What is Margin?

The concept of having a little extra. A little extra time, extra money, extra whatever…

Margin is in its simplest form a little space of freedom. That beautiful space gives you choice. Margin very rarely happens on accident. You must be intentional to create it.

Why is margin so important?

This principle is important in time, as well as money, resources, or even in relationships. For the rest of this conversation, I will focus on the example of time, as I personally feel it is the most valuable resource we have. The concept of margin applies to all areas of life and similar constructs could be discussed for each of those areas.

Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you. — Carl Sandburg

With margin you get:
  • The key to successful time management
  • Uniquely positioned to seize opportunities you may have otherwise not had time for (huge benefit in terms of $$ margin)
  • A huge reduction in fire drills, which have a negative snowball effect your schedule
  • Commitment to margin over a period of time will have a positive compounding effect on your productivity. You get more efficient as you go.
    • More planning time = less surprises = even more planning time = even less surprises = … well, you get the point.
Without margin you get:
  • Overwhelmed when you have back to back meetings all day, every day
  • Stressed and pinched at home when you routinely are working overtime
  • That heavy feeling of carrying the weight and stress of looming deadlines

How do you create margin?

Here are some practical ways that I personally have adapted to creating and keeping margin in my schedule over time.

Create a 90% budget of time

For me, this means I have 4 hours of my week blocked out on my calendar. This is the padding for any “fires” that need putting out.

  • Creating a calendar budget is crucial and part of a bigger topic. Just a few of my personal tips below.
  • I use a specific technique to schedule out priorities and blocks of time for the week in my calendar.
  • Then I color code those blocks so I can visually see how my week is laying out
  • It is routine for me to build in time for Team Member 1:1, leadership development, planning, MARGIN, gym time, project tasks, partner meetings, etc.
  • I schedule out up to 4-5 weeks in advance

MYTH ABOUT MARGIN: I can hear some of you now… “Scheduling time for other activities such as planning, gym, leadership, and even 10% of NOTHING is counterproductive”. There is no way that we would get anything done if we operated this way.  I would refute that with the difference in operating out of reaction vs operating out of being proactive.

Without margin, you REACT and situations tend to control you. With margin, you are PROACTIVE and you tend to control the situation. Click To Tweet
Learn to say NO, so you can say YES to the right opportunities
  • Ties back to the vision of your team, the culture, and core values
    • Everything we do should align and move the dial on our vision and values
  • If our schedule is full of all the things we are at risk to miss opportunities. We can miss chances to do the BEST thing while we are busy doing just things.
  • Sometimes saying no just means you tell the other party that your next availability is the next week. Other times it is just saying no. 🙂
  • I honor and value my time. If I am out of time budget for the current week I look for the next available time that type of activity is budgeted for.
  • There are always times when you have to take a meeting or project you didn’t plan for. That is why we have margin built in.

Discussion with your team

I hope this particular topic has made you think about your own schedule and as a result, reflect on either how much or how little margin you operate with. Let’s hope it’s in celebration of a spacious calendar. Even better yet I hope this helps inspire you to make some changes to how you and your team manage their time and priorities.  One of the best ways to learn and grow as a team is through a small group discussion. You can use the high-level points above to do a quick teaching, add some of your own insight/team situations, and then use the questions below to foster healthy and change-inducing conversation.

Here is to an Unleashed Team!


Discussion: (potential conversation starters, feel free to add any commentary you come up with)

  1. Do you currently operate your schedule with margin? If so what are ways you create margin? If not what are some of your biggest struggles?
  2. Does your current team culture operate proactively or reactively?
  3. Do you feel empowered to take control of your own schedule?
  4. What is 1 daily habit you can do to create more margin in your schedule?
  5. What are the ways that margin could operate in other areas of our lives? (finances, relationships, health, and fitness)

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