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:...

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:...

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?

3 prescriptions for lifting depression without pills

This 16 minutes talk by clinical psychologist Susan Heitler provides helpful insights into dealing with depressive and negative thoughts without the use of medication. What she proposes is looking first at what in your life may be causing you to feel the way you do.

The analogy of the common cold is helpful. While a common cold can be quite mild, in the short term it can leave you feeling quite miserable. There is also the risk of the cold developing into something more serious like a sinus infection or even pneumonia. For these reasons it is important to pay attention to when you find yourself persistently discouraged, with low energy, self-critical and irritable with others. Our modern assumption to quickly assume such feelings are due to a chemical imbalance has led to an over-diagnosis by doctors of depression, (See Is The Rate Of Depression Actually Increasing Or Not?)

The reason this is so important is the tendency in our modern world to look for a quick fix. This has become hugely important as the prescription for antidepressant medication has dramatically increased over the last few decades with no clear evidence that clinical depression has actually increased. For example from 2011 figures at least 1 in 10 Americans are on antidepressant medication and for women in their 30s and 40s this figure is around 1 in 4. (See Why Has There Been a 400% Increase In The Prescribing Of Antidepressants?) I  also write about my own experience of how your lifestyle can be leading to depressive thinking here).

Susan Heitler expands on her Conflict Resolution Theory of depression, or more simply 'Bump Therapy'!

The first step or prescription is to identify the particular hurdle or obstacle in your life that you find yourself feeling disappointed about. The more specific you can be then the more likely you are to find a solution or way through that challenge.

The second prescription is what she calls 'pump up' or identify the resources or tools at your disposal.  Dr Heitler gives an example on the video of this with a client of hers called Julie. You may also find of interest the article and video with Amy Morin called  Are You Looking For Inner Strength?

The third prescription is then by looking at potential solutions to the challenge you are facing and deciding on which is most appropriate for you. For more on this see What Fills You Up And What Drains You Down?

In combination these three steps can significantly reduce the risk 'the common cold of mental illness' does not develop into something more serious or insidious in your life.

What in your own life have you find helpful to deal with depressive thoughts and feelings?

You may also find of interest:

Could Your Lifestyle Be What Is Getting You Down?

Podcast #004: Combatting Depression

The Scale Of Mental Health Problems And What To Do About Them

What Do I Say To A Loved One Who Is Struggling With Depression?

My own personal journey with depressive thinking in my late teens at Just As I Am

How can faith and prayer enhance mental health?

Using the example of money

I was recently asked to talk at a financial institution on this subject from a Biblical perspective.

 Its a huge subject and I was given only 10 minutes along with speakers from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds! This is a summary and transcript of what I was able to say. As it was at a financial institution it made sense to use money as an important theme! Indeed as we have previously discussed there are 2350 verses in the Bible on money - more than there are on faith or prayer even!

We can summarise the question by saying faith and prayer ultimately enhance mental health when I am able to delight in God for who He is rather than what I can get out of Him. To break it down further into one word then it is to use the word grace.
Grace means undeserved mercy and favour. When I truly understand grace then that has a profound impact on my mental health.
The best way to convey that is with a simple story.
Imagine you came to my house to stay. I had to go out and left you in charge. When I returned you say to me, Sunil while you were out someone came to the door with a bill to pay and I paid it. Now there is one vital piece of information you are lacking. It is how much was the bill? If the bill was £1 then that is hardly even worth saying thank you for. But imagine it was £20 billion and you had the resources to pay. How would that make me feel? What would that do to my mental health?
But it gets even better! Not only do you pay the £20 billion bill you actually credit my account with a further £20 billion and you buy me a new house!
Sounds crazy an even ludicrous.

But that is what the Bible seeks to convey how grace impacts the mental health and life of someone who understands it.

Let’s  explore this further.....

How to know your life purpose in just 5 minutes

Adam Leipzig is a Hollywood film producer and entrepreneur. In this 10 minute TED talk he walks us through 5 simple questions to help us understand what our life purpose is. From this life purpose we can then go on to do the work we sense we were called and even born to do. This is so much more than having a job or earning a paycheque.

Leipzig tells us that the idea for the talk came at his 25 year reunion from university. While there he noticed that the vast majority of his classmates were unhappy with their lives. From an external perspective there appeared to be so much in their favour. He describes them as "privileged, and highly educated, and financially well off, and in positions of power. And they had the first house, and the second house, and they had the first spouse, and the second spouse. And 80% of them were unhappy with their lives."

What was different about the other 20%? Leipzig noticed that they had not pinned their expectations on a chosen career path that would be the source of their fulfilment, satisfaction and financial security. This is how he describes this happier minority which included himself:

"We had studied literature and Renaissance rhetoric, and we were the theatre people, and the history geeks. We had studied classes for the joy of learning, not because we thought they were going to put direct us to a specific job. We still got jobs, we were living our lives expansively, with life’s ups and downs, and we did not feel that we had wasted a single minute."

From this positive and enriching perspective he talks us through 5 simple questions to help us articulate our life purpose:.....