It was a busy summer. We had thousands of students coming through our ministry and every staff member's to-do list was a mile long. After working into the wee hours of the morning too many days in a row, I was about done. Bitterness and resentment were creeping in while patience was wearing thin. Instead of savoring seeing lives changed, I saw one challenge after another to resolve. We simply had no margin.
Admittedly, I have a Type-A personality, so a fast-paced and challenging environment is something I usually enjoy. However, I've also noticed how going too long without any margin leaves me exhausted, stressed and less productive. I doubt I'm alone in that one.
Minimal margin leads to
Our bodies require sleep to recharge and restore. When we go too hard for too long, we end up completely worn out physically, mentally, emotionally—-and spiritually.
A shorter fuse
When we don't have any room for error, even the smallest issue or inconvenience can set us off. Ever been stuck in traffic when you're running late? Yeah, you may have enough self-discipline to not have road rage but your blood pressure is probably going up. Pity the person at work or at home who delays you five minutes or needs to ask a question. You don't have time for themthere's no margin.
When you're tired and losing patience, you're likely to snap at someone you care about. Or you're so focused on work that you neglect your spouse and children. Either way, there's some relational carnage left in your wake.
Energy & Health
When you've had 7-8 hours of sleep each night, you've exercised consistently, and are taking time to eat healthy, your body will respond in kind. You'll have more energy, you're less likely to get sick, and will feel ready for the day.
When you have margin, you're more likely to peacefully face challenges or the unexpected. The hard drive crash or staff member resignation won't hit you as hard when you have margin. Yes, those are still challenging events but you can handle them with grace and patience.
How you set your schedule, including time to coach your staff and enjoy your family demonstrates your values. Your staff sees that you're serving diligently and leading well. They also notice when you make it a priority to leave the office to be home on time for dinner, or to watch your son's football game. Lead by example and encourage them to do likewise.
We all can give lip service to the importance of having margin, but how do we actually get that margin?
The good news/bad news is it's up to you. You have to make it it won't happen magically on its own. This requires making tough decisions based on your values. You can't do everything, be everywhere, and make everyone happy.
You have to choose.
Ask yourself questions like the following to get started:
What do I value most?
What do I want to be able to say when I look back at my life?
What legacy do I want to leave?
Who do I want in my life for the long haul? Is my current schedule drawing them closer or driving them away?
What tasks am I performing that I don't have to own? Who can I delegate those to?
Have I over-committed myself? If so, what do I need to eliminate?
This isn't a matter of simple time management; it's a continual string of decisions we make to leave ourselves room to breathe. I've messed this up too many times to count, overestimating what I can accomplish within a given time period. However, I learn from each mistake and am getting better at making sure I have some margin.
Living on the edge of your energy, relationships, and health is far from ideal. If you're feeling strained, carve out 10-15 minutes to think through the questions above and start making the tough decisions. Talk this over with your team at work and with your family. You might be pleasantly surprised at how supportive they are in helping you create margin. After all, it benefits them too in the long run.
Note: If you want to dig deeper into this concept of having margin, I highly recommend watching the Breathing Room series from Pastor Andy Stanley.