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.
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!)