There is tendency in our culture, and both of you have picked it up, to run everything to the edge. In other words, you tend to wait until the last moment to do something. You tend to spend what you have. You tend to wait until the gas gauge is past empty. You tend to think you can get from point A to point B in the perfect amount of time, etc. And the problem with all that is that life doesn’t work out perfectly (as I mentioned in the lesson I wrote on, “Forget Being On Time”).
But there’s a more important reason to create margin than just being on time/early. And that reason is your health, which could be more specifically called, “Your stress levels.” Believe it or not, stress takes a bigger toll on your lives than either of you are willing to admit. And stress doesn’t just cause headaches, it increases your susceptibility to colds, depression, heart disease, tooth and gum disease, ulcers, diabetes, it impairs cognitive functioning and it even increases abdominal fat. Any way you add it up, stress is just bad.
And the amazing thing about stress is that the two of you have far more control over the amount of it you experience than you’re willing to own up to. Yes, I know both of you are Ps (Perceivers in Myers-Briggs language) so you like to be spontaneous. But personality typologies are not meant to be prescriptive, just descriptive (i.e. they’re not meant to be excuses).
So, if you’d like to live a more full and enjoyable life—with a whole lot less stress—I’d encourage you to make a commitment to creating a life filled with margin in everything you do. For example
1. Create margin with your money. If you read the post on Money Management 101, you should have noticed that I suggested having at least three month’s living expenses in your checking/savings account. This is margin. On the other hand, when you run your balance in your account to near zero, every day is stressful. “Can I make this purchase?” “Can I afford to go out to dinner with my friends?” “WIll I have enough money to pay my rent this month?” Etc. That’s all stress. The easy way to alleviate all that stress is to simply create some money margin.
2. Create margin with your gas. You’ve heard me say this a hundred times, but running on empty is always a bad idea. Treat a quarter tank or an eighth of a tank as an empty tank. Fill up before you ever hit “E” and you’ll never wonder if you have enough gas to get to your next appointment or if you’ll be the sad motorist on the side of the road waiting for AAA to come by while everyone else looks on thinking, “Loser. Sure glad that’s not me!”
3. Create margin with your time. I keep hammering this because there’s nothing wrong with arriving early. No one gets marked as a, “Loser!” because they arrive early. In fact, just the opposite is true. When you arrive early, you’re seen as a winner. Plus, you’ve just eliminated all that stress of wondering if you’re going to be on time (and of getting upset with that slow driver or that big truck or those “stupid traffic lights that are conspiring against me.” :-)
4. Create margin with your sleep. I know this may come as a surprise, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a good night’s sleep—really.There is no law that says that if you’re a certain age, like 18 -21, that you have to stay up until at least 2:00 a.m. Get the rest your body requires (6-8 hours) and you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel all day long.
5. Create margin with your relationships. Invest time in your relationships before conflict arises. Keep short accounts. Ask more questions. Send more notes. Etc. Our ethnic history (Italian) has a principle worth remembering, “We always want to be owed more favors than we owe.” Or as Harvey MacKay puts it in his book on networking and relationships, “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty.“
6. Create margin for yourself. The good news is that both of you have good hearts and love helping other people. The bad news is that you can become so focused on helping others that you don’t create time for yourselves—to replenish your emotional tanks. But Jesus’ words are clear, ”Love your neighbor as yourself.“ In other words, loving others is predicated on you loving yourself first. You can’t keep giving out, if you don’t take care of you first. So make sure you create time for just you, every day!
Margin-less living is no fun—It’s stressful, and it’s terrible for your health. Instead, make a decision, starting today, to create more margin in everything you do. You will not get in trouble by having excess time or money or rest or emotional energy. In fact, the opposite will happen. You’ll reap all kinds of rewards for having lots of margin in your life–including a lot less stress and a whole lot more joy!