Do you ever feel like there’s never enough time in your day? As a husband, dad, and employee I’ve felt this way many times.
It seems my days consist of back to back to back meetings, responding to a never-ending stream of texts, emails, and calls only to head home so I can jump right in to helping with dinner, playing with the kids, and getting them ready for bed. By the time all that’s done there’s very little time left to sit down and catch up with my wife before I have to get ready for the next day, when this same cycle will start again.
Many of us feel like there is so much to do and so little time to do it in. What we’re looking for is margin; the space between our load and our limit.
With so much to do, how can we create the margin in our lives that all of us need and long for while still getting the things done that we need to get done? Here are a few tips:
1. Evaluate your commitments and possessions.
Make a list of all of your commitments (work, school, family, church, etc) and a list of all your possessions. Go through these lists and begin to cross off all the things you need to let go of so you can begin to have more space in your home and schedule.
There could be a hobby that is taking up too much time that you may need to cut back on or cut out completely so you can spend more time with your family. You may need to limit the time you spend on TV and other media so you’ll have more time to eat right and exercise. You may need to limit the number of activities your kids are involved in so they have more time for homework and to enjoy their childhood. Or you may need to politely decline a few meeting notices at work so you have some breathing room in your schedule to get your work done.
There’s also probably some things in your garage and around your home that are taking up too much space. You might not think that getting rid of clutter will help you have more margin in your life, but what you’ll find about clearing out the clutter in your life is the less stuff you own the less time you have to spend cleaning and taking care of it and the more time you’ll have to spend on the things that really matter to you.
2. Schedule your time before others schedule it for you.
In his book, First Things First, author Stephen Covey talks about the idea of putting the big rocks in first. You can read more about this idea here or in his book, but the basic premise is this: The big rocks represent your top priorities: your health, your family, your friends, etc. Before you put anything else on your calendar, schedule time for these big rocks. Then, begin to put everything on your calendar around those big rocks. When we do this we’ll be in a better position to tackle the other things in our lives that need doing.
3. Leave space in your schedule.
Margins, like the white space around the words on this page that you are reading, add to the composition and overall fabric of the whole. Without margins, the words would crowd one another and fight for space, making it unreadable. Of course, if the printer extended the words from one end of the page to the other without a break, it would reduce the book by fifty pages or so, save trees, and cost less. But who would read it? It would be a futile exercise in stress management! No book ever begrudges its margins. And no life should either.
We would never think of completely covering a page with text, leaving out the margins, yet many of us live our lives that way. We move from one meeting to the next, one appointment to the next, and one activity to the next without much (if any) time to breathe.
Margin is the space between our load and our limit. We can’t have margin if we don’t leave space between the various appointments, meetings, and activities in our lives.
4. Take time off.
Many religions require taking a day off (or Sabbath) at least once a week. You don’t need to be religious to do this. Set aside one day a week where you don’t check email or work so you can rest, relax, and rejuvenate.
Also, set aside times throughout the year to go on vacation. Studies show that taking regular breaks during the day, a day off during the week, and vacations throughout the year will increase your productivity more than if you don’t.
5. Say no to some things so you can say yes to the most important things.
A lot of the things that make us busy aren’t bad things. In fact, many of them are things we (at least at one point in time) genuinely enjoy doing. But doing too many good things can actually be bad for us. They can keep us from a truly great life. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, says it this way:
Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.
Don’t settle for a good life. Say no to some good things so you can say yes to the things in your life that are truly great.
Creating margin in your life isn’t easy. You’ll need to make some hard decisions about what stays in your life and what needs to go. And that will rub some people the wrong way, no matter how nicely you do it. But that’s OK. You’re goal in life isn’t to make everybody happy. It’s to focus on the things that really matter and having margin in your days will allow you to live your days more wisely.
The more margin we have in our lives the less stress we will experience. Don’t let your pace rob you of peace.