Hurry sickness is the curse of our age. Yet, many of us wear our busyness as a badge of honor, confusing a full schedule with a full life. Its antidote, in the words of Dallas Willard, is to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” In a word, we, as Christian coaches, need margin.
In his outstanding book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Richard A. Swenson, M.D. describes 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.
But be forewarned, if you want margin in today’s 24-7 world, you will have to fight for it.
The Formula for Margin
“The formula for margin is straightforward: Power – Load = Margin,” explains Swenson. He defines power as your energy, time, skills, emotional and physical capacity, finances, and social supports. Load, on the other hand, consists of such factors as problems, debt, deadlines, and interpersonal conflicts.
“When our load is greater than our power, we enter into negative margin status, that is, we are overloaded,” he writes. “Severe negative margin for an extended period of time is another name for burnout.”
To increase margin, you must increase power or decrease load or both. There is simply no other way.
Prescription for Overload
How do we find relief from overloaded lives? What does it take to create margin in your life?
While there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, we can all apply these principles to our lives:
- Assess where you are physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. Most of us deceive ourselves into thinking we have more reserve than we actually do. Although it’s always a good idea to self-assess, sometimes it’s not enough. That’s why I suggest asking a friend who knows you well, “Where in my life am I overextended? What do you see in my life that I’m failing to see?”
- Learn to say, “No.” How many times have you said, “Yes,” when everything in you screamed “No?” We all do it, but ultimately it boils down to people pleasing. For every opportunity that comes your way, ask yourself, “Am I trying to win the approval of people or God?” Another way to keep from over-committing is to resolve to wait 24 hours before accepting an invitation.
- Schedule free time. Do you schedule yourself for every minute of every day? Noticing my tendency to do just that, my virtual assistant and friend has recently begun adding things to my calendar like “lunch with a friend” or “play.” Initially, I chuckled, but I soon realized she was right and began scheduling my own down time on my calendar.
- Prune activities from your schedule. Never add something to your schedule without first subtracting something else. You can’t do it all, nor should you try. Seasons change and a calendar that works for one season might not work for another. Accept life’s ebb and flow, and go with it, instead of fighting against it.
For more on restoring emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves to your life, pick up a copy of, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, by Richard A. Swenson, M.D
How do you create margin in your life?