Creating a Life Free From Chaos

How to Create Space for Margin in a Too-Much-to-Do World

How to Create Space for Margin in a Too-Much-to-Do World

This is a guest post from Nancy Bouwens at

Do you find yourself in a panic as you juggle activities at work, at home or in your family? Are you perpetually late wherever you go? 

Do you make frequent mistakes or forget scheduled appointments? Is your blood pressure rising just reading these words? 

Do you feel anxious or a little unsettled when you look at your week ahead, knowing short of a miracle it is impossible to do most of what you “need” to do. 

Rushing and attempting 10 things at once, contrary to popular belief, is not efficient. In reality, unlike a master juggler, research shows us our brains are wired to operate at the highest efficiency to do one thing at a time and do it well. The more often we are interrupted, the longer it takes to refocus on the original task.

You do multiple tasks at the same time. You may be a parent, employee, business owner, volunteer, friend, caregiver, spouse, or a multitude of all of these. 

You are busy, exhausted, overwhelmed, and overworked. Your “to do” list is longer than Santa’s on Christmas Eve. Your creative juices are spent, you have forgotten how to dream, you already don’t want to get out of bed on Tuesday and it’s only 9 am on Monday. Sound familiar?

Building a Place for Margin

Richard Swenson, M.D. and author of “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to our Overloaded Lives” describes margin like this:

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.

We tell ourselves we need more time, more hours in the day and more time to rest — then we could get everything done.  When actually what we need is not more time but margin. 

Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded, we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. They are withering away with little to offer anyone in any part of their life. 

If you see yourself in these words, I wish I could take your beautiful face in my hands, look you in the eyes and tell you there is hope. Small steps done well over time bring monumental change.

Creating a Space for Margin

As you begin, look for opportunities to weave margin and space into simple daily activities. 

  • Arrive 10 minutes early to work or an appointment.
  • Look at your spouse or child when they are speaking to you.
  • Plan a week of meals; make a list for the grocery store and stick to it.
  • Schedule consistent physical activity each week; it is proven to increase endorphins and provides you a higher level of well-being. Not to mention, you will look better too! 
  • Buy an alarm clock. Move your phone (far) away from your bedside table. If it’s there, it will be the first thing you pick up in the morning and likely the last thing you touch at night.
  • Put your phone in the back seat when you are driving. Look where you are going, and see the beauty in the world around you. You will be safer and arrive at your destination less stressed and more centered.
  • Look ahead. Consider planning a time-out or short sabbatical for yourself. This can be a day, an afternoon, or a weekend. Recharge and renew your own batteries. No one else will do it for you!

Today’s Challenge: consider your obligations and responsibilities you have on your schedule over the next 24 hours. How can you create more margin and bring more space to your daily activities? 

  • What can you eliminate?
  • What recharges you?
  • Do you see some of your to-do’s as non-negotiable? Are they really? 
  • What would you need to change to allow enough margin in your life for an afternoon or a weekend sabbatical within the next 30 days? 

I believe we grow best in community and I encourage you to reach out to a trusted friend for feedback on what margin looks like in your life. Partner with them for the next 30 days, hold each other accountable and see what changes for each of you. 

Nancy Bouwens

Nancy is a coach, writer, wonder seeker, lover of good coffee, dark chocolate, beaches, travel, new recipes, candles, board games, laughter and gathering around a table with those she loves. She is also a cancer survivor. You can find her posting weekly on her blog and daily-ish on Facebook at The Intentional Life.