Have you ever noticed how some people aren’t fazed when the boss adds one more thing to their already-full plate, while others have a quiet meltdown at their desks when asked to manage additional work? Regardless of how much a person can tackle at one time, everyone feels stress at some point. This stress affects a person’s entire life, not just their work at the office.
I’m a person who loves to volunteer. However, along our journey together, my dear sweet hubby pointed out that just because I can take on one more thing doesn’t mean I should. After reading the book Margin, written by Dr. Richard Swenson, I came to understand what Dr. Swenson referred to as margin: room in my life to accommodate emergencies and unexpected happenings. I contrasted that with an over-packed schedule which guarantees stress and its side effects.
Think about the margins around the pages of a book–or even this email. The margin allows you to concentrate on the words you’re reading and gives your brain the white space it needs to process the words. Imagine if the words in a book ran from edge to edge, top to bottom. What a mess! A page without margins would actually take longer and be harder to read.
Now reflect on the margin of your own life. Do you have the extra space to handle emergencies, illnesses, or other surprises when they come up? Do you have the time you desire to play catch with your child, take a walk, or call your aging parents to catch up on life?
Swenson’s concept is a great reminder of how margin affects us:
According to research from professional services organization Towers Watson, there’s a destructive link between high levels of stress and decreased productivity. Not only are stressed people less productive, but they also have higher absenteeism rates and lower engagement than those with less stress.
If that last paragraph hits home with you, take a look at your current commitments, especially in areas that involve volunteering. It might be time to practice saying “no” to some things, and create the margin that has disappeared over time.