Give Yourself a Gift of Margin

I feel encouraged by those of you who told me that you’ve joined my “Early New Year’s Day Challenge”—thanks! It’s not too late to join; for the details, go here. I hope that you wrote out your red-light STOP list of energy-depleting activities and your green-light GO list of energy-renewing activities, and the made appropriate changes on your calendar.

When I compared my STOP list with my GO list, I saw a clear relationship between them. For example, I could remedy (STOP) feeling tired due to lack of sleep by (GO) taking naps (I’ve  taken three this week!); I could remedy (STOP) sifting through clutter by (GO) producing order from chaos (I organized my computer table.) ; and I could remedy (STOP) feelings of panic (adrenaline overload), caused by rushing to-get-things done, by (GO) revamping my schedule to give myself the gift of margin.

If you are wondering what I mean by margin, here’s a simple definition. Margin is the space above and below the print on this page, the space to the side of the print, the space between paragraphs, and the space between lines. While writing my book, Emotional Freedom, I discovered the importance of margin.

Lines that are too close together and words that are too small—like these—would make my pages difficult to read; they would probably make you feel mentally and emotionally frustrated; I expect that you would not read much of my book (or this blog post) if my pages looked like this.

This spacing feels more comfortable, doesn’t it!  I suspect that it makes reading easier for you; it makes reading and writing easier for me. Margin is comfortable; lack of margin is uncomfortable, and it produces unnecessary stress. In his book, Margin, Dr. Richard A. Swenson expands this concept.

“Margin,” he says, “is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond [italics, mine]that which is needed. It is the amount held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.”[i]

Swenson’s “gap between rest and exhaustion” phrase caught my attention. Rushing to-get-things done pumps too much adrenaline into our systems, producing anxiety and exhaustion. Pushing ourselves to the point of exhaustion makes us inefficient. For example, yesterday I slept poorly; when I tried to write this post, I could not think clearly. Finally, I gave up and took a 30-minute nap. After that, my energy was restored and I made progress.

In order to have the time (margin) to allow a nap, I made two additional changes. (1) I set a boundary on the number of daily, weekly, and monthly commitments that I have, and (2) I made a “NOT To-Do” list.

I found got the idea of a “NOT To-Do” list in More Writer’s First Aid: Getting the Writing Done. The author is Kristi Holl. I recommend her book not only for everyone who seriously desires to write but also for other creative people who want inspiration and need practical help to develop healthy habits. It’s available on Amazon.

 Suggested Activities:

  1. Creatively imagine what your day, week, and month would look like if you had the freedom of margin.
  2. Look at your STOP list and find something on your GO list that you could replace it with, so that the net result would be an increase of margin and inner peace.

[i] Richard A. Swenson, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004) 69.

4 thoughts on “Give Yourself a Gift of Margin

  1. this is very encouraging. i’ve always needed more space (margins) than a lot of people i know. thank you for re-affirming my need to make that choice. i do need to STOP letting that become an excuse to opt out of things i should do and GO with more Holy Spirit led action though. God’s working with me about this.

    • Joanne, Thanks so much for your thoughtful response about margins. I, too, want to “GO with Holy Spirit led action.”

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