A Simple Way To Reduce Stress
Getting More Margin Into Your Life
I can hear the screeching as my mind attempts to change gears without releasing the clutch. The person in front of me is talking about the details of something I have been organising, and my brain is racing to catch up. I’d been thinking about something completely different: my to-do list at work.
“Ah… wait, I-I missed that, can you say that again?”
You see I had just arrived in a hurry, flustered and unprepared. My brain was trying to solve the problems of that morning and had not yet arrived with my body.
Does that happen to you?
I find if I am not careful, I end up rushing from one thing to the next without time to prepare or think in between. When this happens, I feel stressed, overwhelmed, and unprepared. My heart rate and breathing increases as I try urgently to keep up.
The problem is a lack of margin.
Switching quickly between tasks has never been a strong suit of mine. I’d much prefer deep, creative work, rather than quick pivots. So, when I have a full schedule and I am juggling multiple projects, I need a way of staying grounded and focused. This is where margins are a Godsend.
Margins are breaks and transition times between projects, tasks, locations – anything really. In a lot of ways, they are like a clutch in a car… ok I am no mechanic so I’m not even going to try and finish that metaphor.
But think about the margins on the pages of a book – they surround the words on all sides, creating space. Think about what it would be like if there were no margins on the pages of books. The words would cover the whole page, top to bottom, left to right. It would be overwhelming, right? Good publishers know that, and they design the pages with the right amount of space to soothe the reader. They will even allow a whole blank page between chapters in some books.
And that is what we need in our lives – enough space between engagements to soothe and ground us.
Now, when I first started learning about margins, I remember thinking, “But my schedule is full! There is no space for margins!” And then I read something that said, “If you don’t have time, make time.” I had to decide that margins were worth my time, then I would make time for them.
Let me tell you, they are worth it! Without margins I feel like I’m constantly running behind, rushed and unprepared. With margins I feel more peaceful, organised, open, and focused. I can be more flexible and creative because I’ve had a chance to catch my breath.
So what might it look like to give yourself some margin?
In short, it is about dedicating enough time to answer a few questions:
How can I close this task/project?
What can I do to be present in this moment?
What task/project am I walking into?
How can I prepare myself (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually) for that?
Practically it might look like this:
Give yourself warm-up and cool-down times with every commitment
Warm-up: set your aims, define what ‘done’ means, commit to an end-time
Cool-down: celebrate what you accomplished, write down any extra to-dos, close the project, step away
Use gratitude to ‘close’ the commitment
Take a moment to experience being thankful for what you were able to do. Remember you can appreciate the work that you’ve done, even if no one else will.
Stop before you enter the next place
If you are driving to another location take a few extra minutes in the car to think about where you are arriving
Consider what you are walking into, who might be there, and how to prepare yourself for that space, those people
Think about what your role and goals are for that space and time, acknowledging what might get in the way of achieving that
Anticipate other people’s needs and meet them proactively
Often we know who will be in spaces that we visit frequently, so consider those people as you arrive
Anticipate taking 10-20 mins to talk to your husband/wife/secretary/boss when you get in the door
Plan some free space!
Would some time to prepare beforehand, or process after, be helpful? Schedule that time in your diary before it fills up, and guard it!
Keep healthy boundaries
Allow yourself to say no even if you have free time available
Schedule time for rest as well as work
I have found it particularly helpful to take some time between work and home. Before I leave, I add any extra thoughts to tomorrow’s to-do list and take a moment to be grateful (even if the day went awry). Then on the way home, I begin to consider the people I’ll see when I get there. I think about what they had on their schedule. I prepare myself to greet them, comfort them, and share my day with them. I consider who I want to be in that space. I think about what I might need to refresh myself after a day at work, and how I might need to ask for help to get that.
This has meant that my mind is with me as I enter the house at the end of the day. Despite being tired from the day, I feel more prepared, open, and present. I've successfully changed gears - no screeching :)
Do you have margins in your life?
I’d love to hear what you do to make space between projects, tasks or locations, or to help you if you’re struggling. Send me an email to get in touch: email@example.com