So here’s a question for you: What do term papers, technical manuals, novels and creative people have in common?

They all have margins: nice clean white space around the edges.

Back in high school, the rule of thumb was, if you were trying to make a short paper seem longer, you made the margins wider. If you were long-winded, er, worded, the margins got smaller.

But for printed projects and in life, we need margins. White space. Wiggle room. Open areas. Without margins, things get messy, disorganized, and murky in a hurry.

Here’s a simple way to test your margins. Check all that apply.

  • Do you feel like your schedule controls your life?
  • Do you run out of day way before you run out of to-do list?
  • Is your budget one paycheck from defaulting on your mortgage?
  • Do you get just enough sleep to function, but not enough to actually think?
  • Is your immune system so stressed, you catch every little bug that flies past you?
  • Do you worry that adding one more thing to your to-do list will send you screaming into the night?
  • Do you have trouble remembering the last time you didn’t have something to do or somewhere to be?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions (and I’m right there with you), it’s time to adjust our margins and put some white space back into our lives.

A key step is to evaluate our time and separate “urgent” from “important.” We get in big trouble when we inter-mix these two.

Equally difficult is learning to say “no.” When I’m running too close to the edge, I am no fun to be around. Just ask my family. So really, when you say no, everybody benefits.

A good friend and I were discussing margin-less living the other day. We both love, love, love checking things off our to-do lists. But the minute we do, a strange thing happens. We look at our calendar and think, “Huh. I have some extra time. I can add (fill in the blank).”

When that urge strikes, see above and just say no.

If we’re too pushed, stretched, and ragged, we can’t breathe. And when we can’t breathe, we can’t think. And when we can’t think, we can’t create.

And when we can’t create, who will?

If you have any strategies for keeping healthy margins in your life, I’d love to hear them…