Are you consistently overwhelmed by your day-to-day life? Are you always running at full speed, feeling stressed and burned out at the end of the day? Are you going from appointment to appointment, rushing from one place to another?
If you say “yes” to all these questions, you must create some margin in your life. The world tells us to do more, be more, and have more; this is why we are always busy. Sometimes, you may feel like you are going in every direction at the speed of light with no end in sight.
Most people are suffocating in their workload alone and are also bombarded with commitments to family, friends, and community. It happens to anyone – college students trying to build a great future, young people making things happen, working parents managing the household, and people climbing the corporate ladder or growing a business or non-profit.
Yet, we wear our busyness as a badge of honor, a sign of a successful life. And when something unexpected comes up, it’s difficult to weigh the options of what to give up to accommodate that important, unexpected thing.
If we fill every available moment with something to do, we will be stressed, frustrated, burned out, and unhappy with our lives. This is why we need enough margin.
What is Margin?
Margin, otherwise called space, refers to the concept of the difference between the load and the limits. When one is overloaded, there is no margin. You could say it’s the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating. It’s the space to get your mind in the right spot and regroup, and it may be in the form of picking up a good book, soaking in the bath, walking your dogs, and taking your kids to the park. It’s about creating balance and deeper engagement in everyday life.
It can be very easy to slip past the margin into overload without even realizing it because there is no indicator that lets people know when they have reached the edge. The more things added to their to-do list, the more likely a person will hit overload. People have that need or urge to be successful achievers; therefore, not all people make their everyday load reasonable.
Seeing life as 100%, ideally, people should schedule only about 80% to leave a 20% margin for the unexpected. This is not something that will happen by itself. A person has to make it happen.
Benefits of Having Margin in Life
Having a margin gives us room to reflect, breathe, and renew. It can help us rise up and view things with the right perspective and reactivate our wisdom and creativity. If we have breathing room, we can start to see where we’re doing wrong and see a possibility for change.
With the margin we carve out in our lives, we can:
- Assess how things are going
- Reflect on what’s important and re-prioritize to improve decision-making
- See if there’s a gap between the life that we have and the life that we want, and consider solutions to close that gap
- Experience living in the present without being upset about the past or worrying about the future
Without margin, we will have gain lower performance at work over time, less happiness and fulfillment, and lower quality of life overall. The lack of margin means that we don’t have time to reflect, make better decisions, and refocus our perspective. If we have no margin, we will be reactive to problems or unexpected happenings that may arise rather than be proactive about it.
Margin applies to time, money, and energy.
Creating Margin in Your Time
To create a margin in your time, you can create an “ideal week” to help combat the pitfall of overscheduling. The ideal week is a week you would live if you had 100% control of what happens. You can either live on purpose, according to the plan you have set, or live by accident and react to the demands of others. Creating your own schedule and set an ideal week will help you be mindful and live on purpose.
Brainstorm the habits and rhythms that will help you live out what matters most each week within the constraints of your actual life. Setting an ideal week doesn’t mean picturing yourself out on vacation in Tahiti – it’s the week you can actually live on a regular basis.
Start by determining the most important things, then set up when it will happen or be done. Be sure to leave some unallocated space in order to have that margin.
Sometimes, your schedule will be more fluid, as some may take less time than allocated, but for some activities, you need to be firm. Work times, for instance, are set in stone (and if you are self-employed, you should set it in stone) with beginning and end times.
You should always plan the largest and most important things first, fitting in with the others around it. Remember, though, that there will be tweaking needed to get it how you want it, and also remember that the schedule you make is just a guideline. While some things should be held to as much as possible, life happens. Just try to keep it from interfering with the most important things.
Here are some practical ways to create margin in your time:
- Identify themes for each day. Depending on your job, business, and commitments, set a theme for each day so that you can group certain activities on one day so your brain doesn’t have to switch gears so often. For example, you can set “Saturday – Errands day,” “Sunday – Church day, rest day and planning for the week,” “Monday – Admin day,” and “Tuesday – Mentorship day.”
- Wake up earlier to give your body and mind a chance to regroup before moving on to tackling the tasks of the day.
- Set your clock or watch 10-15 minutes earlier if you find that you are consistently late for your appointments.
- Schedule time for your relationships. Set a time for meeting friends, having a date night with your spouse, or calling your parents. People often neglect their relationships when they are buried with work and responsibilities.
- Work smarter. Be mindful of the quality of work that you do in relation to the time you spend doing it. Cut out anything that makes you unproductive.
- Plan fun things to do throughout the week. A fun thing to do when planning an ideal week is intentionally sprinkling in fun. Think Taco Tuesdays, Saturday family day, Pizza and movie Fridays.
- Do not overbook yourself in one day.
- Plan your downtime and leave a buffer between activities. Especially when you’re traveling, it’s tempting to pack as many things as possible into your itinerary, but it will make you exhausted and crabby. Focus on the highlights and plan downtime around them. The same concept applies to your regular, weekly activities.
- Plan your workout times. Even a short burst of 5-10-minute workout done every day (if a full workout is not possible) will do wonders for your health and overall mood. Choose 1-2 days in your week when you can do lengthier workouts.
- Do the dishes and tidy up the house before going to bed. It’s better to wake up with a clean slate instead of catching up from the day before.
- Respond to emails and messages right after you read them. It’s best to open and read an email or private message only when you know you’ll have time to respond to it right away. Otherwise, you will end up reading it again and wasting time, or you may forget to answer at all.
- Cook in bulk. Whenever you can, make a big batch of a dish and freeze the extras to make sure you will have a nice, home-cooked meal ready for reheating during busy days.
Creating Margin in Your Finances
For most people, making a margin in finances is much more difficult than it should be. It is uncommon in today’s world for people to live beneath their means, but that is what happens when you create a margin in your finances.
Part of the reason it is so difficult is the easy accessibility of credit – which is debt. Lenders encourage people to get more debt, max out credit cards, and apply for more. Also, this social aspect wants us to impress other people with the things we can buy, restaurants we can eat at, vacations we can afford, etc. But when emergencies happen, we may not have enough margin in our budget to cater to them. Stress is lessened greatly by allowing for margin in your finances.
Create a financial margin by keeping track of your priorities. Here’s what you can do to make a margin in your finances:
- Set up a budget and stick to it. Keep track of your expenses, and you’ll identify what spending aspect you can adjust on, and you’ll find the money you didn’t know you had.
- Plan for savings. We all know we should allocate a portion of our income for savings, but it’s not always easy to do for many people. Consider savings as an “expense” or a “bill” you have to pay, so you won’t get tempted to use it for other stuff.
- Having an emergency fund saved up will help when unexpected expenses turn up. When there’s a sudden need, a sudden accident, or sickness, then you will have money to spend on this stuff.
- Make a plan before shopping to avoid impulse buys. It is applicable for shopping for anything – groceries, fresh foods at the market, gifts, clothing, and vehicles.
- Set a budget for giving. Sometimes, we feel bouts of generosity, only to end up being short on money before payday. Setting a budget for giving (like treating a friend to dinner, getting coffee for your co-worker, or buying a dress for your mother) will help you ensure that you are giving within your means and not overcompensating to the point that you deprive yourself.
Creating Margin for Your Energy
There is literally only so much one can do in a day. Everyone needs some downtime. While work is a necessity of life, our family should be the top recipient of our energy. In fact, spending time with the family can boost the energy of every family member, making each one happier and more ready to face work or school the next day. Here’s how you can create a margin in your family life to preserve your energy:
- Reduce the events your kids participate in. Nowadays, most kids are involved with almost every activity, so they are already burned out at an early age. Plus, this can place a huge stress on the rest of the family. If your kid does not have the skills to be the next Michael Jordan or Usain Bolt, don’t force them to participate in every sporting activity available.
- Let your kids be bored sometimes. Parents nowadays feel the need to fill their children’s schedules with fun things or learning activities so they can have great childhood memories in the future. But with the accessibility of gadgets, the Internet, and millions of games to play – giving your kids some space to do nothing so they can exercise their imagination is also a gift you can give them.
- Say “no” to the things you don’t want to do. Learn to say no if you know it will sap your energy. Don’t feel guilty about saying “yes” to things you are not good at or don’t have time for (unless you really have to do them).
- Plan some fun activities for the family, at least one day per week. Look for an activity that all your family members can participate in. It could be a fun road trip, a shopping day, or a dinner at a new restaurant in town. And you don’t always need to spend for fun – you can set a game night or movie night at home so you can spend time together.
- Seek social support. We all need a support network so we would not feel alone in our struggles. You will find others going through the same thing as you, and it helps not to feel isolated.
- Ask for help. Many people are too proud to ask for help, so they overburden themselves. Do not be hesitant to get help, especially if you have people around you who are willing to. For example, ask your parent or a friend to babysit your kids once in a while so you can have some time for yourself.
- Get outside. Refresh and energize yourself with nature. Spending time outdoors has a lot of health benefits, and it can help you de-stress.