Margin is something I think we all want – we all know we should have. Instead of looking at the real issues that make our life crazy busy we look for hacks. I think the ultimate hack I fell for was I bought an audio book title “Margin”because I didn’t have time to read it!! For all the time management hacks out there I think I am the most productive and the most peaceful when I have margin. So today I’m talking about how to find margin, as a busy mum.
Creating Margin in Your Days
My day, and I’m sure your days are packed full – and often we skip from the urgent to the next crisis – without even thinking about it. When we live like this we live intense and tense. Intense in our relationships and tense in our own physical body. Not the best way to live.
Margin is the white space in our life – it is there so we can breathe, it is there so we can have energy and focus in reserve for the unplanned that happens in life, for the extras. Unfortunately, the extras soon become the norm and our life gets cluttered up again.
The real key in having margin in our days is not so much finding time to have margin but only doing the important things so that our time isn’t completely filled. We need to have space to breathe to deal with the unexpected, the unscheduled, the turn of events that happen because we are involved with people (our family) and stuff happens.
Do you have time in your day to handle heart issues?
Our children will have questions, or reactions that we can’t plan for and if we are going to address the heart, in that moment, we are going to need time. We can’t plan for that time because we don’t know when these issues are going to come up. But we do need time to address the issue, to teach their heart, and give them time to process and respond. Heart issues aren’t a matter of facts and click the fingers and it is over–done and dusted. No, heart issues are deep, delicate, and long-lasting – so we must handle them with care. We can’t rush. We can’t gloss over. We must give heart issues our full attention when they happen.
And yet, we can’t plan for them, so we need to have margin in our day so that every minute isn’t already full because when our every minute is full our children’s issues, our children’s reactions, our children’s needs become inconvenient – because we already had a plan. So we need margin so we can help our children grow in their heart issues.
Do you have time in your day for relationships?
Like heart issues relationships take time. Relationships can’t be rushed or boxed. We can schedule relationship building time but just like heart issues, sometimes our relationships need unscheduled time. Somebody has a physical need, might need your attention, might be an opportunity to celebrate something with them – and it can’t always be planned. We need to have that space in our day where we can connect with people, help people, and meet their needs in that moment. We can’t do that if every moment of our day is scheduled or planned for already; we don’t have any time, let alone energy, to be available to people.
Do you have time in your day Life to happen?
The third thing margin helps us deal with stuff. I used to say – stuff happens. Our routine or our plan for our day gets interrupted. Accidents happen – milk gets spilt, we get a flat tire – stuff happens. We need a bit of wriggle room to deal with those things in a calm way.
They are the 3 things having margin really helps us with:
- Helps us deal with our children’s heart issues
- Helps us be available to others
- Helps us deal with interruptions and incidental things that happen
Margin isn’t sitting at home doing nothing – though our soul may need that at times.
Margin is about having the time and energy to breathe, so we can deal with life as we need.
Margin is about not cramming every moment with a commitment.
Margin is about having the energy to deal with the unexpected.
Margin often means we are doing something (because are not sitting at home twiddling our thumbs waiting for something unexpected to happen) but it is about having those things that we can let go of in the moment so we can deal with the unexpected.
Its about having enough time for the activities that we are planning.
Everyone always asks – so how do I get Margin in my life?
Million Dollar Question: How do I get margin?
I’ve been pondered this for a while and I come back to this one thing: know your priorities – and live by them.
To live by our priorities they must be realistic. It takes some real heart searching to be realistic about the priorities for this season of your life.
Sometimes our priorities are shaped by commitments – family and work are probably the top two. But often other things dictate what we do within family and work, like we are driven to work x number of hours because of the need for income, or we take our kids to x number of sporting events every week because that is just what we do.
So there must be another level to understanding our priorities. When we pause enough to think about it we will find that there is a value we hold to that makes our commitments a priority. If we don’t ask ‘why’ something is a priority we just get swept along with life. We will make our priorities based on what others expect, what is always done, what worked a few years ago. We need to be more intentional than that.
When we set our priorities based on values we start to see the specifics that we need to change when we aren’t living our priorities. When we give large amounts of time to things that we don’t really value – our days become too full and we are dissatisfied or exhausted. When we give large amounts of time to the things that we do value – our days may be full but we have purpose (we may still be exhausted, but we are content because we are walking our purpose).
Finding your Priorities
An exercise that I have found helpful is
• List your priorities as they come to your mind (as you reflect on this, you may add to this – it needn’t be written in stone – just start writing thoughts down).
• Write next to each priority the answer to “Why is this important to me?”
• List all the things I give my time and energy to (Some people like to keep a 15 minute or 30 minute time log for a week – it is hard to do but worth it to see how you really spend your time)
• Write next to each activity the answer to “Why do I do this?”
These are value-finding questions – Why do I do this? Why is this important?
There are no right or wrong answers here. I am reluctant to even give examples because that could influence your thoughts even subconsciously. The motivations and values that drive your commitments will be different than the things that motivate mine.
When we start with our ‘why’, or with knowing the values behind our choices, we can start to see if we are filling our days with good things, or the best things. It is challenging – but rewarding and helpful.
The Key to Creating Margin
Over the course of my parenting years, let’s say 20 years, we need to live by our priorities (even in this season I need to live by my priorities). I think the biggest life skill that helps us do that is being able to say No. It really is the key for creating margin in our lives.
We must be able to say no. Say no to good things because they aren’t the best things. Say no to anything that is not serving our priority – because it is a distraction – it’s not the best thing for us in this season.
When we know our priorities and want to live by them – we can say no.
When we can say no to distractions – we create margin.
When we have margin – we can rest and breathe.
When we can rest and breathe – we have the energy to focus on what is important.
So for those wanting to find margin – let me encourage you to know your priorities and start saying no to anything else. It is hard – there is so much expectation put on us to keep busy, to do all the things – not only for ourselves, but to have our kids do all the things too! But we only have so much time, so much energy, so much focus – and that needs to be spent on the important things.
There is no Margin without Contentment
Knowing and living by your priorities is the first step. The second is to be content in your season. Without contentment, we will create new priorities adding to our list of things that we justify ourselves doing. And this becomes a vicious circle (cycle).
Living by priorities is not an excuse to fill your day with good things. We can make anything a priority. This is why it is important that we understand the heart motivation (the Why) that makes a thing a priority. If you are striving to achieve, if you are striving to be enough, if you are striving to be loved – then you have your eyes on the wrong priorities. Your heart needs to be satisfied that you are loved by God, that he has a purpose in your everyday life, and that He will never leave you. These things need to fill your heart and give you a contentment; a peace that is beyond circumstances and understanding – because it is a contentment that comes from knowing your God – and knowing He knows you!
Without contentment in our life for what it is right now, we will never be able to create margin because we will always be striving to reach success and to do that we will need to fill every moment. Find your priorities, find contentment and you’ll find margin.
Heart-focused Action Step
Have a real serious look at how you spend your time. Are you doing the things that you know are the right things for this season of your life? Your priorities. Or are you distracted by many things? It is easy to think it is just a busy season of being a mum, and that this (no margins) is normal but if we are missing the important things – the opportunities to connect and engage with our children at a heart level, if we are missing building relationships in our family, and around around our family, we really have to ask ourselves if this is the life we want for our family? And then start looking for things that we can let go of – it comes down to knowing your priorities (knkowing what you value the most) and what you need in your life a part of your reality.
It is hard, it is hard to live by our priorities when our community around us may have different values, different priorities. But we are responsible for the things that God puts on our heart for our family and we need the time to be able to deal with those things. Every day life, all our commitments, and responsibilities they do take up a lot of our time, but if they take every moment, if we don’t have margin, if we don’t have time to be heart focused then I think we are missing the mark.
Top 10 Ways for Mothers to Avoid Burnout: Mothers are prone to burnout like anyone else, in any other career choice. By keeping our eyes on the important we find balance.
Taking Time to Rest and Recharge is not being a Selfish Mum: Being a mum is a 24/7 job and we need to make time to rest and refresh our body and soul but we have to stop thinking it is selfish.
Routines are a Tool to Help Parents use their Time Wisely: A routine is a habit of regularly doing something in a particular order and it is a helpful tool in family life. So if you are overwhelmed maybe consider how you can establish some mini-routines.
You can’t do it all: Sometimes you Need to Ask for Help: Asking for help is hard but sometimes we need to acknowledge that we can’t do it all and we have to be honest and brave enough ask for help.