The Focus Course

Creating Margin

It’s only fitting that while creating a course on margin I would find myself especially needing some.

Isn’t that the way it always goes?

It feels as though someone came along with a giant syringe and sucked all the breathing room out of my life. Lest you think we live super human lives of ultra focus and abounding margin, let me pull the curtain back for a moment.

Margin isn’t merely a product concept or online course. It’s something that we fight to maintain as a team, as well as in our personal lives.

These past few months have proven to me that margin is possible no matter how crazy life may seem.

Let’s talk about Margin… We’ve got a course all about reclaiming margin. Margin is essential to living a meaningful and fulfilled life. And chances are good you could use some breathing room in your days. If you’d like to be kept in the loop about when registration opens up next, just let us know.

Context

My wife and I had been dreaming of buying our first home for years. It had been a multi-year process and we were finally ready.

Our lease was up, so we temporarily moved in with my wife’s parents while we actively searched for a house. I have the best in-laws a guy could ask for. Incredibly generous, clean, easy-going, and yet, living with people is challenging no matter what.

If anything, we are a challenge to live with. With two boys under the age of three, things don’t stay organized long.

Ten days after moving in, we put an offer on a house, and it was accepted. Definitely an ideal scenario. The house was perfect. A simple three bedroom, two bathroom ranch set on 1.3 acres in town. Exactly what we had dreamed of.

We knew the house would need work. A significant amount of the basement would need to be ripped out, the foundation needed bracing, the kitchen needed updating, fresh paint was in order for the living spaces, along with a laundry list of other recommendations from the inspection. Knowing we’d be remodeling is one thing, actually doing the work is another.

We didn’t exactly have the budget to hire Chip and Joanna Gaines, which meant we would do 95% of the updates ourselves. And by we, I mean my 30-week pregnant wife would watch two wild toddlers while I put on my best do-it-yourself face.

We took possession of our house May 20th, and we moved in July 2nd. Six weeks of late nights and long weekends that included a full day at work, dinner and bedtime with the family, then working on the house until 11:30pm or midnight. Rinse and repeat for six weeks.

To be clear, this was not our normal pace of life and we were feeling the effects.

Buying a house is stressful. Living with your in-laws is stretching it even under the best of circumstances. A pregnant stay-at-home mom with two small boys? Hardest job on the planet. Remodeling a house with minimal handyman experience, as it turns out, is also challenging.

It felt like the perfect storm. My wife and I were very much at our limits in every possible way.

Margin Shortage

We were on the razor’s edge of burnout — maxed in every area of margin.

It’s no secret that buying a house is expensive. We were basically hemorrhaging cash — cutting checks left and right. Time was sparse. Between work, family, and renovations, there wasn’t much left over for anything else. Burning the wick at both ends for a prolonged stretch leaves you physically exhausted. There were many days I’d wake up ready to go back to bed. Exercise rhythms went out the window, and with a shortage of quality sleep, I felt perpetually lethargic. My wife and I were emotionally tapped out. We’d get to the end of a long day and literally collapse. We had nothing left. And it may be hard to imagine, but the creative well was dry.

The affects of the season of life were taking their toll. An overloaded schedule, physically exhausted, financially spent, emotionally and creatively pooped.

Life had knocked the wind out of us.

And here I was, helping lead the charge creating a course on margin.

Choosing Margin

It felt like stuff was literally hitting the fan, and yet, I still had a choice.

I could play victim of our season of life, or I could take ownership of the challenges we were facing. I’m not immune to the overload of life. And no matter how overwhelming our circumstances, I could still make a choice for margin.

A notable choice for margin was ditching my smartphone. There was so much going on in my world I needed as much emotional and mental white space as possible. Getting a brick phone turned out to be a huge win for margin.

In addition to moving in with the in-laws, my wife and I eliminated all excess financial commitments. We cut any extra monthly subscriptions and freed up as much financial margin as possible. We knew buying a house would be expensive, but we didn’t want to take on excess debt in the process.

Foreseeing very limited free time, I cut myself some slack related to personal goals. I’m a very active person and love running and cycling. I let myself off the hook for a few months. I’m in great physical health and it was not going to suffer from cutting back for a few months. I also hit pause on some personal writing projects.

Giving up regular running and passion projects of writing was a bummer, but an easy choice to make to restore a little margin.

I also took a couple nights off per week from house projects to be home with the family or sneak in a date with my wife. I probably could have finished the projects in 4 weeks instead of 6, but powering through isn’t always the answer. I chose to work slower, but maintain a sense of relational health as a family. Things were crazy, but I could still be a husband and father. We made sure to sneak in a few visits to the splash park and family outings to the zoo.

Through this crazy season of life, I knew that I needed the emotional support of my wife and a few friends. Prioritizing my marriage through this season was tricky. Some nights it meant not going to the house to work. Other nights it meant stopping by McDonalds on my way home to get us cookies. But I needed to be on the same page as my wife. As well, I had a couple friends I reached out to on a regular basis to check in with. I felt like a mess, and I pretty much was, but the relational support helped keep me on track.

It wasn’t easy, but even through the most demanding season of my life, I was still able to make small decisions for margin. The truth is, if I had disregarded margin, I would have done a lot more harm than good.

Creating The Margin Course

So, here I was having the time of my life all the while being right in the middle of creating and launching The Margin Course. When life feels extra crazy, it can be a challenge not to bring that to work.

I know enough about myself to know that I tend to get overwhelmed and freak out when I can’t see the dots connecting. Embracing the creative process for me is like a blank canvas waiting for dots and connections to be made. Cold sweat inducing.

With so much of life feeling overwhelming, I knew I’d need to give myself some parameters with this project to stay on track.

1. Focus on the Process

If I stopped and thought about everything that needed to happen to launch a course, I would have probably just told Shawn to find someone else. This wasn’t my first course launch rodeo, so I knew what I was getting into.

Instead, I chose to focus on the process. One step at a time.

In the chaos of sport, as in life, process provides us a way. It says: Okay, you’ve got to do something very difficult. Don’t focus on that. Instead break it down into pieces. Simply do what you need to do right now. And do it well. And then move on to the next thing. Follow the process and not the prize. — Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is The Way

I broke The Margin Course into manageable pieces and focused on them one at a time.

2. Eliminate Dual Focus

Committing to the process also helped me eliminate dual focus. By breaking things down into smaller chunks, I was able to give my full attention and creative energy to one puzzle piece at a time.

When running low on creative energy, the last thing you want to do is splinter that focus into fractions. Dual focus will steal your lunch money and leave you feeling helpless. I knew that if I was going to successfully help create this course, I needed to eliminate dual focus.

3. Define Success with Micro Goals

To take things a step further, I broke the smaller chunks down into even smaller pieces. I created weekly and even daily goals to help motivate me to the finish line.

  • By the end of the morning, I’d like to have spent at least this much time writing.
  • By the end of the day, I’d like to have these videos edited.
  • By the end of the week, I’d like to have these lessons outlined.

Giving myself a finish line or definition of done helped me not crumble under the weight of what else still needed to be done.

I may have gone slowly, but I made steady progress.

4. Take Walks

Especially through writing heavy portions of this course, I would take short breaks by taking a five minute walk.

Literally five minutes.

I’d walk out of our little office, walk around a short block, and plop back down at my desk. Five minutes away from screens. Five minutes of letting my brain reset and clear the cache. No phone, no objective — just letting my brain wander for five minutes in nature.

These walks saved my bacon. They kept me from powering through when I needed a break.

There were a lot of mornings I’d set a timer for 30 – 45 minutes, go heads down undistracted, and when the timer went off I’d take a five minute walk before diving into my next block of work. These focused sessions were highly productive.

  1. I had clarity about what I was supposed to be working on (and what I was choosing to ignore).
  2. I knew I’d take a break when the timer went off, which gave me permission to be fully present and fully focused on the work at hand.

Small Gains

There you have it. As it turns out, I’m not a super-human-margin-sprouting anomaly. Creating The Margin Course happened to land right in the middle of one of the busiest seasons of life for me, but I was still able to make choices for margin.

These also weren’t life-altering decisions — they were small choices that carved out a little margin here and there. But all those small trade-offs added up to the breathing room we needed in this season, and that breathing room allowed us to protect the things we truly valued.

The season of life wasn’t just stressful because it was busy. It was stressful because it felt like the things we cared most deeply about were under attack. The small decisions we made for margin enabled us to still live out our values even in the crazy.

And it was worth it.


More on The Margin Course…

Let’s talk about Margin… We’ve got a course all about reclaiming margin. Margin is essential to living a meaningful and fulfilled life. And chances are good you could use some breathing room in your days. If you’d like to be kept in the loop about when registration opens up next, just let us know.

Book Club

Get Shawn’s monthly book recommendations.

Join the Club

A man of focus

Dost Thou Love Life?

Improve your time and focus with our free, value-packed course delivered over email.

Get Instant Access »