The Importance of Free Time, Especially While Juggling a Busy Schedule

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.

– from Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, by Richard Swenson, M.D.

Timeless moments with my guys a few years back, Maremma, Italy
Timeless moments with my guys a few years back, Maremma, Italy

It’s that busy time of year, back to school, when the school supply lists arrive, the class open houses begin, and I, as a parent, begin to feel completely overwhelmed. I have three children I love dearly, one going into high school, one to middle school, and one into intermediate.

This year, probably more than the previous 4 we spent in Prague, the back to school experience is almost shocking, fully American, packed to the 120% limit.

It’s not so much the list of “one blue two-pocket folder, vinyl, no clasps; one red vinyl folder, no pockets, with clasps …” and 50 other items to buy for one child. I can do that.

It’s not the arrangement of bus times, parent-teacher conferences, making of lunches, paying of school fees. I can organize the times and rearrange the budget to fit those things in.

But for me, it’s how free time evaporates instantly with the start of school. It’s the loss of moments of bliss, for the spontaneous game of Bananagrams or dessert on the deck as the sun goes down. I realize I have to work — hard — to build free time in.

Margin = Free Time

I’m a writer, and the concept of Margin makes sense to me. Margin is the white space to write extra notes or to doodle in fun figures beside the the concrete text which has already been written on the page. Dr. Swenson’s point in his book Margin is true for me. I believe in building in free time, or margin, into a busy schedule–to help preserve sanity.

Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances. We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.

I believe we need free time to remember who we are. We need free time like we need air to breathe. It reduces stress, creates meaning, and allows us the chance to focus on what is most important.

To keep margin in my life, I know I’ll have to say no to things that are good.  But without a certain amount of free time in these busy years with three active sons and husband, I will lose who I am.

My Busy Schedule Survival Kit

  • a paper calendar, with months and weeks at a glance
  • a clear list of personal priorities and goals
  • date nights with my husband and fun nights with girl friends
  • incorporating open times, intentionally, into the schedule
  • an open eye for moments to spend with each child

I know it’s going to be a great year. I’m looking forward to soaking it up, one day at a time.

How about you? How do you build free time into your schedule? (I’d love to hear tips that work for you!)


Published by Jennifer Lyn Art

About Jennifer Writer Author Photographer Artist Corporate Marketer Happy Wife & Mom World Traveler Grateful.

12 thoughts on “The Importance of Free Time, Especially While Juggling a Busy Schedule

  1. Oh, I need to create some more white space margins in my life. Thanks for that metaphor–it may just be the image that helps me leave some much needed open space in a busy schedule.

  2. Jennifer, Thank you for your wisdom. I too feel free time is necessary to feed our souls. I teach 4th grade and don’t have very much free time during the school year. Years ago I started getting up early in the morning (before everyone else) so I had some quiet time to myself. I do this on Saturdays during the school year and everyday during the summer.

    Also, it was interesting to me (as a teacher) to see how back-to-school affects you as a parent. I didn’t become a teacher until my late 40s; and as a parent, I felt the same way you did about our loss of summertime freedoms when the school year began. Here’s hoping your children’s teachers won’t go too overboard on homework.

    1. And hoping we can resist the urge to over-commit as parents. It’s easy this time of year, isn’t it?
      I, too, share your love for early mornings. It’s a must in a busy house, I think. I hope you have a great start to your school year, Kim. Thank you!

  3. Oh, what a useful and perfect image, the margin. Yes, yes, and yes. Without that white space where would I write the notes that I think as I read, the spontaneous ideas, make the connections between things? Wonderful. xo

  4. Perhaps this metaphor of the margins will be what I need. I have always done a fairly good job of maintaining free time but as my youngest gets older I feel myself slowly but surely filling up too much space on our calendar. The line from this that I hope most to remember is “To keep margin in my life, I know I’ll have to say no to things that are good.” It is the saying no to the things that are good that is so hard but so crucial…

    1. It is so easy to fill up time, especially as our kids get older. There are so many fun things to do and become involved with, aren’t there? And I agree, saying no is tough, but is crucial. So glad to have you on the GNB team, Stacey! xo JK

  5. This so resonates with me. As someone who thrives on productivity and busy-ness, it’s easy for me to forget to schedule free time (the other extreme of that, since I work freelance, are those dry periods when things get really slow and I end up with TOO much free time, but no idea how to use it to its fullest extent). So I love the idea scheduling free time, because basically I’m a big planner, and whatever I pencil into my planner gets done.

    Thanks for this, Jennifer–hope you have a great year!

    1. You bring up a good point. There can be a thing as too much free time. It’s paralyzing, almost, isn’t it? At this phase in my life, I tend to revel in any free time because it doesn’t come easily (3 active boys in the house), and use it to read, paint, work in the garden, etc. Thank you, Natalia!

  6. I can relate to this so well! I struggle, every fall, with The Schedule. I’m always tempted to add more in, to give the girls more opportunities. This year, I think I struck a good balance — we’ll see!

    1. The Schedule is tough to balance, isn’t it? Add more / or less. I think all of us have a different key to balance. I hope it’s a great year for you all! Thanks, Lisa!

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