Why having margin is not just about more time

4 important areas of margin

"I need more time!" How often have you said that to yourself? Its frequently how I feel. So much to do and apparently so little time to do what needs to be done. And yet when I have found myself with more time available, I've also found myself too exhausted or distracted to make significant headway with the different projects that I have told myself are important to me. When that happens it is easy to feel guilty or be too hard on oneself. Maybe part of the reason for this is because it is more then than just a time issue.

Part of the problem comes because we don't grasp that we have overloaded ourselves in a number of different ways. Talking about needing more time is way too simplistic.

Here are some examples. I am guilty of all of them on one occasion or another:

Too much activity.
It is now way too easy to squeeze in more and more activities into the finite 168 hours we have in a week. It is so easy to be continually on the go and then when we do stop to quickly get out our smart phones to then focus on the next urgent or important thing. We lose the art of slowing down to stop, breathe deeply and lift our heads above the morass of details.

Too much choice.
No matter where you look we are surrounded by choice in every area of life - from what breakfast cereal to eat in the morning to the vast galaxy of entertainment and productivity applications on our smart phones. This becomes important because our brains struggle to tell the difference between a small decision and a major one. We still expend energy to make a choice. Without respite the quality of our decisions deteriorates over time. Just as our muscles fatigue from an excessive period of exercise, so our minds fatigue from an excessive period of decision making. (For more on this see Why Making A Decision Can Be So Hard).

Too many commitments.
This is where personality and temperament can derail and distract us. As a recovering people pleaser, it is too easy for me to say yes to too many requests of my time and energy. One helpful perspective that has become a useful reminder for me is a quote I heard that "Every yes needs to be defended by a thousand No's." The urgent or what is right in front of me becomes more pressing than the important. (See Time Management 3).There are also some relationships that can be emotionally filling and others that drain and suck the life out of us. (See What Fills You Up And What Drains You Down?)

And I haven't even mentioned  the dangers of too many expectations, too much hurry and distraction when it comes to technology!

So when we think about margin we need to think about at least 4 areas where we expend energy and resources, only one of which is time:

Emotional energy: when we lack this we find ourselves feeling unduly stressed, alone and exhausted. (For more on this see Podcast #003: Stress; Podcast #004: Combatting Depression and Podcast #027: Beating Burnout). That is why just having more time is not enough.

Physical energy: when I neglect this I can become prone to comfort eating, being under active and generally sleep deprived. (See What Is The Single Most Important Thing I Can Do To Improve My Physical Health? and Podcast #030: Do You Need More Sleep?)

Time: As we have become more and more adept at doing tasks faster and faster we have often unthinkingly crammed more and more into our schedules. (See Podcast #024: Making Sense of Time). We need the space and margin to be confident that what I am doing is the best use of my time right now.

Finances: The easy availability of credit and a growing 'consume now pay later' culture has led to more and more people living beyond their financial resources and means. Living beyond our means is a common feature of our modern culture.

Bringing this all tougher I am reminded of David Allen's maxim, "Not being aware of all you have to do is much like having a credit card for which you don't know the limit."

One of the first steps in gaining margin is having a clear understanding of what all my priorities are and what actually are all the things I am committed to doing and achieving today, this week, this month, this year or the next 5-10 years or even at some point in my life time.

That takes thinking, but as David Allen says, "You have to think about your stuff more than you realize but not as much as you’re afraid you might."

Also see Do You Need More Margin In Your Life?

Where do you feel you need more margin in your life?

 

Can the right form of rest actually make you more productive?

Three life changing insights

Everyone seems agreed that we live in an overwhelming world with far too much to do and too little time to do what needs to be done. With our busy frenetic lifestyles there is always one more email to write, one more phone call to make, or one more task that could be done. Our electronic devices never switch off and we can feel the same way. The more productive I become then the more work I create for myself! I can feel like the proverbial hamster on a wheel going faster and faster just to keep still.

But could there be a better way? Could the secret to better productivity be found not in getting even faster, and doing more and more, but in learning to rest better?

Its more than likely that you, the reader, is a knowledge worker who has to produce results not physically with your hands and manual labour, but with your mind and greater clarity of thinking. However, there are certain assumptions that govern the way we look at how we produce as knowledge workers. Here are three assumptions we make. We assume:

  • knowledge is produced rather than discovered or revealed.
  • The amount of work that goes into an idea determines how important it is.
  • The creation of ideas can be organised and systematised.

The results of such thinking is:

  • We think of over-work as a virtue
  • We believe hard labour rather than contemplation is the source of great ideas and breakthroughs.
  • We assume success comes from being hard driven and work-obsessed to the exclusion of everything else.

So when it comes to rest, who has got the time for that?

Here are three surprising insights about rest that have also been confirmed by experience and neuroscience:...

Do you need more margin in your life?

Managing yourself in an overloaded world

So much to do and so little time to do it! That seems like the cry and experience of our day and age. With such an explosion of choice there is no limit it seems to what I can, have, do and fill my time with. But where do I put the limits? Should there be limits? How do I decide what is really important or trivial? What should I do now or leave for another day or time? That is why the concept of margin is so vital.

For me with a recent fracture of my wrist, and needing to take time off work, I have had to slow myself down considerably.  What seemed urgent and essential on one occasion feels less so now. At the same time I have started to slowly appreciate the importance of having margin or space in my life. It is something I find myself continually having to remind myself about. As my pace gradually begins to pick up I am reminded of the words of King Solomon (who certainly had a lot to occupy and distract him!), "Better one hand with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind." (Ecclesiastes 4:6)

So what is margin?....

Podcast #041: How can faith and prayer enhance mental health?

I was recently pleasantly surprised to be invited by a prestigious financial institution to speak on the subject of how prayer and faith can enhance mental health. It was a wonderful privilege.

On this podcast I unpack the main elements of my talk along with exploring how money is such a helpful analogy in pointing to understanding spiritual treasure.

In particular we explore:

How faith and prayer enhance mental health as I am able to delight in God for who He is rather than what I can get out of Him.

The key to this is understanding and experiencing grace in my life.

How faith rather than being a vague and nebulous concept is actually incredibly specific. Indeed our entire global financial system is based on faith.

Why faith can only enhance mental health if it is based on something specific and reliable.

How the highest form of prayer is delight.

The problems with defining mental health.

How the Hebrew word 'shalom' conveys the highest form of mental health as complete wellbeing or multi-dimensional thriving and fulfilment.

For more on this also see:

How can faith and prayer enhance mental health?

Podcast #033: Practical ways to find joy through disappointment.

Podcast#032: How to know joy when life feels tough.

Podcast #013: How to grow in resilience.

Podcast #011 Money.

Why does a loving God allow pain and suffering?

Podcast #007 Religion

Podcast #018: Spiritual Maturity.

The power of the right question

Learning from a skiing accident

I now suspect it was bound to happen sooner or later. I was recently on a skiing holiday and managed to break a bone in my left arm.

As I write this I am plastered up with a sling and can just about type with a single finger! At this point it would be so easy to get frustrated and disappointed with life, myself and the universe.

I could ask myself questions like, "Why am I such a bad skier? Why did I allow myself to go on that slope? Why did I not stay back that afternoon and rest rather than going out to ski again? How am I going to deal with all the inconvenience and hassle this will cause? I haven't got time to be unwell. Haven't I got more important things to do than just stop to recover? What have I done to deserve this?"

The problem with questions like that is they are focused on the past or outside of anything I can control. They put me at risk of getting into a negative defeatist spiral. By putting me in a victim mindset they can so easily lead to depressive thinking.

The human brain is so powerful that asking questions like that to myself will only cause me to find reasons to reinforce my situation. In other words what you focus on will only get bigger. Argue for your limitations and you will invariably be right. Argue for your possibilities and options, then you will be right as well. The choice is yours. There is a much better way.  This does not just apply to skiing accidents, but to so much else in life.

Fortunately I was able to not go down that negative road and instead ask myself a better, more future focused question: What does this now make possible?

In addition to that I was able to join that question with two true statements:...

Preventing permanent solutions to temporary problems

Challenging 4 myths about suicide

I have a friend who over 10 years ago made a serious suicide attempt. His wife had called me at around 8.30am saying he had left home very early without speaking to her. She knew he had a lot on his mind and was worried about him. He had not responded to her repeated calls or texts. He was not at his office. We agreed the police needed to be called. Thankfully his attempt was unsuccessful and all these years later he is in a much more positive place.

Sadly that is not the case for the people mentioned in this short 1 minute video below:

The tragic fact is that 84 men commit suicide in the UK every week. Suicide is the leading cause of death in the UK for those under 50.

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is a U.K based charity dedicated to preventing male suicide. They offer support and focus on changing the culture that prevents men from seeking help when they need it.

Here are 4 myths about how to respond to someone who you suspect may be considering suicide:....

An unspoken and hidden epidemic?

A permanent solution to a temporary problem

One of the great tragedies of modern life is the increasing numbers of people who feel life is not worth living. It is a difficult subject that gets relatively little coverage and yet when you look at the statistics it is quite staggering how widespread an issue it is in our increasingly complex and challenging world.

According to Dr Catherine Le Gals- Camus, a former WHO Assistant -Director General, Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health,  "Suicide is a largely preventable public health problem, causing almost half of all violent deaths as well as economic costs in the billions of dollars. World-wide, more people die from suicide than from all homicides and wars combined. There is an urgent need for co-ordinated and intensified global action to prevent this needless toll. For every suicide death there are scores of family and friends whose lives are devastated emotionally, socially and economically."

I find the quote that more people die from suicide than all homicides and wars combined staggering and will need to verify its accuracy, even though it appears to come from a reputable source. The World Health Organisation quotes worldwide approximately 1 million people die by suicide every year and that this is set to rise to 1.5 million by 2020. Even so there can be no doubt of the tragic consequences of such a final act. (See Rick Warren and The Secret Anguish of Major Depressive Disorder).

Suicide rates tend to increase with age, but there has recently been an alarming increase in suicidal behaviours amongst young people aged 15 to 25 years old, worldwide. With the exception of rural China, more men than women commit suicide, although in most places more women than men attempt suicide.

Suicide is now the leading cause of death for men aged 15-49. Men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives. They accounted for four out of five suicides in 2015.

Key factors associated with suicide in men include:...

Podcast #040: Celebration!

How far have we come! We have reached 40 episodes on this journey at the  Making Sense of Life Podcast! Its time to celebrate and give thanks.

On this special episode I especially want to thank:

  • You the listener for entrusting me with your time and attention. In a world of such overwhelming choice and distraction I trust these episodes have truly helped you to make sense of life in an increasingly challenging and complex world.
  • My co-host Andrew Horton for his work both back stage and front stage. This has been behind the scenes with the technical aspects of the podcast and then publically in interviewing me with insightful questions as we have discussed such a wide range of topics.
  • Jeff Brown of the Read To Lead Podcast who inspired and taught me back in 2014 how to make podcasting not just a nice idea, but an actual reality.

In a world that focuses so much on the externals , the Making Sense of Life Podcast is a reminder that a meaningful life is actually an inside-out adventure. Inward change precedes outer transformation. Being bigger on the inside rather than the outside is the path to true success and impact. If we get that reversed and are actually greater on the outside than we are on the inside then disappointment, frustration and failure will not be far away.

One important aspect of focussing on the inside before the outside is being real and authentic about our internal struggles and challenges.

Our journey started back in 2012 with this blog, particularly around the subject of depression and negative thinking that appears to be reaching epidemic proportions around the world. For more on this see:

A 15 minute video called Just As I Am that gives my personal journey through depression and negative thinking.

Podcast #004 Combatting Depression where I interview the author Jo Swinney who has written about her own personal journey in her book 'Through The Dark Woods'.

Podcast #003 Stress where Andrew and I discuss the challenges of stress and how to not just survive, but actually thrive. (Also see the video How To Make Stress Your Friend).

Podcast #027: Beating Burnout where we look at not just the cost to ourselves of burnout, but how we can set up safeguards and protective measures in our lives.

Over time we have shifted our emphasis in looking not just at the negative, but understanding how to positively flourish in the world through resilience (Podcast #013) and develop grit (passion and perseverance for long term goals at Podcast #021). How do we do that with all the other challenges in our lives so we can live in some form of balance? (Podcast #034).

At the same time I have become convinced that it is not possible to authentically make sense of life without reference the Infinite Creator God of the Universe. As we have advanced in our understanding and grasp of the world what has become increasingly evident is that in spite of all our achievements and technology, the amount we know and understand is not getting any less. Indeed with an infinite reference point it is inevitable that no matter how much we know we have to come to realise the less we actually know!

On Podcast #007 we discussed how religion has significant limitations when it comes to grasping the world in all its complexity. What our hearts long for is relationship. In Podcast #018 we looked at spiritual maturity as being about getting to know God through silence. solitude and the Biblical scripture.

Another wonderful privilege of the podcast has been the opportunity to interview book authors and those who have lived inspiring lives. A small selection of those interviews include:

  • A grandson of Steven R. Covey, author of the classic bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and The 8th Habit. It was reading a quote from p.308 of that book in 1995 in Delhi, India that had a profound impact of my life. Little did I realise it would become a recurring theme of my life:

"The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mould men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behaviour, but Christ can change human nature." (Podcast #010)

  • Baroness Caroline Cox who is now over 80 and doing remarkable humanitarian work in some of the most dangerous places of the world. Her courage, determination and resilience are truly extraordinary and a great inspiration as to what can be possible in our lives. She also candidly shared with us about her personal struggle with depressive thinking and what she calls 'faithless fearful dread.' She is able to say:

"During my work with the persecuted church I have met many people who are suffering for their faith and I always return from my travels humbled and inspired by their courage, faith, dignity and miracles of grace. Many stories of those living on the front lines of faith illustrate spiritual blessings such as joy, peace and love in ways which are far from depressing." (Podcast #019 and Podcast #020)

  • Rahil Patel whose life story as a Hindu priest to spiritual awakening shows how truth is stranger than fiction. And what does that have to do with Harry Potter? You will have to listen to Podcast #016!

Finally we have also been fortunate to interview some leading authorities on deeply important topics that affect us all:

Professor John Wyatt on what does it mean to live and die well at Podcast #017. The reality and brutality of death was brought home to  me with the sudden loss of a good friend of mine on 17 March 2016. (For more on that see here).  An understanding of how life is finite should not leave us with a morbid sense of fear, but a deep privilege of how all we have is a gift. How can I live in a way that honours my creator?

Chris Wright and discussing the mysteries of when God doesn't make sense in our lives (Podcast #028) as well as what the Bible has to say about what will happen at the end of the world (Podcast #029).

All this is only a taster of the journey we have been on with the podcasts since May 2015. I trust this recap and celebration will inspire you to go back and listen to some you may have missed or re-listen to another one again. Such is the power of technology and your future self may well thank you for investing in yourself in this way!

How to get better at almost anything

4 lessons from sport and music

This short 5 minute video helpfully illustrates what is needed to get better at practically any skill. While the focus is on physical activities such as playing an instrument or throwing a ball, the same principles are assumed to apply to any field of endeavour you might want to get better at.

In a fast changing and increasingly complex world the need to learn new skills and to be able to get better is vital if not essential. Hence practice becomes very important if we are going to improve in any skill and do that with speed and confidence.

To help us understand how our minds work, the speaker helpfully distinguishes between two kinds of brain tissue - the grey matter and white matter. It is the grey matter that does the 'work' in terms of processing information and directing signals and sensory stimuli to the other brain cells. Meanwhile the white matter is made up of mostly fatty tissue and nerve fibres. When we move our bodies then information needs to travel from our brain's grey matter down our spinal cord through a chain of nerve fibres called axons to our muscles.

So what happens to the inner workings of our brains when we practice a skill?....

Everybody dies but not everybody lives

This 6 minute video by Prince Ea, who is an American spoken word artist, poet, rapper and filmmaker makes some challenging points about what it means to live life with purpose and passion.

His entertaining style and vivid imagery challenge us to think deeply about living life with a higher and greater perspective than what we may necessarily see in front of us or how we feel about ourselves. He emphasises the dangers of living with regret for not having been more appropriately ambitious, or without courage and living instead with self-doubt.

My take on this?