I know what you’re thinking, but I’m talking about margin—breathing room, think time, downtime, those moments we all desperately need really stay effective and enjoy the things that matter most.
We’re used to thinking “full time” work means forty hours a week. With that kind of commitment, we still have time for ourselves and families. But there has been a significant creep on our weekly work hours.
Nowadays the average American worker is clocking closer to 50 hours a week, according to a Gallup survey, and for some it’s even higher. A quarter of salaried workers put in more than 60 hours a week!
And what about those of us who are entrepreneurs? It could feel good to cram the calendar or scary to clear it out, but either way we’re often drowning and in desperate need of margin.
I suffer from this as much as anyone. The reality it is that almost everything I know about time management I know from not having enough and learning from mistakes I’ve made in mismanaging that finite resource.
What I’ve learned is that the only way to gain more margin, is to create it—to actively make the space we need to breathe. With that in mind, here are three steps you can take for getting more margin starting today.
- Intend your time. It’s impossible to understate the importance of this foundational step. Margin isn’t a matter of luck; it’s a matter of self-leadership. That means we have to determine that margin matters enough to us to change the way we work, or we won’t gain any.
Once we’ve made that determination, we have to believe that we have enough agency to actually accomplish what we’re setting out to do. We have to adopt the mindset of possibility when it comes to our time or we’re just spinning our wheels.
- Spend your time. “Time is money” goes the old saying, and it’s true in more ways than one. The best trick I know for creating margin is blocking it out on your calendar. If you don’t commit your time, others will find more commitments for you.
One way to do this is to create an ideal week and let it determine your schedule. I show you how to do that here.
Whatever system you use, the important thing to remember is that a schedule is a filter. If you set it up well in advance, it’ll prevent most of the margin killers from getting through. It won’t be perfect, but without a plan, we’re goners when it comes to margin.
- Defend your time. Once we decide to get intentional and budget our time, we have to defend the decisions we’ve made—and I’m talking like knights on the castle wall.
The filter is only a strong as our resolve. There will be outside requests—even things we personally want to do—that can ruin the margin we’ve created. No one will defend it but you. If you really value margin, you have to defend it. It’s a simple as that.
No one cares about your margin as much as you do. Getting more starts with self-leadership. We have to determine to create it and defend it.
Without that determination, the pressures of our work environment, fear about our finances, or the escapism of work will eat up the time we need for the things that matter most.