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“Margin is the space between our load and our limits.” ~ Richard Swenson

The white space in our calendar (or a lack thereof) is a pretty accurate predictor  of the amount of emotional fuel we have in our tank. If our schedule contains long stretches with no white space, it’s likely we’re running on emotional fumes, regardless of what our adrenaline and cortisol hormones may be telling us. If we want to lead better, lead longer, and enjoy it more, we need margin.

Today Jaime Hlavin helps us understand what margin is, gives us a glimpse into her personal struggle with it in recent months, and shares a few pointers on how to get more of it in our week. Enjoy! ~ John

One day in early January, I found myself staring helplessly at my Day Planner (please refrain from commentary about joining the rest of you in the 21st century with your digital calendars) as I tried to figure out how to jam in one more item. The year had only just begun and already I had lost control. “Urgent” appointments, tasks, and deadlines were scrawled on so many pages leaving very little blank space. I even had items squeezed into the margins.

I closed the planner with an exasperated sigh.

That night I came home and announced to my husband the additional engagement needing to be added to our already packed schedules. This resulted in a much-needed conversation about all of the things we talk about over here at Converge. It was time to really practice what we preach. During our conversation, we talked about leaving margin in our lives and schedules. In Episode 21 of the Converge Coaching’s Leading From Alignment podcast, John and Jim briefly touch on the subject.

I focused on the word margin, and really began to dive into what that means. I looked it up in the dictionary. Two definitions struck me:

mar·gin

/ˈmärjən/

noun

  1. the edge or border of something.
  2. an amount by which a thing is won or falls short.

The first definition is reminiscent of our high school composition classes where we were instructed to leave a 1-inch margin around the border of our writing assignments. When those papers were returned to you by the teacher, the margins were often filled with red ink indicating additional thoughts, corrections to mistakes, and ways to adjust going forward. That’s what having margin in our lives and schedules does: it gives us enough white space to reflect on deeper thoughts, how to correct mistakes in the ways we’re doing things, and gives us time and energy to figure out ways to adjust going forward.

Now that I’ve been out of school for a very long time, I find myself reducing the margins in my Word documents to the absolute maximum in order to squeeze as much text as possible onto one page leaving little-to-no room for additional notes or thoughts. How often do we do that in our actual lives? We reduce the margin as much as possible in order to squeeze all the things in. I thought about my Day Planner and how it had all kinds of things scrawled into the margins that shouldn’t have been there.

The second definition punched me in the gut a little. “…an amount by which a thing is won or falls short.”  The pace I was running at and the over-packed schedule of my life was potentially causing the quality of family life, my attitude, and the excellence of my work to fall very short. I was on the verge of not really winning at anything.

After the conversation with my husband, I reached out to John and asked him if it would be okay if I took a short break from writing during the month of February in order to readjust the margin. Gaining margin is an ongoing process of evaluation and it’s important to step back periodically to adjust. I would encourage you to look at your own life and schedule to determine how much margin is bordering your page. That’ll look different for everyone, but it’s truly beneficial for emotional health. Also, check out John’s post from last week if you think you’ve exceeded that margin space.

Richard Swenson enlightens us one more time: “Margin is a buffer, a leeway, a gap; the place we go to heal, to reflect, to recharge our batteries, to focus on the things that matter most.”

Let’s fight the good fight for margin in our schedule so we can lead better, lead longer, and enjoy it more.

We’re rooting and praying for you.

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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