Can you recognize a lack of margin in your life? Is it your inability to arrive on time for appointments? Eating your entire meal in five minutes and not recalling how the food tasted? A home that’s more obstacle course than soothing retreat?
A margin intervention might be just the course correction you need.
What a margin deficit looks like
Creating margin is no longer just a nice idea; rather, it’s an urgency:
- We’re getting 2.5 fewer hours of sleep than folks did in the early 1900s.
- The average work week is longer than it was 50 years ago.
- We spend five years waiting for people who are trying to do too much and are late for meetings.
Why margin matters
In “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives,” Dr. Richard Swenson describes margin as “the space between our load and our limits.” Well, we’ve been pushing our load way past our limits for too long, with a cumulative negative effect on our health and happiness.
Margin isn’t limited to creating enough breathing space around our commitments. A lack of margin shows up in our eating habits, our mental state, our emotional well-being, and our physical condition. The margin struggle is real!
Over-committing to people and events, not recognizing changes in my physiology or making the necessary adjustments, and not taking adequate time to process emotionally taxing life events were some signs of my lack of margin. It taxed my health–my adrenal glands in particular–and diminished my quality of life.
A margin-less life is an unhealthy and often unhappy one. We’re all dealing with a margin deficit, but we can avoid frustration, overwhelm, and burnout if we create new habits that foster margin and lead to greater balance, contentment, and wholeness.
How to create margin in four specific areas
- Look at your home objectively. What’s taking up unnecessary space? Books? Toiletries? Clothes and shoes? Can you remove one third of it and not miss it? Go for it! Clearing your physical space allows you to relax more.
- Do you still eat everything on your plate, even if you’re already full? Institute an 80% fullness rule: eat a little more than three-quarters of what’s on your plate, no more. Chew slowly, savor your meals with all your senses, and put your fork down between bites.
- Do you honor your body’s requests for water, bathroom breaks, walking breaks, naps, or a few minutes of deep breathing? All of these are cries by the body for margin. As Dr. Swenson notes: “Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.” Please don’t suffocate!
- Tom DeMarco states in his book “Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency”: “Slack is the time when reinvention happens. Slack is the time when you are 0 percent busy.” When I’m bouncing on my mini-trampoline, I’m having fun, working out, and clearing lymph in my body. That’s it. But that “slack time” is when I get great ideas and bring others to the forefront of my mind.
- Give chronic lateness the boot by factoring in 15-minutes of “wiggle-room” for appointments. Got a 10:00 a.m. doctor’s appointment? Wake up 15 minutes earlier so that you aren’t racing over the speed limit to get there.
- Bookend your days with meditation, quiet time, or simply “me-time.” Follow the normal cycle of day and night by winding down and going to bed when it’s dark and getting adequate sleep to wake when the sun rises and to start the day off peacefully.
- Jumping from one commitment to another without recognizing and exploring our emotional state leads to a lack of emotional margin. If we constantly act as if all is well and we push aside the soul’s call to process our feelings, we set ourselves up for more emotional pain and stunt our emotional growth. It’s okay to not be okay and to make the time to heal. We often need to learn to sit with our issues and deal with them.
- After my parents died, it was difficult to process the pain that grief brought. I had a very demanding job, coupled with health challenges, and the easiest thing would have been to bury myself in work and not validate my emotions. But, I was able to connect with a counselor who encouraged me to join a grief support group. I value that experience so much because it created the margin I needed to come to grips with my loss.
- You might not be dealing with grief but with the voices in our heads that replay old, negative tapes that keep us bound. Look for support, whether with trusted family members and friends or with qualified professionals who can offer tangible ways to deal with emotionally charged experiences.
- Mental margin might be the toughest one for our technology-dependent generation. Do we even allow our brains to solo task? Yep, doing one thing at a time. We idolize multi-tasking but honestly, it’s not working . Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), says multitasking destroys our productivity, increases the likelihood of blunders, and blocks creative thought. The mental whiplash from juggling tasks or sprinting from one task to the next eliminates the mental downtime needed to stir our creativity. So please, do one thing at a time, for your mind’s sake.
- We can increase our mental margin by cutting back on our social media time, as well as our consumption of news. *crickets*
Let’s look at margin as a way to make room for the things we value the most! If we don’t cultivate margin, we lose opportunities for growth and greater self-awareness. And no margin in one area will lead to less or no margin in another one.
What makes it difficult for you to create margin? What do you plan to do to change that?