In our last engagement we dealt with the importance of pursuing that one important thing this year that will put your life at a much favorable level. The operative word to translate this into reality is focus. This week I want to take our endeavor a notch higher by dealing with the important subject of building a margin into your life. The dictionary defines margin as the amount allowed or available beyond what is actually necessary. That cushion of time in our schedules that allow us the latitude to perform optimally with the minimum level of stress and inconvenience. I like the way Richard Swenson puts it “Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.”

There are countless examples of inequality in the world. What can however not be disputed is that all of us are equally given 24 hours in a day. Life is a continuous tradeoff; for every additional responsibility you take on, you will have to forego something. If not, you will squeeze yourself to a level which will simply not be sustainable with devastating consequences. Hence the importance of pacing ourselves appropriately by building in a margin in our schedule.

Life in the 21st century can sometimes feel like an unending rat race. We only slow down when there is a crisis or any other adverse eventuality. When that episode is over, we need to play catch-up again. There are just so many competing interests making demands on our time and resources. If we do not build a margin into our lives, one small crisis will lead to another, causing us to become easily agitated and moody. There is no time for relaxation and it almost seems that we continually have our backs against the wall. Conversely when we build in sufficient margin to even deal with unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances, our actions are informed by reflective thinking as opposed to impulsive responses. We will have time to plan appropriately and our outputs will be greatly enhanced.

Some of us regard a full diary as a virtue and pride ourselves in the false belief that we are highly occupied and productive. Busyness does not equate effectiveness. How many times have you and me sat over coffee with a friend but constantly looked on our watches, got irritable in traffic, cut people short in our engagements because of back-to –back appointments? What we are missing is margin; that ability that constantly puts us in control of the situation.  


Margin can be as elusive as a mirage. It will require a conscious and deliberate effort from our side to free up time in our schedule and guard it jealously. As someone once said – decisions get us going but it is discipline that helps us to finish strong. The perennial excuse of I am simply too busy, will soon become a hollow proposition. A lack of margin will have a detrimental effect on your primary relationships like family, vocational and social. It can also totally undermine your mission in life. JD Meier a Principal Project Manager at Microsoft puts it so aptly “Leadership is a verb and productive leadership is an art. The art part is when you use your experience and judgement to apply proven practices to the situation you are in to produce effective results.” We all operate under a different set of circumstances but allow me to advance the following few suggestions to protect your margin:

1. Establish no-fly zones

The military sometimes determines areas in which no civil aviation activities can take place at all. Any violation of that airspace can lead to an evacuation with sometimes fatal consequences. Likewise, we need to block out an hour or two in our day to work on the major priority for the day with no interference at all from the cell phone or emails. Multi-tasking is not a virtue; focus increases productivity.

2. Do not allow the Inbox to rule your life

Set aside specific times to deal with emails. Do not feel obligated to respond to every bit on social media; it sometimes triggers a host of time consuming engagements which is not a priority at that point in time. It’s surprising how subtle we can be sucked into unplanned social media engagements which totally erodes our margin.  

3. Start and leave on time

If an appointment does not start on time and drags on beyond its scheduled time, it has a knock–on effect on the quality of the next engagement. Rigorously stick to meeting schedules and do not allow others to derail it.

4. Deliberately schedule for Me-time

There should be a deliberate repetitive event called Me-time, in your diary. This will cater for unexpected needs that may arise for example a visit to someone in hospital, personal care and rejuvenation, making a call to encourage a close friend or relative… This will not only help you to reflect and recharge but also greatly assist in you living a life of overflow to others.

5. Learn the art of saying No!

The intense expectations on our daily lives can become a vicious cycle. You can’t be everything to everybody and at some stage you have to determine what’s in your best interest. It is not a crime to say no. If you don’t learn to say no, you can neglect yourself in the process. You won’t have time to replenish your intellectual deficits and do not care for your soul through meaningful recreation.

6. Never compromise time to connect with your Creator

We are spiritual beings living in human bodies and it is imperative to draw our spiritual sustenance by being in constant connection with our Creator. Just like a tree needs to have its roots anchored in fertile soil from which it draws its nutrients and a fish needs to be constantly in the water for its survival, so do we need to remain connected to our spiritual Source. We can only live out our divine purpose and plan for our lives if we are in constant communication with Him. There should be almost a rhythmic pattern in our lives in terms of spiritual disciplines like prayer and meditation, worship and extending His love by serving others. By deliberately and consciously building in a margin of time with our Creator, demonstrates our dependence on Him to sustain us on our journey of life. Given the complexities of the age in which we live, if you try going through life on your own strength and abilities, you will be overwhelmed.

Where there is no margin, there is no mission. Make this your priority very early at the start of the year, to identify those issues that encroach on your margin and eliminate them decisively. If you fail to do that, you will stumble from one episode to the other without any fulfillment. Please feel free to share with us from your own experience, any other practical suggestions on how we can increase and safeguard our margin. Life is a journey, not a 100 meter race; learn the art of pacing yourself appropriately.

Enjoy the journey!

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