Creating Margin

Creating Margin What Why How

What is margin

Perhaps the most familiar use of the word ‘margin’ is the space on the edges of a piece of paper.  This white space around the edges makes what is written easier to read.  

Back in the old days when paper was scarce, people often crammed in as many words as they could on a single sheet of paper when they wrote a letter.  When we look at these letters now they are difficult to read, not just because of the difference in writing styles, but also due to the lack of margin.  

We need spaces around words and paragraphs to be able to see them clearly and to read comfortably.

The same idea applies to the activities in our days.  Margin is space around our activities during our days, weeks and months.

Why we need margin

We need margin because we are not machines. We need time to do things other than to be productive. We need to rest and recharge. We need time for relationships with other people. We need time to care for our bodies.

If we don’t take this time we will burn out. Burnout is just unplanned margin. Some burn out faster than others, but all will eventually burn out without margin.

Just like our physical space needs decluttering to be the most efficient and pleasant, our time needs that space as well.  When our day is crammed chock full of activities and responsibilities from waking to sleeping, we lose track of ourselves, what we are doing and whether it makes any sense. 

It’s important to have time around the edges to make sure that what we are doing is the best thing and to be our best selves. 

The biggest deception 
of our digital age 
may be the lie that says, 
we can be omni-competent, 
and omni-present.  
We must choose our absence, 
our inability 
and our ignorance - 
and choose wisely. 
- Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy

How to create margin

Creating margin is a simply a matter of doing fewer things and planning your time to include margin.

Do fewer things

I know, I know, this sounds simplistic and you have such a busy life filled with important things.  But if you don’t have enough margin in your life you will burn out and you won’t be doing ANY things.  Here are two good places to work towards doing fewer things: 

Learn to say no

If your schedule is too full because you are constantly overcommitting yourself because you can’t say no – learn How to Say No.  Note that this includes being able to say no to yourself when you add things to your plate that end up affecting the rest of your life in bad ways.

Only do the MOST important

Do you know what your actual priorities are? Have you thought about what is important and what you want to do?

Are most of your days just running from one fire to another? Do you know the difference between urgent and important?

Are there things on your schedule that take up a lot of time, but don’t really contribute the same to your life as some others?  It may be that 20% of the things you do make 80% of the difference in your life

Don’t just blindly make a list and then start plowing through it. Check your list.  Find the most important things. Take the rest off.

Plan wisely 

First, actually plan. Your life is worth taking the time to make a plan for it. Yes, sometimes the plan will derail, but that doesn’t mean you should never plan. Even if every day it derails, you will still be making progress. Hopefully having margin in your plan will help it derail less often.

You don’t need a fancy planner to plan. You just need a sheet of paper and a pencil. Here’s a few ways to plan wisely:

Use a schedule 

Although it’s a good thing to identify your top priorities for each day without a designated time to do them they likely still won’t get done. Take the time to figure out how much time your would like to devote to each priority for your day (or week or month…). Decide when you are going to do each thing and write it on your schedule. When all your priorities are scheduled you may find that you can’t actually do all that you planned. Take a step back and figure out how to do fewer things.

When you have your schedule actually try to follow it!

Expect the unexpected

When you’ve managed to fit everything in, find a way to leave some space around your plans. You might have to take more out 🙂 Schedule 15 minutes before a meeting to prepare and relax, and 15 minutes after to visit with your colleagues. Schedule extra time to pick up your child so she can show you what she found in the schoolyard or to meet her new friend or whatever she might be needing to do when you pick her up.

If you are afraid of this margin not being needed and being stuck ‘waiting’, have a list some less time critical tasks or fun?! things you can do while waiting. Or, even better, learn to take a few deep breaths and look around! Relish the fact now that you don’t have to rush because there’s time to spare.

Schedule time for fun and others

Sometimes we are so focused on the ‘productive’ to dos on our list that we ignore the rest of our lives. Be proactive in scheduling time that you will be with your loved ones. Schedule time to do things that will help you recharge. It’s good to have things on your schedule just for you!

Make time to reflect

Creating margin in your life is not just a matter of blocking out time to be with others or to stare out the window.  You must reflect on your schedule. Schedule time at the end of each day to look back at what you did and how you feel. Did the day I just have give me the time I needed to be relaxed? How do I want to approach tomorrow?

What would margin in your life give you?

If you were able to do fewer things and plan wisely how would your life change?

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