Five Ways to Create More Margin in Your Life

The speed at which business and life operates seems to be overwhelming these days.

We rush out of bed, rush to get ready, rush to the office and then rush all day to get projects done and meet deadlines. Many times though it seems like the faster we work, the more work that piles up, and the harder we try to get caught up the more it sometimes feels like we fall behind. We are stressed. We are anxious. We are tired.

You need more space.

You need more margin.

You need more peace.

Here are a couple ideas how…

1. Take on fewer meetings: The outcome of good meetings is action items. Which means that the more meetings you are in the more action items you will have. Ironically though, the more meetings you are in, also means the fewer amount of minutes you have in a day outside of meetings to actually get stuff done. Nothing is more discouraging than scheduling your entire day full of meetings and going frantically from one to the next only to find that you now have a whole list of new action items, you didn’t have time in the day to complete any of your existing list of action items, and you haven’t done any real work today!  Challenge yourself and your team to audit the need for the meetings you are having. Remember, the first rule of meetings is to make sure that you have a reason to have the meeting! Are we meeting because we have an objective that we need to accomplish or just because it’s what we do every day of the week at this time?

2. Check email less frequently: One guaranteed way to make sure that you feel pressured and stressed all the time is to be reading email every spare second you have from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep. Your fear is that you’re going to miss something urgent but there are very few things that can’t wait at least a few hours. And the more you’re available at their beckon call to respond within minutes to every little inquiry, the more you are programming your clients and colleagues to expect that from you. Not to mention that successful people expect other successful people to be busy and so it’s reasonable to have to wait a little bit. Remove every single beep, buzz, or interruptive alert that you receive when you get a new email. Move your email icon off the home screen of your phone to a side screen so that it is not the first thing you see. It will allow you to be intentional about when you do check email and not constantly sucked into –what we refer to in Take the Stairs as – priority dilution.

3. Practice saying “no”: Look for opportunities to build your “no” muscle. You might have a fear of telling people “no” but you have to realize that you are always saying “no” to something. You’re either consciously saying “no” to the things that don’t matter or you will be accidentally be saying “no” to the things that do. And if you are saying “yes” to everyone else all of the time then you are  saying “no” to having any space or margin in your life. Plus, saying “no” doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk. Look for ways that you can say “no” while still being really nice.

4. Reduce unnecessary change: Change takes time. Time is money. So change costs money – even if there is no hard dollars cost. Some change is good but changing just for the sake of change is expensive because it takes time to prepare for the change, make the change, and then communicate the change to other people. Ask yourself “do I really need to make this change right now?” If the answer is “no” then delay it for a little while. You may inadvertently save yourself some re-work later on or find a better solution down the road. I’m all in favor

5. Schedule in margin: If you find that you are always behind on projects or email then set more time aside in your schedule for those activities. Protect that time as an appointment with yourself that is just as immovable as you would consider an appointment with someone else. You need to have appropriate time available to do a good job so protecting time for you to actually work on things is your responsibility. If someone wants a meeting with you and the only slots you have open are during time that you’ve blocked with yourself then push the meeting out to the next week. It’s just going to have to wait.

Many of us have falsely convinced ourselves that if we work fast enough and long enough that we’ll get to a place where we’re caught up on everything so much that we’ll finally have margin…it’s not true. The law of Douglas McArthur tells us the truth that “the amount of busy work always expands to fill the amount of time we allow to be available.” In other words there will always be something else that we could do that is waiting for us at the completion of any other given task. So perpetually running at a frenetic pace isn’t going to do anything but burn you out.

Instead, create space. Make margin. Be intentional about what you agree to take on and what you turn down. And protect the time that you need to accomplish your most significant priorities. Let go of your fear that you will miss out on something by realizing things are never as bad as the feel or as good as they sound. These are just a few of the strategies we are outlining in our next book that we call Procrastinate on Purpose.

  • Zechariah Newman

    Great post Rory. This is something I have to readjust as I slide backwards allowing my margin to get taken up. Great reminder.

  • JMuenster

    My only New Years’ resolution this year is to add more margin to my life. This is exactly what I needed–thank you. (BTW…it’s “beck and call”)