these sacrosanct when you are editing.

  • Break up your paragraphs
  • Include subheadings
  • Use 1” margins or more
  • Include lists
  • Include charts and tables

One of the tricks that I use is to set my margins to 1.25” and then reduce them at the end, or write in New Times Roman and then change to Garamond (which is slightly smaller at the end). It makes it less painful than ditching carefully crafted text.

This is also where a fresh editor can come in handy. Other people can slash our work much more easily than we can after we’ve spent hours, days, weeks, and months working on an application.

 …in work


We can make an effort to create space in the grant writing process. I KNOW this isn’t easy. I encourage you to take time to listen to your colleagues and partners. It is so rare for someone to ask how we are doing, or what is going on in our organization and really be interested in the answer.

My former boss at Cornell was a Professor who would spend 1 ½ hours of our weekly group meetings just chatting, asking people how they were etc. It drove my Type A streak crazy since I just wanted to get to the agenda. The amazing thing was that we could actually steamroll through the agenda in just 30 minutes because everyone was on board, relaxed and in sync. It was a valuable lesson for me in the power of spending time connecting with someone.

…in life


Finally….you. How can you take time for yourself amid incessant deadlines, family obligations and life in general.


I invite you, right now, to take a minute for yourself. Grab your phone and set your timer for a minute.


Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and notice the air all around you. Notice the space that you are sitting in, the air in the room, and a notice that his day consists of 86,400 seconds. That is a lot of time. More than enough for you to take a measly 60 to close your eyes and let yourself rest into your breath.  You’ll be surprised at how long a minute seems like and so I encourage you to give yourself the gift of a minute to yourself several times during today and tomorrow.


This is just a simple thing to do. I also welcome you to join me and Laura Wieck who is a mind-body specialist for our webinar on Monday October 27th at 12 noon when Laura will share lots of valuable suggestions for managing stress and creating more work-life balance.



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