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?....

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:...

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?

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.....

What is money?

A helpful perspective

As money is such an integral part of our lives that can seem like a  ridiculous question to ask. Money can occupy so much of our thinking. It can also be the source of so much emotion, both negative and positive.

But what is it? Put most simply money is simply a tool to facilitate deferred bartering.
Of itself money is just a piece of paper. But what that paper has come to represent is access to products, possessions and ultimately dreams. The 2 minute video below captures some of these sentiments:

Money is so more than just paper, or plastic, or metal or numbers on a screen. It is an amplifier of who we are and the impact we can have on the world we live in. If we are basically living selfishly then money increases the opportunities to be more selfish. And if we want to live lives of generosity then money can increase the potential to do that in so many more ways. The simple equation is:

Why being thankful is not just for Christmas

Have you done your Christmas shopping? Are you still wondering what to get for your loved ones? While this 2 minute video is somewhat a little bit too cheesy for some people, I think it does illustrate an important point about giving and gratitude that is so easy to overlook. While the characters may for some of us have over-exaggerated emotions, the sentiments they convey are so easy to take for granted.

The point is that it is incredibly easy to take for granted other people and all the things we enjoy and have access to around us. They appear ordinary and commonplace. With that sense of ordinariness comes a sense of entitlement and subconsciously feeling or thinking we somehow deserve or have earned everything we have. The reality is that most of the basic details of our existence, from the family we were born in, to the place, time and circumstances of our birth are completely out of our control. We had no say or choice in any of these fundamental things about who we are. But what if we could look at everything around us as a gift?

Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology in the United States, has spent many years researching the link between gratitude and wellbeing. He has been able to show from research that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. He has also highlighted how when you practice gratitude you are less likely to feel stressed, envious or negative. Gratitude also has the effect of enabling you to be able to appreciate other people's accomplishments without feeling resentful that they have something you don't.

According to Professor Robert Emmons for gratitude to be effective it needs to cover 3 key areas:....

The other Christmas gift

4 surprising consequences

All over the world Christmas is very much the time for giving and receiving presents. The following 3 minute video is of children from the Metro Atlanta Boys and Girls Club in the United States. 83% of these children come from low income families, some of which are not able to afford even a Christmas tree. In the 3 minute video they are faced with a tough choice.  Just to warn you, the video may make you cry,  but it's well worth watching! 

What makes the video so fascinating for me is it also illustrates the true satisfaction that comes from giving rather than receiving. The simple decision of the children to choose to give rather than receive reminds me of Jesus' own words, "It is more blessed to give rather than receive." (Acts 20:35)

As we approach Christmas, I am also reminded of Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 8:9:

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich."

In that single sentence we have the meaning of Christmas beautifully encapsulated. The Bible explains how although Jesus Christ is equal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, He chose to leave the security of this perfect relationship to come to earth for you and me. He who had all the riches of heaven should choose to humble Himself and come to earth as a baby.

Here are 4 surprising consequences of this decision:.....