Lately I’ve been keenly aware of the lack of margin that exist in my life. This isn’t true about every area of my life, but it’s certainly true regarding my work.
In the past few months I’ve step out to pursue a new path. The work has been challenging, exhilarating, and all consuming. I absolutely love what I get to do every day, that's why it's hard to know when to stop.
My favorite definition of margin is: an amount allowed or available beyond what is actually necessary.
We all know margin is important. Margin allows us to run at a pace that’s sustainable without feeling overwhelmed. But let's be honest, how good are you at having and maintaining good margin? When the available amount of time, money, or [insert your own challenge here] is beyond what is actually necessary, how likely are you to set a healthy limit and give yourself the margin you need?
Here’s my problem, whenever I feel pressure to get something done I begin to pedal harder and faster. I reason that if I overwork for a short period of time, it will help me get ahead and get on top of things, which will result in gaining the margin I want.
It was a lack of margin that motivated me to get our family’s finances in order years ago. Bills and financial obligations had become overwhelming. Under that pressure I did what I thought was right, work more to make more money. I took on another job, and then another, until I was working 16 to 20 hours per day six to seven days a week.
For a short time our financial margin increased. We finally had some breathing room, but the margin in every other area of my life was now nonexistent. I had fixed one problem at the expense of creating many more!
Taking from what’s available only that which is actually necessary
The answer to increasing margin is not to do more or run faster in order to gain control. The answer is to first determine that which is necessary from that which is available.
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
Set your goals and work hard to reach them, but do so only after you’ve established your personal 'necessary.' Get crystal clear about this. Choose what you really want from everything that’s available and then focus on doing only that.
3 things you can do to increase margin
1. Schedule rest.
Rest needs to be part of your necessary. If accomplishing your goals doesn't leave room for rest, it means you've taken on too much. Rest is important to our body and our mind. In addition to productivity, working without proper spaces of rest has proven to diminish creativity and the quality of work. To be at your best you must make room for proper periods of rest.
2. Prioritize, schedule, and stick to a plan.
Productivity is directly linked to job satisfaction. Getting things done makes you feel good while not getting things done has the opposite effect. Prioritizing your work and scheduling each task is an effective way to ensure you’re doing only what’s necessary to move you toward your goals. It’s too easy to get distracted and waste time. Getting Things Done by David Allen is a great resource to help you be more productive.
3. Say “No”
If you’re going to maintain margin, you can’t do everything and you can’t be everyone’s go-to person. It’s okay to say "No.” In fact, more often than not, it’s the right answer.
Years ago, a friend introduced me to a phrase I’ve never forgotten, “Don’t take their monkeys.” People can sometimes make their problems, the monkeys on their backs, your problems. They come asking you for help, but what they’re really doing is handing you their problems for you to fix. You must recognize when helping is really helping and not enabling. My plan is to only say “Yes” when I’ve got a good handle on my own tasks and when helping is actually helping.
Want to join me in increasing margin in your life? Incorporate at least one these into your own life today!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on margin and how you’ve been able to gain and maintain it in your finances or any other area of your life.