Imagine a printed page that is filled with text.

No really, pull that image into your mind. I’ll wait. Go ahead.

What did it look like? Was the text completely filling the entire page from top to bottom and side to side? Or was there a border of white space around a large block of text in the middle? I think most of us would choose the latter and put space around the text so there’s room around the edge of the page to frame the words. That white space around the words is called margin.

Now think about your daily calendar and all the things you try to squeeze into your day.  Is every moment scheduled from the time you get out of bed until the time you go to sleep at night? Are the minutes filled to capacity, or have you given yourself some margin?

Maybe you try to schedule some margin into your life, but somehow those free spaces keep getting filled with one crisis or another.  It could dealing with as the cat knocking a canister off the counter and you need to clean up the coffee beans that have turned the kitchen into a cartoon villain’s playground.  Or it might be an emergency trip to pick up the husband who’s Jeep just died on the highway and needs a ride home from work. Or maybe it’s the boss who is asking you to stay late to finish a project. All those little things creep into your life and fill up the margin if you aren’t careful.

What is margin anyway? What’s the big deal anyway?

Margin is deliberate time that you set aside from your daily obligations to focus on what is most important to your own physical and emotional health. Maybe it’s just 30 minutes curled up in your reading chair, away from the chaos of the day, with a novel you love. Or maybe it’s your weekly yoga practice or an afternoon at the park without the kids in tow.  Margin is NOT the 20 minutes when you lock yourself in the bathroom just to get away from the tornado that is happening in the kitchen with the rest of the family (that’s just plain old survival!). Margin is something you think about, plan and protect as sacred time on your calendar.

Why is it so important to have pockets of down time, free time, me time – whatever you want to call it, it’s all the same. We all know the example of the oxygen mask on an airplane. We’re told to put your own mask on first then help those around you.  Why? Because if you’re un-well then you won’t be any good to those in your life who need you. Taking care of your own health is your number one priority.  Women struggle with this because we are natural caregivers and want to make sure everyone else is happy and taken care of before we worry about ourselves. But if your oxygen mask isn’t giving you life-sustaining air to breathe, then you’ll be too dead to do anything about keeping everyone around you happy.  Take care of YOU. You’re worth it.

How do you protect your free time?

You can’t just put free time on your calendar and expect it to magically happen. This is something you need to work hard at achieving. You need to think of this time as a sacred thing to be protected and cherished – not an obligation or just one more thing on the task list. Many people have very strict rules about their calendars and if something is on the calendar, it gets done no matter what. I’m not all the way there yet, but I’m much closer to that goal than I was a year ago. Your calendar isn’t a place for task lists or wish lists or things you might consider doing… your calendar is for things that absolutely will happen, no matter what. So when you block off margin time on your calendar, protect it and honor that commitment to yourself.

Tell me about your margin.

For me – a single woman without a husband and kids at home, but who actually works way too much – my margin time is all about unplugging and getting away from the demands of the internet, social media, text messages and phone calls. Each person will have a different definition of what their ideal margin time might look like.  Maybe your margin means spending quality time with the family or close friends as you step away from work.  No matter how you define it, please put it on your calendar and honor that time as a way to rejuvenate your spirit.

What are you planning next? Tell me all about it.