The Focus Course

Margin is Essential for Living a Focused Life

I’m increasingly convinced that one of life’s most destructive tactics is ”dogpile”.

As in, continually throw everything at you until you are so buried you can barely breathe, let alone be productive.

The never ending bombardment of social invitations, task lists, birthday party’s, charity opportunities, friend requests, service updates, errands. A lot of weeks I feel I’m just along for the ride rather than in control of my schedule. That doesn’t even include the endless amounts of pings, notifications, mentions, threads, inboxes we have to keep up and maintain.

Our emotional and mental state is at its limit and the onslaught shows no sign of slowing or any regard for our capacity.

Between 22-29 percent of Americans suffer from a mental disorder in any given year.

The topic of margin is relatively new because up until a few decades ago we had it in abundance. While progress has resulted in many wonderful advancements, unfortunately for us, it has come at the cost of margin.

The spontaneous flow of progress is to consume more of our time, not less. As we have embraced progress in all of its promises margin has evaporated.

Despite the obvious drawbacks to living without margin, our age consistently deprives us of it. We work hard to gain a foothold of freedom but are quickly pushed back into the quicksand. Overload just happens. Margin, in contrast, requires great effort. — Dr. Richard Swenson, Margin

Creating margin can feel like trying to hold back the rising tide. The pressure comes from all sides. There’s always one more thing.

A few helpful reminders when it comes to protecting margin.

  1. Embrace Limits: You have a finite amount of physical, emotional, and mental capacity. Overload occurs when you exceed your limit. Burnout is close behind when we make overload a regular experience.
  2. Set Boundaries: Boundaries are meant to help us protect what’s important. A bedtime is a boundary for prioritizing sleep. Do not disturb mode is a boundary for protecting your focus. Setting hours that you are unavailable is a boundary for unplugging.
  3. Acknowledge Trade-offs: Especially when there are more opportunities than time in the day, what trade-off in margin are you making by saying yes? Instead of feeling like you’ll have to miss out on an opportunity, which would you rather go big on? Saying no is a mathematical necessity. Evaluate each decision keeping the trade-offs you are making in mind.

Margin creates the space we need to live a focused life. Without it, our goals, values, lifestyle practices will fade quickly.

There is no finally when it comes to arriving at margin. It will require daily decisions to fight off the encroaching dog pile.

When we are emotionally resilient, we can confront our problems with a sense of hope and power. When our psychic reserves are depleted, however, we are seriously weakened. Emotional overload saps our strength, paralyzes our resolve, and maximizes our vulnerability, leaving the door open for even further margin erosion. — Dr. Richard Swenson, Margin

Hero image by Juan Davila via Unsplash.

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