Creating Margin in Your Life

Creating Margin In your Life

Last week a client sent me an article about the idea of creating “margin” in our lives.  Several months ago, this same client sent me a different article about the idea of stopping our involvement in activities before we reach our limit – in other words stopping BEFORE we’ve had enough – BEFORE we are tired, irritable, spent, done, etc. 

What both of these articles have in common is the idea of creating boundaries for ourselves that honor our physical, mental and emotional reservoirs.

In order to create these boundaries, we first have to gain awareness about the where the boundaries should be set, why we want to set boundaries and what we are going to gain from the boundary setting process.

Let’s start by defining boundaries or margins.  Both words are used in this context describe the “space” we create between our limits and ourselves.

There are three main types of “space” or margin – physical margin, mental margin and emotional margin.  Most people can easily understand the idea of physical margin.  This type of margin is largely about having enough time to accomplish tasks and still physically attend to your own needs. 

Is there sufficient time on your calendar allowing you to be on time or early for your various commitments?  Is there enough time built into your schedule to provide YOU with physical margin between commitments.  For example, can you eat a mindful lunch during the day?  Can you take fifteen-minute breaks to stretch your legs, use the restroom, have a snack or attend to personal business? If the answer is “no”, then you might consider the idea of adjusting your schedule to include more physical margin.

Physical margin can also mean your physical environment – is your house, your office or your car so messy that there is no “space” to be comfortable?  Are you living an unhealthy lifestyle that makes your physical body feel dishonored?  Do you have enough space between you and the rest of the world so that you can regularly recharge?  All of these ideas speak to the idea of physical margin.

The next type of margin is mental margin.  Mental margin is the idea of having “space” between tasks or mental activities so that there is transition time for your brain to switch from one set of mental processes to another.  As my coaching career evolved, I became more aware of the benefits of mental margin – learning a lot about this concept from my ADHD clients and colleagues whose difficulties with executive function make transition time between tasks even more important.

Giving your brain a chance to break, rest, meditate, clear and refresh between tasks can reduce the feelings of mental fatigue and “mental whiplash” that can happen when you require yourself to go from one task to another with no break or time for reflection.

There is a lot of research available about mental margin or mental slack – some of our most creative moments can happen during slack time – the time we give ourselves to either transition to another project or just REST.  If you are interested in learning more about this idea, I recommend reading Tom DeMarco’s book, Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork and the Myth of Total Efficiency.

The third type of margin is emotional margin.  I believe this type of margin is not only the hardest to understand but also the hardest to create.  For many, the idea of providing ourselves with emotional margin feels like weakness or a waste of time and efficiency.  Some people may even feel unworthy of creating emotional margin.  If you are familiar with the idea of “the inner critic”, doing some work with a coach around why your inner critic may be hampering your creation of emotional margin could be incredibly helpful.

What is emotional margin?  It is the “space” we need to feel, experience, process and deal with emotionally charged experiences – positive or negative.   By giving yourself permission to create the “space” needed to process charged emotional experiences, from the death of a loved one to the birth of a child, you give yourself the gift of being fully alive. 

Many times we go through our day trying to keep up the appearance that the emotionally charged experiences that rock our universes do not deserve any extra “space” in our existence.  We try to act as if nothing momentous has happened and just go about our regular days.  We think this “acting like everything is normal” behavior is less emotionally costly than taking the time to set up some emotional margin to process feelings.

The reality?  It is very costly when you refuse to actively create the emotional margin you need to process the positive or negative experiences that happen in life.  It is like self-inflicted torture.  I know this from personal experience and from watching many clients struggle through crises because they resist creating much needed emotional margin.  Our zest for life can fade when we refuse to create emotional margin.  Even worse, we can miss out on all of the growth and awareness that can emerge from creating emotional margin.

Take the time today to create the awareness you may need around the idea of emotional margin.  There is no need to sacrifice the benefits of having pockets of this margin in the service of progress and productivity.  If you are more often than not emotionally drained, stressed, angry, isolated, unfulfilled, have feelings of being stuck, paralyzed or trapped, have a sense of overload and reduced creativity, think about reaching out to your support system to help you create the emotional margin you may need.

Building emotional margin, like building physical or mental margin, is about creating new habits.  Habits require practice.  What are you ultimately going to gain from all of these new margin-creating habits?  The list is no doubt endless, but one thing I know for sure - you will increase your feelings of fulfillment and strengthen your personal resilience.

If you are interested in learning more about creating margin in your life or would like to work with a professional life coach please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Posted in Coaching

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