One Great Tool For Managing Stress

I see stressed people every day.

It’s probably because I teach seminars about time and life management.  The people who attend aren’t there because their life is in balance.  It’s because they’re at the end of their rope, spinning out of control like a race car on a wet road.

It’s often their last resort.  They’ve tried to stay on top of everything that crowds into their lives, but it’s not working.

  • Too many demands from too many people.
  • More messages coming from more directions.
  • Technology that makes them more accessible than ever.

They’re stressed.

I understand.  I really do.

Because I’m one of those people as well. 

I constantly fight the crippling effects of stress from the same sources.  Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to these fellow travelers.  I’m not teaching theory; I’m sharing the journey with them.

I don’t have all the answers.  I’ve just learned how to approach those stressors from a proactive position.  It doesn’t make them go away, but provides tools for managing them.

I have one tool that’s a favorite.

It’s a simple concept, but takes some work to implement.

It’s one that’s often ignored. But if we can understand its value, it can make a profound difference in our sanity.

It’s called margin.

Margin means that we leave space in our lives for the unexpected.

  • In our finances, it means setting aside a few months income in savings for unexpected roof repair and root canals.
  • In our families, it means leaving enough space in our schedule to be available for the child with an unexpected crisis.
  • In our driving, it means distancing ourselves a bit from the car in front of us in case they make and unexpected move.
  • In our vision, it means we create time to think and plan so we have a foundation when unexpected life events occur.
  • In our health, it means we build strength and endurance so we can deal with the unexpected need for extra exertion.

PressureRichard Swenson wrote, “If we were equipped with a flashing light to indicate ‘100 percent full,’ we could better gauge our capacities.  But we don’t have such an indicator light, and we don’t know when we have overextended until we feel the pain.  As a result, many people commit to a 120 percent life and wonder why the burden feels so heavy.

“It is rare to see a life prescheduled to only 80% . . .”

We need wiggle room.  Without it, everything gets too tight.

If we don’t pay attention, we lose our margin – and we feel overwhelmed.  When that happens, how do we get the margin back?

The only way to get margin is to plan it into our lives.  That’s best done by planning it into our upcoming week, putting it in our calendar and protecting it.  If we don’t intentionally plan for it, it won’t happen.

Margin never happens by accident.  But if we don’t have it, we start losing control and feeling stressed.

We have to constantly fight for it.

So, what percentage of your life is jammed to capacity?  What would it look like if you added some margin into your life?