You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. Our lives are made of three basic ingredients: our work, our families, and our leisure time. We have meetings and dinners and coffee appointments and soccer practice and theatre rehearsals and teacher conferences and playdates and date nights. We have everything but margin. We talk about having no time, lack of time, being out of time, borrowing time, trying to find more time.
Of course, work is important. And so are all of those appointments I listed a few sentences ago. But so are downtime, family time, couple time, quiet time. We are exhausted, but we are not helpless, and the clock is not in charge.
In the bestselling book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Dr. Richard A. Swenson offers a list of prescriptions on how to restore margin in our lives.
Learn to Say No. We are surrounded by more opportunities and obligations, but we are still bound by the 24-hour day. Saying no is more than a good idea; it’s mathematically necessary. If you’re not doing it all, it’s not because you’re doing it wrong. As Swenson says, “If there are fifteen things to do today and you can do only ten of them, you will need to say No five times.”
Expect the Unexpected. If you were flying from New York to San Francisco, as Swenson points out, you wouldn’t allow only three minutes to change planes in Chicago. You need a greater margin for error, because everything takes longer than we think it will. Plan for the unexpected, and allow room for this reality.
Turn off the TV. When thought leader Seth Godin has been heralded for his time management, many have asked how he gets so much more done. But Godin points out that he doesn’t watch TV, and he doesn’t do social media… at all. Certainly, this frees up a ton of hours in his daily life that the rest of us seem to surrender like sand through the hourglass. No other decision can free up as much margin in your life as this nearly impossible action: shut down the screens.
Prune the Activity Branches. If you want a tree with healthy fruit, you need to prune away the branches. In the same way, activities and commitments often have a way of accumulating and adding themselves to our lives and our schedules. Take a look at where your time and attention are going, and decide which of those branches need a good trimming.
Practice Simplicity. When you have less stuff, you have fewer things to take care of. With a simpler wardrobe, you have fewer choices on what to wear and your morning routine takes less time. With a smaller home, you have a smaller mortgage. Don’t waste your valuable time taking care of things that were never meant to last.
Turn off the Tick-Tock. Try disconnecting from clocks, watches, alarms, timers, telephones, and emails for just one day a week. As it turns out, the sun rises and sets without an alarm clock. You can too.
Create Buffer Zones. “If you have a busy schedule with nonstop appointments, consider creating small buffer zones between some of the obligations, a kind of coffee break for the spirit. Even ten or fifteen minutes can allow you to catch up, take a deep breath, close your eyes, pray, call your spouse, reorient your priorities, and defuse your tension.”
Schedule Some Free Time. A blank space on your calendar shouldn’t necessarily beckon an appointment. Creating margin in your life is a way of restoring your priorities and your freedom. Do yourself a favor, a create some white space in your life. Pencil it in, if you have to.