I had a great professor in residency to would periodically check in on me to see how I was doing with assignments. Not because she had to, but because she truly cared about my succeeding. When I would share my stressful schedule with her, she would usually say the same think. “Gosh, that’s a lot! Where’s your margin?”
She wasn’t talking about profit margin or the physical margin in my calendar book (although I usually used those margins also to scatter notes and brainy ideas). She was asking about the gap in between events and things-to-do on my schedule. Whenever I looked at my calendar there was simply no margin – written or otherwise. It’s no wonder that she recommended a time management course by year’s end (lol).
I wish I could tell you that my training (and courses) erased the issue of living margin-less. It did not because other things began competing for my time and attention. All of which seemed super important at the time. Some of them were quite important, like time with my husband and daughter or appointments to provide patient care. But I had to come up with a system for success for myself that made time for the most important things in my life, while still maintaining time for self-care.
That system began with understanding how very important margin is. Just like a well-though paper becomes nearly unreadable without margins at the top, bottom, and sides, I had to begin to look at my life that way. I recognized that in the margins there is opportunity for pausing and reflecting on a thought, for digesting material that has already been presented. Margins bring clarity and understanding. It breaks up densely packed amounts of information and allows a little breathing room.
I had to create margin in my life because without it, I had no space to take in air. Air is pretty important as we all know. While this looks different for everyone, for me, getting air meant choosing to re-prioritize what was most important. It meant saying “no” to things that someone else could do, and making sure there was a limited amount of activities on my plate at any given period of time. With margin on board, breathing room is automatically created. Try looking at your schedule before and after you carve out about 30-60 minutes of time in between appointments, after allowing for travel time. Doesn’t it feel better looking at a decluttered schedule as opposed to one cluttered with a list of things-to-do without any breaks? Visually it’s more calming. Voila, instant stress relief!
Now, actually go about your margin-filled day and notice the extra moments of calm that you have available. Take stock of how you feel with those extra fifteen minutes. Remember, we cannot get time back. Good health is next in line in terms of things we may or may not be able to reacquire. So, we have to learn to optimize both as wisely as possible. Once I changed my perspective on how important the margin was to my overall health and wellbeing, I began to honor and protect it more.
Here are some questions for you to consider:
- Where you able to find areas in your schedule that could benefit from more margin?
- How did you feel once you intentionally created more margin in your day?
Want to Learn More?
Bergina Isbell, MD is a Mayo Clinic trained and Board Certified Psychiatrist specializing in the clinical treatment of patients with history of Special Needs and Trauma. She is the mother of two children with special needs, including a son with a diagnosis of Autism. She serves as a consultant and coach for those who want to transform their lives by developing a growth-promoting mindset.
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