He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11
Margin is the time in our days we have that is uncommitted. After that which we must do, it is the time left for the things we want to do. Or not to do. A recent study by the Center for American Progress found that not only are men working more hours than ever, but over 60% of families with children have both parents working outside the home. Margin is becoming increasingly scarce. Building margin is not something that will just happen on its own. It will take intentional steps in your life to find and grow your margin. For instance:
Get more sleep. A good nights’ sleep helps you think more clearly and make better decisions. Only a very small percentage of the population can get by on little sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, beginning around age 18, you should get 7-9 hours per night, consistently. The same study found that getting both too little sleep and too much sleep were unhealthy, leading to consequences from grogginess to weight gain. Healthy sleep each night will put your mind in the position to accomplish your goals—including creating more margin.
Start your day under God-centered influence. Spending time with God in the morning, through Bible study or reading, and prayer, will put your day into perspective. When you spend time with God you will know where you must go today, what you must do, and why you are doing it. There is no better way to prioritize your activities than to spend time with the One Person Who knows you best and, according to Ephesians 2:10, has already prepared good works for you to accomplish.
Allow an extra 15 minutes. Plan your schedule to arrive 15 minutes ahead of a meeting, 15 minutes early to the airport, 15 minutes early to work, 15 minutes early to church. This is simply a matter of looking at the clock and mentally winding back the hand on your starting times by 15 minutes. When you arrive early, you give yourself the opportunity to put your mind into the next task, sit and relax for a moment, return that phone call, look over the entire menu, say hello to that client or other churchgoer before beginning in earnest. A habit of 15 minute “margins” will surprise you with the amount of “rush” it removes from your life.
Define success without delusion. Margin becomes more of a priority after you take time to determine where you really are headed in life. Don’t just wonder, write down goals. Some can be practical, like owning a house or finishing college or starting a family. Always have in mind what the next important thing is that you are working on, and weigh the goal against your day to day activities. If tasks or commitments aren’t pushing you forward, consider how you can remove them from your life. And another caution—don’t let envy drive you. What your neighbor has, or is doing, has nothing to do with you. Be happy for others’ success in life, and focused on what defines your success. Most often you will find your goals and others’ goals are not aligned at all.
Cultivate it. Margin is all about managing time, and the best way you can do that is to schedule more of yours. Make appointments with yourself to mow the lawn, take care of the house, make the weekly shopping trip. Whatever consumes your time each day, schedule it and try to keep to the schedule. And look at time wasters like social media, TV, videogames, and idle gossip—remove those things from your life that aren’t helping you free up your time. Or, if they provide you legitimate entertainment, schedule that time as well.
Margin is not useless time. It can be down time, but it may also be time to think, consider, contemplate, enjoy, enrich, influence, love, care, show compassion. Artist Jonathan Sloan once said of art that though it is difficult to make a living from art, “Art is what makes life worth living.” The same may be said of margin in your life. You will not make a living with it, but you can grow your life through it, creating free moments to accomplish that which cannot be scheduled or planned.