Margin in our calendars means having or creating extra time in our lives to do something other than the things we are currently doing. The problem is that most people think that creating margin is a matter of time management and delegation strategies. Although some of that may be required in our journey toward joy, the real challenge lies deeper in our hearts.
The problem with an efficiency paradigm toward margin is that while it helps us do what we are already doing faster, it is not helping us get rid of the things we shouldn’t be doing in the first place.
The best way to significantly build margin into our calendars is to go beyond the time management approach and explore the personal values approach.
The clearer we are on our values, our priorities, and our calling, the easier it is to say “no” to things that don’t fit the big picture of where we want our lives to go. I often tell clients, “If you want capacity in your calendar, get conviction about your calling.” When you have a compelling vision of the future, and you sense that it’s God’s calling on your life, it’s easy to look at your calendar and see the things that aren’t supporting the direction you want to go. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else.
It’s best to acknowledge right now and forever that making truly important and big decisions in your life will always involve some level of angst and trade-off.
If you’re not clear on your values and priorities, you will say “yes” to anything that even remotely hints at joy. The tricky thing is that few things lead to lasting joy.
I’ve heard people say things like, “I’d love to take an hour leisurely reading the Bible and praying every morning, but mornings are crazy with the kids, getting them to school, and me getting off to work.” (By the way, who said morning was the only time we’re allowed to read the Bible?) People also declare that the craziness of their lives is what is preventing them from volunteering, exercising, eating well, spending time with their kids, or doing any number of other good things. And yet, some of the busiest people I know seem to have no problem taking up golf, learning to sail, starting a new business, writing a book, or engaging in new projects that interest them.
People will always find a way to create margin for what’s important to them and what they value.
Such was the case for one of my coaching clients. When I first met him, he said he had been stuck in a cyclical pattern of life with no joy or purpose for six years. As I asked him about his life, I realized he had a small but fast-growing insurance business with clients and employees all over the country. He didn’t have a COO to help with the business – he didn’t even have a personal assistant. I also found out he and his wife were running the financial stewardship program at their church. And to top it all off, they were raising three busy teenagers. No wonder he was stuck! He never had time to intentionally think about his life. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not a life worth living.” My client could vouch for that.
Ultimately, the status quo was so painful that he hired a COO and a personal assistant. This cost him some serious money. Training and supporting them cost him some extra time early on, too—things actually got busier before he started to realize the extra margin from delegating to them. But eventually, some space started to open up in his calendar and joy started to percolate in his life. He found he was able to actually dream about his life again. New options and rhythms for living his life started to seem possible. His energy—and his joy—were on the upswing. He became more aware of those in need around him, and he enjoyed having the space in his life to help them.
And then he did something really gutsy: he started dedicating one whole day per month to do nothing but get quiet, be prayerful, read the Bible, and think about his life. There is no way he could have done this if he hadn’t had enough pain to compel him to create the space in his calendar.
He told me that these days were so rich and rewarding that they became the highlight of his month. God started stirring his heart, and creative ways to make a difference in his world beyond work and his family gradually came into focus for him. He knew what he really wanted in his life now, and he knew what he wanted his life to count for in the long term. Over time, he was able to completely restructure his life and get all his values in sync with God’s calling. He’s having the time of his life!
None of this joy would have been tapped into if he hadn’t made the courageous choice to step off the worldly treadmill and rethink the values and priorities that were driving his decisions and direction in life.
Slowing down, serving others, and growing closer to God are the last things Satan wants us to do. Remember, B.U.S.Y. = Burdened Under Satan’s Yoke. He wants to keep us busy so that there will be one less Joyful Follower growing the Kingdom of God.
Don’t succumb to that trap. Carve out time to know your values. Let those values drive your decisions and help you build the margin you need to live a second half of joy, impact, balance, and intimacy with God and those you love most.