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Your Life Needs More Margin

A margin is the portion of the page that you intentionally leave blank. Most books don’t have text all the way from the left side of the page to the right side.

Rather, we leave space all the way around, and we call those margins.

Yet in life, everything in our culture is telling us to ignore margins.

Spend more money than you make and you will have no financial margin. Fill your schedule from early morning until late night and you will have no time margin. Surround yourself with needy people and be constantly reactive to their expectations, and you will have no emotional margin.

Mark Batterson wrote,

“You need margin to think. You need margin to play. You need margin to laugh. You need margin to dream. You need margin to have impromptu conversations. You need margin to seize unanticipated opportunities.”

I want to live a life with margins.

When I live on less than I make, I have the financial margin so an unexpected expense won’t capsize me, and so I can respond in the moment to someone else’s real need.

When every moment of my life is scheduled, I don’t have the margin to stop and listen to someone who needs an ear; I don’t have the time to jump in and help a neighbor fix their sprinkler; I don’t have the flexibility to go to my kids sporting event that was scheduled at the last minute.

Margin makes you pleasant; no margin makes you grumpy.

Margin allows you to be generous; no margin makes you Scrooge-like.

Margin helps you listen. Without margin you come across as someone who doesn’t care.

Margin gives you the space to learn, grow and dream. Without margin you become stale and empty.

Margin increases the chance you will hear the still, small voice of God when He speaks. Without margin you might continue through life without the blessing of God.

And yet, without a scientific study to support my statement, I think it is safe to say that most leaders in America live without margin. We don’t want to live that way, but we find ourselves constantly trying to catch our breath.

Here are some practical ideas on how to create margin …

1. Carve time in your week for margin.

I like to stack all my meetings on two days each week—which gives me margin to be responsive on the other days.

2. Live on 80 percent of your income.

Set aside another 10 percent for regular designated giving (church, charity, etc.)—and put the final 10 percent in a separate account to respond to whatever God might prompt your heart toward.

3. Know yourself.

What drains you emotionally? What fills your emotional tank? Be sure to preschedule time to refill your tank with activities that add life to you.

4. Minimize the number of life-sucking people around you.

It’s OK to have some relationships where you give 200 percent and they give nothing—but if all of your relationships are like that, you’ll die a slow, lonely death.

5. Every now and then, turn off the noise.

You can’t hear from God if you are constantly listening to the beep of the newest email, the vibration of the latest text, the alert from your Twitter feed or the chirp of a new Facebook notification. Schedule an electronic detox on occasion—and take time to listen to God, others and yourself.

It is the reason I haven’t been blogging much lately. I needed to create space for margin, and the ever-encompassing, self-induced pressure to blog was crowding it out.

What about you? What do you need to change in your life to widen your margins?  

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Tim Stevens served as the executive pastor of Granger Community Church in Granger, IN, for twenty years before joining Vanderbloemen Search Group as the Director of the Executive Search Consultant Team where he helps churches and ministries around the world find their key staff. Tim has a passion for the local church and equipping leaders with practical advice and tools about church staffing and church leadership. He has co-authored three books with Tony Morgan, including Simply Strategic Stuff, Simply Strategic Volunteers, and Simply Strategic Growth, and authored three books of his own, including Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles To Revolutionize Your Workplace. Connect with Tim at LeadingSmart.com.