The Importance of Margin

Rest, relax, and refuel

by Gay Wall/ November 10, 2015

My first thought when I hear the words margin is a piece of notebook paper—maybe that’s because I have a 13-year-old at home. Early in her school years, my daughter was taught to write within the margins. There was a defined space in which words could live on her paper. 

When we talk about margin in our life, it is much the same. There is a defined space in which we can live within our limits. There is a space that is off the page that is over our limits. The margin, therefore, is the space between where we live and off-page, or beyond our limits.

Dr. Richard Swenson defines margin in his book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives as the following:

“Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.”

He goes on to say that because we don’t have internal gauges, we often don’t realize when we have overextended ourselves until it hurts. Parkinson's Law says that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. And we know the work in ministry is never done. So we over-schedule, overcommit, and overload until we don’t have any margin left to, as Dr. Swenson says, respond to “the unexpected that God sends our way.” 

Fortunately, there are several strategies and resources to help us get back in control of our margins.

  1.  Schedule Smart—Michael Hyatt’s discusses how to regain control of your calendar by creating an Ideal Week in his blog post, How to Better Control Your Time by Designing Your Ideal Week. This was a concept he learned from Todd Duncan, who has lots of resources on maximizing your time. 

  2. Listen to the Pareto Principle—The Pareto Principle, sometimes referred to as the 80/20 rule, is the idea that 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of the causes, or the majority of results comes from the minority of inputs. MindTools gives a step by step guide on how to use the Pareto Principle to prioritize. 

  3. Limit Social Media—Lifehacker gives several steps to restoring margin in the post Why You Need More Margin in Your Life (and How to Get It). Limiting and scheduling social media is one we often forget, because it is literally right at our fingertips most of the time. While there is much good that can come from connecting and promoting through social media, like anything else in life, it must be kept in check.

Have you built margin into your life? If you don’t, eventually you will feel the effects physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If you are careful to incorporate healthy margins, you are better prepared for the difficult seasons of life and you have a stronger likelihood of finishing well.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)