Margin matters. As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, it is not a luxury or an option if you want your life and ministry to matter. Margin is the key component of productivity, purpose, effectiveness and sustainability.
But to create margin, you must first recognize why you don’t have it.
I’ve worked with leaders in Fortune 100 companies, churches and non-profits. Though the organizations are unique in size and mission, the lack of margin among leaders is consistent. Why? Here are the most common reasons I’ve seen.
1. Margin is for Sissies.
This leader believes only weak people need margin and considers it a badge of honor run the marathon of life like it’s a 100m dash. I once sat in a staff meeting where the leader said “we create [balanced] weeks to crush them.” This is is actually a sign of weak leadership. It’s easy to blindly say ‘yes’ to everything that lands in your lap. It’s harder to live purposefully, pace yourself, and do things connected to your calling with excellence. Q: Do you need to focus on your specific calling?
2. Everyone needs me.
Whether you’re a CEO or stay-at-home mom, this is a trap. And at its core it is an identity issue. In some sadistic sense, we thrive on running from task to task and helping person after person because we feel validated. We’ll overextend ourselves because we believe we are essential. It’s not that you aren’t needed, you are. However, if you don’t stop, you’ll negatively affect your ability to serve as your energy, attentiveness, passion and creativity dwindle. Embrace your inability to be everywhere. Focus on what’s essential, learn to delegate and stretch your faith as you invite God to step in and shoulder what you can’t. Q: Has your identity become based on what you do?
3. I Need Permission.
This is epidemic in leadership, particularly in churches. Our pastors are asked to be Superman and they’re increasingly afraid to ask for margin. The expectations mount as they are to deliver great messages, raise perfect kids, lead the board of directors, counsel, have entertaining worship, keep the budget in the black, never miss a quite-time, develop leaders, answer e-mail immediately and marry and bury in their free-time. In reality, a pastor’s primary call is his family and to “…equip the saints for the work of ministry…” (Eph. 4:12) and he should have margin enough to do these well. Q: Do you lack margin in life because of unrealistic expectations in your job?
4. Who Has Time for Margin?
This is the most common one. Simply, life gets in the way of trying to do life well. When asked why he or she doesn’t have margin, this leader essentially responds with this paradox: “If I had more margin, I’d be able to create margin.” The endless to-lists won’t end. The hamster wheel will always spin if you don’t step off. Just disconnect! As Virgin founder, Sir Richard Branson says “You must manage your Blackberry; do not let it manage you. Many executives check their smartphones throughout meetings and during off-hours. This is not good for concentration, and has a negative impact on decision making.” Margin requires you to release life’s demands to the Lord and trust he can take care of what you cannot. Q: Do you forget that God is sovereign and can do infinitely more than any of us?
Work to plan margin into your calendar. What do you need to do in your margin? Workout, have extended time of prayer, write, have coffee with your best-friend, etc? Make sure you have an idea of what you’ll do. Focus on those things that will refresh and revitalize you.
QUESTION: What keeps you from margin? What needs to go so you have time for margin?
Life is fast and the pace of life is increasing at a frighteningly rapid rate. The demands of work, church and family used to be considered a full-schedule. Now, technology, connectivity and information-overload has sucked up our last free minutes and put the schedule into hyperdrive. Finding margin is becoming a lost art.
But why is margin so important? Is it necessary? Or is it simply a fairy-tale for idealistic life-coaches (like me)? Margin matters big time. It’s an essential part of many aspects of life, we just forget that it matters in our schedules and lives.
Have you ever tried reading a book that didn’t have space in the margin? Why not? This type of book doesn’t exist because designers recognize what many of us do not - it would be psychologically disturbing to have an uninterrupted information flow with no space for relief. We need to stop and digest the writer’s words.
As J. A. van de Graaf, the father of the early canons of page construction stated, margin exists to “divide the page into pleasing proportions.” While research on the psychology of space may have been underdeveloped at this time, van de Graaf was on to something.
Margin is pleasing in that it is essential to maintain balance, consistency, attention and peace. These earliest observations reinforced the principle that our eyes, mind and senses were designed to embrace space.
Life outside books is the same way.
Margin is essential to clarity. And clarity is essential to living purposefully, productively and passionately. You and I live in a world where information, opportunity and responsibility comes like a torrent. Unless we create space to receive it, we’ll react to it – and let our lives be dictated by what smacks us in the face that day.
Look at Jesus. How did he respond in after hearing that his beloved friend John the Baptist, was beheaded?
“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.” (Matthew 14:13 )
Upon receiving life-altering news, Jesus sought margin. He stepped out of the demands of ministry and life into the stillness of nature and isolation. Jesus knew this margin was essential because it allowed him to process his thoughts and meet with the Father. The pattern continued over the course of his ministry and sustained him in the work he was called to.
QUESTION: How can you embrace margin in your life? Do you have it…do you use it?
Next week, we’ll tackle Part 2 of “Margin Matters” and address why you (yes, YOU) need it.
When it comes to personal productivity, growing your business or even being a better spouse, there is a temptation to believe that if you spend enough time searching, you’ll stumble across an extraordinary tool that will deliver exceptional growth or progress. Unfortunately, in real life, these success accelerators doesn’t exist. When you invest time in their pursuit, you rob yourself of smaller doses of success that lead to increasingly greater, sustained success. This is why some of the most un-productive people are the ones who are on a perpetual hunt for next great GTD productivity app, software or method.
In reality, extraordinary results only come when you’ve determined to do the ordinary with greater consistency and commitment.
Do you want to get more done? Use a simple time-blocking method and stick to it. Or, buy a $0.99 legal pad and draw up prioritized to-do list every day. Do it in order of priority until you’re finished. This simple exercise was an indispensible tool for Charles Schwab, one of the most successful businessmen of all-time.
Do you want to be a better spouse? Don’t (just) plan that once-in-a-lifetime vacation or save for a diamond ring. Make progress toward intimacy by making dinner once per week, shutting off your phone at dinner, or praying for your wife every night before bed.
Ordinary disciplines, when practiced daily, will yield the extraordinary growth results that the “extraordinary” tools never do.
What “consistently-ordinary” things have been helpful for you?