How to Build in Margin to Release Peaceful Productivity

By Doug Armey

The fall had been incredibly busy and exhausting.  Jennifer and I are thankfully at a place where we have good income, enough investments and time to enjoy them.  Yet, both of us fill up our lives with interesting and important activities because there’s so much more to do.  And I don’t do boredom well.

So with the responsibilities of president-elect of my large Rotary club, writing this blog and running my business I felt overwhelmed.  Then I fired an inept property manager so we had several rentals needing to be remodeled and re-rented in the worst part of the year.

We both bonked.

The solution?  Work harder.  Keep my head down.  Spend longer hours trying to get it all completed.

The result?  Guess.

About that time I read a couple of posts about building margin into life.  I had very little.  One activity blended into another.  Multitasking non-stop.  Huge amounts of stress.

So between Christmas and New Years I took some time to rethink my involvements and time schedule.

I thought about what was most important to me.  What are activities that are taking a lot of time but I’m not that excited about?  Where can I build in down time?  How can I build in that margin?  Who can help me with some of the responsibilities?

It’s a difficult process.  Everything I’m involved in is important.  Good activities.  Great organizations.  Good friends.  Important work.  That’s why it accumulates until it starts to crush.  How do I let go of some of the good things I just can’t keep up with currently?

So I worked through the process.  Setting priorities.  Trying to understand what’s most important to me so I could pare back some commitments.

I won’t say I have it all dialed in yet.  I never dial in this part of my life extremely well being a classic type A personality.  But I’ve regained some control.  Found some balance.  Built in margin again and with it a level of peace and rest.

During this time I read a quote from Michael Hyatt on his blog that reminded me of this need.

He wrote, “Yes, balance is possible. But it requires that you recognize the forces that threaten to disrupt it and put into place the appropriate countermeasures.”

It takes conscious effort to keep that balance.  We need to intentionally build in that margin to reap the rewards of it.

Yet, it’s so hard for most of us.

We buy laptops, smart phones, PDAs that are supposed to help us become more productive.  And they do.  But then our lives are connected by internet 24/7.

So we work harder and more efficiently trying to squeeze ever more into our day with the result we find we only have more to do.  We have the most tools to increase productivity in history yet many studies show we’re the most stressed of any generation.

There simply needs to be a better way.

For me it’s about building in margin.  Balancing my connected life with purposeful downtime.  And the fascinating part?  In that margin I find my most creative thoughts, richest times as well as physical renewal.

There’s a great verse in scripture that gives me encouragement.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15, NIV)

Not in busyness.  Not in multi-tasking.  Not in efficiency.  In quietness, in the margin, comes strength.  Wow!

How do we do this?

Some things I’ve learned.

First, I need to intentionally build in down times. Each day, each week, each month I need time to unwind.  I try to unpack my schedule to build in times to just relax, read, talk, have fun and think.  If I don’t plan it in, like I do exercise and proper sleep, it won’t happen on its own.  There are always more demands than time so if I wait for it to take care of itself it doesn’t.  Yet, I find those down times often are the most enjoyable, creative, meaningful and productive times of my week.  In those reflective times my mind is free to solve some of my most vexing questions.  Often solutions that I could have spent hours on suddenly pop into my consciousness.  It’s really quite amazing.

Second, to do that I need to prioritize the rest of my life. I have to choose what I feel is most important for me to be doing currently.  I can’t do everything that’s before me.  The opportunities are endless.  The demands relentless.  So I need to make choices about what is best.

I ask myself questions like, “What do I really enjoy doing personally?  What can I delegate to someone else?  What’s critical for me to do?  What could others do as well or better?  What am I passionate about?  What currently feels like a burden rather than a joy?  What am I excited about to get up in the morning for?”

This prioritizing is usually not a choice between what’s good or bad.  It’s often a choice between what’s good and what’s best for me to be involved in.

That’s why the margin time is so important.  It gives me time to sort out those priorities and come to a place of peace in pursuing what my dreams are.

And one of the major points Jennifer and I have talked about through this time is how different things are important in different seasons of our lives. Sometimes the struggle comes from holding onto everything that we have done before which is important but perhaps isn’t as important to us currently.  There are times we need to simply dial back activities for a season that are no longer crucial to us.  Sometimes after a season we realize we’ve moved on.

And that’s ok.  Life is dynamic and always changing.  We need to change with it or be crushed by the load.  And in its own way that pruning process is freeing.  It releases us to move on into new, fresh and exciting adventures.

It all flows out of my trusting God to take care of the big picture. I don’t have the time, energy or abilities to take care of all the challenges or opportunities personally.  Nor do I need to.

I simply trust God will bless my life with the most important things and he will lead me into them.  So I can live holding on to things with a much lighter grip.  I can let go so much easier that way so I can keep moving forward and upward.

There are others called to do things I simply don’t have the passion to follow any longer.  So in supporting them to follow their calling it encourages them and frees me.

And that comes when I realize that God is guiding me and caring for me simply as his child. He wants my life to be full and rich but not crushing.  He will guide me in those quiet reflective moments into the richness he has prepared for me.  And that frees me from the tyranny of the pressing demands of life in our very busy generation.  It brings me back to realizing someday I’ll be gone and people will get on without me just fine.  So resting in that realization,that it’s not all up to me now, sets me free to enjoy the life I have in a steady peaceful way.

A passage that reminds me of that is, “They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them. They are confident and fearless.” (Psalm 112:7-8, NLT)

Confident and fearless.  Now that’s how I want my life to be.  Effective in an easy going way.  Building in margin helps me live that way.

How about you?  Do you, like me, need to build in some margin?

If this post has encouraged and helped you please let me know.  And please share it with others.  I appreciate it.

Categories : Happiness, Success

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