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Updated: Aug 24, 2023

One of the things I have always liked about the Google home page is all of the white space. They have kept it simple and basically have their name and a search bar. The publishing industry understands the importance of white space. That is why magazines and books have margins that make it easier for us to read. Try reading a book or document without margins – it will give you a headache!

Dr. Richard Swenson wrote a series of books on the need for “margin” in our lives. He defines margin as “the space between our load and our limits and is related to our reserves and resilience. It is a buffer, a leeway, a gap; the place we go to heal, to relate, to reflect, to recharge our batteries, to focus on the things that matter most.” When I first read his books and reviewed the underlying data on employee burnout and related health challenges resulting from a lack of margin, I looked at my own life and those of my friends and colleagues and realized how critically important it was to build margin in life.

It is only a matter of when, not if, we will be faced with life’s inevitable challenges. When we lack margin, we have very little capacity to deal with these problems and the results can be catastrophic. To have true health, we need margin in our lives. The challenge is that maintaining margin in our time, health, and finances tends to fall in the bucket of IMPORTANT, but not URGENT items on our to-do list.

Margin of Time

The first step in creating the margin of time is to truly understand how we spend our time. As humans, we are very good at deceiving ourselves. Until you take a few days and inventory how you spend your time, it is very difficult to truly understand the choices we make with our time.

I used to ask clients to track their time for several days from the moment they wake up until they go to bed. This usually created “Ah-Ha!” moments when they saw where their time really went. How we spend our time, like how we spend our money, reflects our priorities.

If we are going to have intentional living and create the margin of time in our lives, then we need to start planning how we want to spend it. Another exercise I used to do is to ask clients to plan the perfect day and week. If you are not living that life now, then the question is why not?

Margin of Health

When I was growing up, I had a friend whose father was a well-known physician and health advocate. To my shock, when I would go over to their house, I would witness his father chain smoking. He certainly did not have a lack of information, he just chose not to act on that information. As it relates to healthy eating, sleep, and exercise, we have more information than we could use in a lifetime.

The question is whether we will build the positive habits in our lives to create the margin of good health by acting on what we know. When we have the margin of health, we have strength, energy, and vitality. We are rested and renewed daily. We are better able to deal with the stressors of life because we have strong bodies and minds.

Margin of Finances

Andy Stanley, the leader of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, is one of my favorite speakers. He has given some of the best talks on managing your finances I have ever heard. Stanley points out that the problem that many have is that they never create financial margin because they don’t decide to live on a percentage of their income. Instead, as their income rises they raise their standard of living.

As evidenced by the carnage in the Great Recession, this can prove catastrophic if there is a downturn on the income side of the equation. Even high net worth people struggle routinely with getting trapped into lifestyle choices that require them to work harder and harder just to keep up. However, when we live on a budget and use percentages to govern our giving, saving, and living, then we are on a path to financial margin.

I encourage you to not let another year go by in which you struggle with a lack of margin in your life. Being intentional and proactive about prioritizing the creation of margin in your life is a gift that you can give to yourself and family with long term benefits!

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