forgotten to create and build MARGIN
into our lives. We have forgotten to set up boundaries.
something we have to be deliberate and intentional about fighting for. In fact,
it doesn’t just happen.
In his book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical,
Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Richard Swenson, M.D.,
defines margin like this:
“Margin is the space
between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed.
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.”
Chances are when
you hear the word “margin,” your defenses come up. You may be thinking, “Ted,
you have no idea how MUCH I have to get done! I don’t have time to create and
build margin into my life.”
more than ever, we need to be intentional when investing in ourselves – adding
margin. The stress in today’s marketplace has increased exponentially. Carving
out margin is more
important than ever.
No Margin = Loss of Passion.
No Margin = Ineffectiveness.
No Margin = Lackluster Life and Leadership.
You need margin
to bring some sort of balance to your life. You need margin to refuel your
life. You need margin for setting priorities. You need margin to resurrect a
dying vision. Most critically, you need margin to reflect and rejuvenate.
You know how in
airplanes, there’s the safety warning before take-off? What does it tell
you? Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before putting on someone
else. Why should you put your mask on first? Because it’s only THEN you can
help others. (If you’re not breathing anymore, you’re not going to be all that
helpful to others.)
in your life allows you to “put your mask on first,” which in turn allows you
to be more helpful to others.
You’re not able
to contribute your best self if you’re not taking care of yourself. You must
prioritize and create better margin in order to help others.
It’s not self-centered to carve out pockets
of margin in your life. In fact, you are doing your family and friends, your
organization, others, and yourself an injustice if you DON’T.
Below are suggested ideas and examples to consider when building margin
into your life:
to say yes to “less” and no to “more.” (That means in areas where you are
able to choose, consider the implications before saying yes.)Invest
in yourself. What other context can you leverage for the purpose of
rejuvenation and growth? (Examples: reading, podcasts, conferences)Use
your benefit time at work. What a great opportunity to regain focus and
clarity by setting aside time to get away.Hit
pause from work,
especially on your days off…REST. (Don’t check your iPhone every 20
seconds. Even your iPhone needs moments of R.)Remember
that you can’t
please everyone. You will disappoint some people. You can’t be all things
to all people. Hebert Swope says it best: “I cannot give you the formula for success,
but I can give you the formula for failure – which is: try to please
6. Reduce meeting
times and frequency. It
forces you to plan ahead, and it makes the time you do spend in meetings more
the important activities. These are activities
that contribute to your personal and professional goals and priorities.
Your life has
poetic possibilities jammed with unending potential…with that comes the voice
of wisdom saying, “slow down to create and build margin into your life.”
WHEN LIFE, LEADERSHIP, AND BUSYNESS COLLIDE
greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that
don’t really matter.”
Every time one
of my sons has reached his next birthday, it is a reminder that I’ve been given
another year and another extraordinary opportunity to lead and contribute to
shaping my sons’ lives. They are adventurous boys, with big hearts, who have a
bright future and a world awaiting them…filled with unending possibilities.
As a dad, I’m
definitely learning in the wobble. I’ve found that in the midst of my
mistakes there are principles and (hidden) truths that yield nuggets of wisdom.
A few years ago, before another son’s first birthday, I found that I was
succumbing to busyness and a hurried life.
Do you ever feel
like life has been put in high gear, moving faster and faster? Do you feel like
you have no time for things that are important to you? Do you have a hard time
being present and enjoying the moment, instead focusing on what happened in the
past or what could happen in the future?
Each of us can
be intoxicated by busyness. We have mechanisms and systems in our society that
help us move faster. Hurrying and busyness can even become a workaholics “badge
As mentioned in
chapter 2, an American cardiologist, Meyer Friedman, says, in our society, we
suffer from what he calls hurry sickness. The disease called hurry sickness suppresses
our effectiveness and ability to be present in the moment. His antidote is that
we have to give up on certain opportunities in order to take advantage of other
ones. You can’t answer every request.
You can’t please every voice. You are finite. You have limits.
Every day, every
moment, every second transmits with it its own finality. Time is our one undeniably nonrenewable
resource. “Where did the time go?” we ask when we sense we have spent
the years wrongly or have taken some great gift, life, or family for granted.
And the answer, of course, is that it went to the same place it always has. At
the end of every day, one more box in the calendar has been moved from the
future column to the past column, from possibility to history.
The reality is
if we don’t properly align our priorities and treasure our time, someone else
will. We must be ruthless in setting up the appropriate boundaries to ensure
others aren’t dictating our priorities. Those you care about the most deserve
As leaders, one
of the practices I recommend is intentionally
pausing for a moment to consider the current landscape of your life.
What initiatives, projects, and other activities are you involved in? What
commitments have you made? What is your “yes-to-no” ratio?
suggests the following remedy for living a hurried, fast-paced life…change of pace + change of place = change of
While I’m an
advocate of such practices of evaluation, I find myself being an offender of not
taking my own advice. A few years ago, I was incredibly overextended. I felt
internally (don’t ignore your instincts) that it was time to slow down for a
season, in order to focus on what was important in life.
I ended up
relinquishing several leadership responsibilities, one with a nonprofit
organization I had been leading for years. I also put a hold on teaching at a
local university, and I bowed out of board responsibilities. Additionally, I
stopped side collaborative projects for a season.
Because it was a
season where I was overextending myself. I found myself “hurrying” more, and being “present” less for those who were most
important to me. I knew it was time to create margin and put boundaries in
Much of my
decision to relinquish commitments and set clear priorities in my life was a
result of reading the story of Eugene O’Kelly, a former CEO of KPMG, one of the
largest accounting firms in the world. As CEO, his calendar was booked 18
months in advance. Working 12 to 15 hours a day, he had an insanely busy life.
He embodied the essence of what some would call an unhealthy balance of
All of it came
to a screeching halt after he was diagnosed at the age of 53 with advanced
stages of brain cancer. He was given three months to live.
For the next 90
days, he tried to create what O’Kelly called perfect moments: an
experience with others when time stands still for a moment. A moment
where you are fully present, where
you leave the past behind and set aside the future, and fully engage in the present.
You might be
thinking right now, “Ted, what does this have to do with leadership?” Frankly,
it has a lot to do with leadership. It is choosing to align your life in such a
way that you balance your life and create margin for those people/things that
are important. Choosing to be present
in the moment. Hitting the pause button to enjoy those perfect moments.
do they not teach you that life
is a finger snap and an eye blink, and that you should not allow a moment to
pass you by without taking joyous, ecstatic note of it, not wasting a single
moment of its swift, breakneck current?”
This weekend I’m
hitting the pause button, soaking in the gift I have been given with my four
sons (aka cowboys). They are reminders to me that living a hurried life is for amateurs. That leadership is found in ruthlessly and continuously eliminating hurry
from one’s life.