Ever feel like your to-do list is multiplying faster than rabbits?
Or maybe you’ve noticed your calendar looking like a colorful battlefield of appointments and tasks? We’ve all been there! In this chaotic world of constant notifications and never-ending responsibilities, finding a moment to breathe can feel like a Herculean task. When you don’t have space or margin, your over-crowded schedule chokes out creativity, productivity, and energy. So you need to know how to create space in your day.
We typically think of margin as the space in on a piece of paper between the text and the edge. It’s that white space that defines where the content is on the page, so you can hold the paper without hiding anything. Margin in printing makes it possible for you to read and comprehend what’s written or drawn on the page.
In life, we need margin in our days.
Margin is the space between your obligations and your limits. It’s the ability to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee without having to either chug it down or abandon and reheat multiple times. Margin is room to breathe. It’s the flexibility you need to actually live.
But margin doesn’t happen by accident. That’s why it’s so easy to overschedule and fill our days to overflowing. And while it’s harder to carve out margin in some situations — like having a houseful of young children — it’s essential that we do leave white space on our calendars on purpose.
So how do we create margin in our days?
Three ways: setting boundaries, blocking off time, and prioritization.
Margin starts with a mindset shift on how you view your time.
Most people see time as storage space to fill. Like an overstuffed closet, you think you can always squeeze in one more thing — until it all crashes down on you. And it’s easy to see time as this space to fill up. Filling up that to-do list with tasks and appointments is natural.
But if you see time more like money to spend, it changes your perspective.
So imagine, if you will, that every day you get a wallet stuffed full with cash. There’s no bank account or loan or line of credit, so that’s all the money you get for that day, until the next day. And if you don’t spend it all by the end of the day, it disappears, wasted.
How will you spend that money?
Will you go out and spend it all right away on junk food and games? Or will you be strict about what you spend it on, covering only what’s absolutely necessary, pinching every penny? Or will you be careful, but willing to spend on fulfilling things, not just the basics of life?
That wallet full of cash is the hours and minutes you get each day. You can’t borrow more hours and minutes from a time bank (wish we could!!) and you can’t save them up for later. You get the same amount, no more , no less, every day.
Some of us spend all our time frivolously, wasting it away on temporary amusements. Some of us spend all our time in strict discipline, working hard, and never spending any time on anything fun.
But what if you were choosy about what you spend your time on? What if you worked hard AND still got to play?
When you treat your time as valuable, when you put a price on it, naturally you’ll be more deliberate about what you spend your time on.
So the first thing to do to create margin is to set a boundary around your time.
Setting boundaries on your time shows that you recognize the value of your time, and you’re careful about what you’ll spend it on.
Rather than focused on the tasks you need to do with the time you have, you’ll look at the time you have and consider which tasks you’ll work on.
Notice the shift in language here: it’s not how many tasks can I do in this time, it’s how much time will I devote to these tasks?
You put a limit on the amount of time you’re willing to spend on the tasks at hand.
And if you don’t finish in the time allotted, either you’ll need to spend more time later on, or consider how important the task is.
When we set boundaries on our time, we’re no longer “spending” time, we’re investing it. And there had better be a worthwhile return, because our time is valuable, and we protect it.
Margin protects our time from being spent on things that aren’t worth our time.
The next part of margin is to block off time.
We talked about how setting a boundary with our time is like investing. But like any good investment portfolio, there isn’t just one investment.
There are many.
Time blocking means you’re creating several different boundaries with your time. You’re blocking off chunks of time to spend on various categories of tasks.
Remember how spending time is much like spending money? Time blocking is like creating a budget for your time.
One of the most popular methods of budgeting is to use “envelopes” or categories of spending. Every dollar of income gets assigned to an “envelope” before you ever receive it, and distributing money to the various envelopes means that important things like mortgage payments and groceries are paid for before anything else.
Time blocking creates “envelopes” for your time.
When we create categories of what to do with our time, we can create margin in our days easier. The tasks fill the preset boundaries, instead of the whole day, and that leaves you with time to spend on the things you want to spend time on.
To-do lists are great ways to create time blocks. Keep a to-do list for different areas of your home, and add to them as you think of various tasks.
For example, I have a running to-do list for errands, so that I can remember to buy more stamps or drop off old clothes at the thrift store when next I’m out. I have another list for when I’m on my computer, so that I can separate my work obligations from my priorities as a mom and homemaker.
The last part of margin is to prioritize.
And this one is a natural extension of the first two parts. After all, when you’ve set limits on how much time you’ll invest in certain tasks, and you’ve created envelopes of time to spend on those tasks, you’ll naturally prioritize which tasks get done first in the amount of time you have for those tasks.
Let’s break this down.
If we’ve valued our time properly, we only want to spend so much time on any given task.
If we only want to put so much time towards a certain task, it’s better to group similar tasks together.
Grouping similar tasks together makes better use of our time, in small pockets.
With only a small amount of time put aside for those tasks, ranking them in order of importance to get done helps make sure the most important are completed. Anything not important can be safely ignored until the next turn for those kinds of tasks. If you can only do one task in the time you have available, which one will you do?
That’s your priority.
So what is margin for?
Margin is the space between the limits, the gaps in between the blocks, and what makes prioritization easy. And margin is how you truly thrive, not just survive.