Making Margin: Tips for Creating More Space in Your Life (Part 1)

Why is it that, in an age with one of the shortest normal work weeks in modern history, we have managed to overwhelm ourselves so consistently?

by Aaron Tiger

“How are you?”

It happens almost every time.  I’ll see a friend or acquaintance for the first time in a few months and ask them that question and get that answer.

The friend may ask me in return, and I am tempted to say “busier than you.” Why is it that, in an age with one of the shortest normal work weeks in modern history, we have managed to overwhelm ourselves so consistently?

The average American only takes 12 of their 14 vacation days per year, and we sleep 2 ½ hours less a day than we did one hundred years ago (9 hours in 1910, 6.5 in 2010). This demand for productivity and constant activity has left us in captivity.

Surely, we were not created to be “busy.” As a Christian, when I am wondering about what life should be like, one of the first places that I look for answers is the Bible. In the very second chapter of the Bible it says: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” (Genesis 2:2)

A wise person once told me that “God didn’t rest on the seventh day because he was tired, but because he wanted to enjoy creation.”  If God can rest and enjoy the fruits of his labors, why can’t we?

I think the answer is simple. We live in a world that idolizes doing. We live in a world that literally asks, “what have you done for me lately?” Doing is incredibly important, but doing is not the only thing. As a pastor, I often visit with people who are in the hospital. Many times I ask a patient, “what is the most helpful thing that somebody has done for them during their stay?” The first answer is almost always, “The best thing that someone did for me was to simply be with me.”

Often your presence means more than your actions. Also when you are truly present with someone, then you can listen and learn what the best actions will be.  Some helpful things include mowing their lawn, bringing dinner, watching children, and praying.

If our world idolizes doing, then what does God’s Word value? In Leviticus 19:9-10, we read this instruction,

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.”

God commands us to value margin. This was true for farmers 4,000 years ago, and I think it is true for each of us today. Maybe this scripture would be better understood by our modern culture in these terms; “When you schedule your time, do not fill the day with more appointments and tasks than you will be able to complete. Instead leave some margin for the marginalized among you.”

When we carve out margin in our lives, we are able to respond to the needs of the world. We become people who are available to others and able to be truly present because we are not thinking about “what we should be doing.”

Here are four quick tips for creating time margin in your life.

1) Make your default answer to opportunities; “No, but I’ll get back to you.”

I like it when people ask me to do things. Will you serve on this committee? Can you speak at this event? I am honored that someone wants me, and so my instinct is to quickly say yes. However, when we say yes impulsively, we risk over-scheduling ourselves instead of first making sure that this opportunity is the right option for us.

2) Have agenda-less conversations.

In college, sometimes I would get back to my room late at night, and I would call my grandmother. I knew that she would be up, and it was nice to have someone to talk with before I went to sleep. I never had anything that I wanted to ask her. I just wanted to talk with her.

How rare is it for you to make a phone call just to talk with someone and not to ask them for something? Try making a list of ten people that you want to connect with.  Then reserve thirty minutes for each person, and just call them. Or better yet, visit with them in person.

3) Put your phone down.

I love my iPhone, and I look at it way too much. I read one statistic that estimates the average person checks their phone every six minutes and 74% of 18–24-year-olds reach for their phones immediately after waking up! The truth is, you have margin in your life, but you may be wasting it scrolling through Facebook or Instagram.

4) When you’re productive, be productive one thing at a time.

Some of us have a hard time focusing on a single task, and instead try to excel as multi-taskers. Multi-tasking can overload us. While working on something, we may stop to reply to an email, next we answer a text, and by then we’ve lost track of our original task. Single-tasking helps us do each thing better. It frees us from the misperception that chronic busyness is productivity. When we are single-tasking, we are much more efficient and effective and can create more margin.

We are designed to need margin in our time. We also need margin in our finances, our emotions, and our spiritual lives. Part 2 of this series will look at practical ways we can have margin in these areas of our lives as well.

Aaron Tiger is a child of God, a husband, a dad, a pastor at FUMC Tulsa, and the editor-in-chief of The 918. He would have written this article earlier if he actually would practice what he preaches about margin.  Aaron preached a whole sermon on margin that can be found here.

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