As in every business, we are always trying to achieve the highest possible margin for our goods and services. Heck, a great profit margin in a successful company leads to even more profitability. It’s the compound effect. And if all your operations are in order, much of the tough work can run on its own. It means not only are you profitable, but you are also gaining more time back from the investment it took to get you there in the first place. Time to focus on growing your business, hiring more qualified help, and time to even step back from the daily grind. This time, the freedom, I call “life margins.”
Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs don’t actually take advantage of those tiny moments littered throughout their day. Instead, they are quickly seeking out the next project or trying to pry their way back to doing the tasks they already delegated. Even when they are not physically doing the work, their head is stuck in the clouds forcing them out of the present, leaving mindfulness, deep connections, and many relationships behind. And then when they do show up at home, there is nothing left for them to give to their family. They are depleted. Their tank is empty and worse, their head is somewhere else.
It’s not necessarily because of all-the-work, or because of client or customer demands. It’s also not just because of ego, growth or guilt.
It’s often times because they didn’t take advantage of the daily life margins that are granted to them. The space that exists between rest and passion, work and play, tuning in and turning off.
As we progress through our day, we are often gifted with tiny bits of time, 5 minutes here, 20 minutes there, but we don’t recognize it, let alone take advantage of it. That could be a moment to listen to your favorite podcast or time to get through that next chapter of your book. These are essential bits of time that allow us to regenerate, restore and repair. It’s not selfish, it’s productive. Instead, us hustling entrepreneurs fill them with the crappy tasks that fill up our to-do list and move us even further away from mindfulness and restorative practices.
Stop doing that!
It’s time to take advantage of those moments and turn them into life margins. Give yourself time to change your state between tasks and reward your little accomplishments. Just as you are working hard to achieve more margin for your business, you should be doing the same for yourself, and your family life. No successful entrepreneur ever said, “I work my ass off to be lonely, without a purpose outside of work, no family or friends, and incredibly unhealthy and unhappy.” So why, then, aren’t you celebrating a little bit more every day?
Perhaps you don’t know how? Well good news for you, I have some steps for you to follow below. But before you get started, there is one thing you need to be ok with: SCHEDULING, even the 'unschedulable.' For us overscheduled people, if it ain’t in the calendar, it ain’t happening. And I know the anxiety of adding something more seems counterproductive but trust me it works. Put it this way, if someone else was in charge of managing your calendar and had the freedom to fill in any empty time slot between when you wake and when you go to bed with whatever they felt necessary, would you be ok with that? How many are open chunks of time just left there waiting to be wasted? Hmmm ... that’s what I thought.
When you hold space for more life margins, it gives back to you in spades. So let’s get going and start by downloading the worksheets.
1. List the things you want to do every day
This goes back to your ideal life plan worksheet you would have created after downloading the Couples Retreat Playbook. Your wants may include things like reading 10-pages of a book everyday, listening to the next Amy Porterfield podcast episode (‘cause she drops knowledge bombs all the time), bi-weekly lunch with a mentor, disconnected evenings with your kids, CrossFit, writing, having a nap, scheduling a board games night, reading your favorite blogs, meditating, and so on.
2. List the things you have to do every day
Don’t get granular, but do be specific. This could include things like hold team standup, meetings, interviews, drive the kids to school, walk the dog, put the garbage out, cook dinner, etc. These are the items that you must do, can do, and should do. Business tends to dominate this step, and let it. You will be subtracting the items later to make room for more life margins.
3. Break it up into themes
Now we break it up into themes. Example: health (nutrition and exercise), creative work (writing, brainstorming), meetings, processing (email, social media), marketing (social media, advertising), family time, date night, etc., and where each item corresponds to a given day of the week.
When creating your list, be mindful of what can get bucketed under ‘work’ or ‘life.’ You want to try to achieve a balance that works for you and your family. Color code the work items and the life items.
Example of some themes include:
- Creativity (Writing, brainstorming, designing)
- Mindfulness (meditation)
- Working out
- House chores
- Family time
- Marketing (social media)
- Date night
- Nighttime routine
- Kids activities (sports or dance)
4. Create your calendar
Now is the fun, yet complicated part. What time do you get up in the morning? When do you go to bed? Give yourself an extra 30-minutes on each end of your nighttime and morning routine to accommodate for the unexpected (For me, it’s RLS!). In-between those hours is what you are given each day to complete the above things. Don’t forget, you need 7-9 hours of sleep at night too! That’s so damn important, so make sure your calendar reflects that.
Now slot in the must-do tasks using 30-minute intervals, making sure that you’ve left tiny margins in your day for simple pleasures like reading or just thinking. These are rewards that will help you refresh and show back up to your tasks to be more energized and productive. If you require 2-hours for a task, then that equates to four 30-minute intervals. Why do I do this? Because most tasks should be chunked up using methods like the Pomodoro technique (breaking big projects down into shorter tasks). So if for example, writing is a daily 2-hour task, chunk it up into chapters, or pages, or paragraphs. Whatever it is you can accomplish in 25-30 minutes. You can keep working through that period, you just need to block it out on your calendar. When I was running my agency, we had a clear rule that Friday’s were no-call days. Unless in an emergency, our clients could only schedule a call with us Monday - Thursday. Friday’s were left open for client work and to play catch up. By not overscheduling that day it gave us more space for creativity and enjoyment. It eased us into the weekend and, surprisingly, we got most of our stuff done.
Now, slot in your want-to-do tasks throughout the day. I place two-time slots for reading each evening. If I see it on my calendar and the time is blocked out, it’s a big likelihood that I will actually do it. Wednesday evenings are my ‘alone time.’ It’s scheduled, and my husband does all the parenting. He usually picks the boys up from daycare and brings them out for dinner or to visit friends. If I feel like joining them, I can, but I usually reserve that time for some R&R. A life margin ratio to achieve is 2:1. For every two must-do tasks you should reward yourself with a want-to-do task. Remember, life margins don’t have to be long, or complicated. It can be 5-minute meditation, a brisk walk outside, or even reading 4-pages of a book.
5. Review and share your new life margin plan
Important. Review! Your ideal day or week should not be scattered with work stuff. The whole point of this exercise is to create a day/week plan that outlines how you can celebrate more life margins.
When my husbands work load started to increase, it started to cannibalize our precious evening family time. I mentioned it in passing a few times, then again in a more serious tone as our 1-hour family dinner was cut down to 15-minutes. As a support system, a healthy and connected family should be wired to flex, bend and ultimately rebound from most circumstances, and so we worked on it. Over a few weeks, he delegated tasks and cut down his workload. With a smaller to-do list, he had more mental space and was easily more present with us again. All it takes is constant communication to be able to rebound (hence why I stress the importance of a Family Weekly Meeting), and to get back on track to living out a great family life.
In rewarding yourself with life margins, you will see just how much there is to enjoy and appreciate in a day, even coming from the things you overlooked or quickly dismissed as ‘joyful’.