Margin: Plan for Success and Fun

What is Time Margin Scheduling?

Margin: Scheduling an amount (of time) to be available beyond what is minimally necessary.

As part of the annual review and planning process, it is important to consider the need for allocating time margin. It is not a good idea to book yourself solid – especially if you don’t have control of all your time and let’s face it who does? Some time scheduling algorithms are including travel time or breaks between meetings or activities but this is not nearly enough. We need to allocate time for the chaos and serendipity factors that make real-life more challenging and interesting.

What percentage of your time is unplanned and beyond your control? If you have no idea, make a guess, and test it out. Reserve an allocation for this to recognize reality or at least a probability that tends toward a worst-case scenario. Better too much margin than not enough. It will reduce stress and occasionally you might even get some unused margin time to use as a bonus. Then you can do extra things instead of constantly getting your plans blown up and feeling like a failure because nothing went according to plan.

Margin: the book

Richard Swensen wrote a book named Margin (Amazon kindle store link) that is often referenced about allocating reserves. The full title is Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time reserves to Overloaded Lives. As you can see from the full title, margin applies to overload in more than just time but in this article, we are going to focus primarily on the time element.

Margin is the time that exists, if we plan for it, between ourselves and our time limits. Without any planning for what is needed, we may have some small margin from the fuzziness of estimates just to get by. However, it can be so much more useful than that to allocate for both planned and uncertain unplanned activities. This book is for anyone who yearns for relief from the pressure of overload when we are overly ambitious or unrealistically ignoring possible interruptions or distractions.

Use margin to reevaluate your priorities, determine the value of rest and simplicity in your life, and see where your identity really comes from. The benefits can be good health, financial stability, fulfilling relationships, calm and peacefulness, and availability for higher purposes you may not even know yet.

Introduction to Margin

In his blog, Shawn Blanc provides an introduction to margin by identifying the pain of overload overwhelm. He contrasts that with the benefits of margin. He also explains why margin can be applied to physical energy, emotional energy, time, and finances both to overcome overload and to push forward successfully with a breakthrough. Some examples are helpful as suggestions on how action can be taken.


Create More Margin

In his article How to create more margin in your life Michael Hyatt mentions that he gets a lot done (e.g. in a 5-week interval he has done seventy-three radio, podcast, magazine, and newspaper interviews. He also had eight speaking engagements). He must be doing something right. However, he recognizes that his activities are overwhelming and unsustainable. He has a need to do better by using margin. Here are some things he does:

  • plan and review an ideal week
  • fight for margin
  • budget using a time grid template to recognize the finite limits
  • plan a focus area for each day
  • review the plan with your team and stakeholders who are affected
  • set hard boundaries for working hours to avoid work expanding

Time Traps

In his book Time Traps: Proven Strategies for Swamped Professionals (second edition), Tim Duncan identifies the main categories where we waste our time. Good to know so we can reduce or get rid of them.

Wasting Time:

  • Organization – Juggling unnecessary tasks.
  • Yes – Saying Yes to requests without sufficient consideration.
  • Control – Hoarding tasks.
  • Technology – Relying too much on technology
  • Failure – Worrying about yesterday
  • Party – Celebrating or indulging too much.
  • Identity – Losing yourself and your values.
  • Quota – Working cheap

Which time traps cause you the most grief and what are you going to do about it?

Plan for Chaos and Serendipity

Margin is also covered in the Chaos Planning System by Sean D’Souza of Psychotactics. We are not always organized and in control so our planning needs to recognize the possibility of chaos. A percentage of Buffer time needs to be allocated to deal with the time delays that chaos and serendipity can be expected to cause. What is your percentage of chaos and serendipity? We can always try to be more organized and in control but it is best to balance that with some margin for imperfection.

It may seem like a contradiction but it is possible to plan for serendipity, fun, and spontaneity. By being a bit more organized in getting the required mundane stuff done it can allow time to be allocated for fun and items you are passionate about. It is important to have the freedom to let your imagination do its magic.

Don’t Leave What Matters Most to the Fringe Hours

“No matter how busy life gets,” writes Jessica Turner in her book The Fringe Hours, “I’m here to tell you that you not only can but must make time to do things that matter to you.” Think of personal self-growth like the guidance on airplanes which says to connect your own oxygen before you save others. If you don’t save yourself you can not sustain serving others.

Every parent, especially mothers, has probably had this experience: you get to the end of the day and realize you did nothing for yourself. If you go days, weeks, or even months in this cycle, you begin to feel like you have lost a bit of yourself.

While life is busy with a litany of must-do responsibilities—work, parenting, keeping house, grocery shopping, laundry, and on and on—women (and men) do not have to push their own needs aside. Yet this is often what happens. There’s just no time, right?

Check out The Fringe Hours table of contents to see what you can do to explore, discover, maximize, and live well.

Table of Contents

  • Part 1: Explore
      1. Pursuing Balance
      1. Letting Go of Self-Imposed Pressures
      1. Eliminating Guilt and Comparison
  • Part 2: Discover
      1. Shifting Your Perspective
      1. Identifying How to Care for Yourself
      1. Finding Your Time
  • Part 3: Maximize
      1. Prioritizing Your Activities
      1. Using Your Time Efficiently
      1. Embracing Help
      1. Overcoming Obstacles
  • Part 4: Live Well
      1. Cultivating Community
      1. Finding Rest
      1. Living Well
  • The Fringe Hours Manifesto

Great Work Stretch Goal

As a stretch goal for more ambitious margin thinking and scheduling, you can also refer to Michael Bungay Stanier’s book Do More Great Work (kindle). The full title of the book is Do More Great Work: Stop the Busywork, and Start the Work that Matters.

Don’t let filling up your schedule with the busyness of good work get in the way of making time for great work. Even more powerful than allocating margin in your schedule to get your plans done more effectively is improving the quality of your plans by getting clarity about high-value priorities. Recognizing your great work enables you to remove less important tasks that can be deferred or eliminated entirely.

Take Action

What 3 things will you start doing differently now to create more margin and do more great work?

If you would like more information and challenges to take action, subscribe to my Intelligence Augmentation newsletter.

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