Leave margins.

Ive learned. She helped.

I learned. She helped.

Once upon a time, I was offered an AMAZING OPPORTUNITY.

I couldnt believe it. 

I was excited.

I looked at my stack of post-it’s fancy formalized mapped out schedule and deduced I could not say yes.

I was committed (kids stuff).  I was busy with deadlines (work stuff). I could not fit another thing in.

I remember sharing the above my husband and his responding:

You should never be so busy you’re incapable of adding another thing.  You need to build in space so if a cool opportunity arises you can say yes.

I knew he was right when he said it.

I made the opportunity work—but not without significant juggling.

I knew he was right when he said it—-yet for some reason his phrasing didnt spark an AH HA! moment.  

Flash forward a few years (ahhh MizFit. will you really be 6 next month?!) & I found myself in the same position:

Impending move. Stressed out child who needed more FOCUSED her-time with a PRESENT mama. Work deadlines.

I was backed into a corner as the phrase goes.

I assumed this was simply how life was was meant to be.

I had lolloped along at an ok pace until life threw extra stuffs my way and I became immediately overwhelmed.

A wise, wise friend remarked to me:

You need to learn to leave margins.

I needed margins.

That was my AH HA! moment.

That was the phrasing which resonated with me as I already knew I tended to fill spaces.

Literally (we’ve chatted about my clutter problem) and metaphorically (it took an entire counseling masters degree program for me to learn to SIT WITH SILENCE).

MARGINS, as a writer, was phrasing I understood.

It immediately brought to mind how, as a child, Id write stories on unlined paper and have nary a white speck left by the end.

My friend was right. 

  • I needed to leave virtual margins in my life. 
  • I needed a SPACE between my load and my life. 
  • My life demanded a GAP between my load and my breaking point.

My husband had said essentially the same thing years prior, but as with so much in life, I needed wording which clicked with me to FINALLY get it.

And get it I did.

Since we’ve touched down in Oakland Ive committed to looking forward /not obsessively checking my rear view mirror.

Im also committing to living life INSIDE THE LINES (admittedly a bizarre notion for me).

Im drawing margins in Sharpie (just like my boundaries) & building myself a cushion between living and overload.

Im treating my life PRECISELY like I view fitness (what took me so long?!):

Im doing LESS than I am capable of each day so I can greet the *next* 24 hours with joy, excitement, ability and SPACE to do more.

And you?

  • Am I the last to grasp the notion of life needing margins?
  • How do you maintain SPACE or MARGINS in your life?




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  1. says

    The other day, while I was apologising to The Boy for not having any food for lunch (I didn’t expect him to be home for lunch), he stopped me and said ‘nobody else expects you to be the perfect housewife. You work. You study. Only you expect yourself to be perfect. Stop it.’

    Revelation. He’s right. I’m the only one who’s making myself take on the world plus more so I get stressed.

    So no, you are not the last to grasp the notion.

    And I have no answer for how to maintain space or margins. Need to work on that.

  2. says

    Oh my, this is very convicting. I describe my life as “balanced on the head of a pin”. Everything is crammed in and I just barely make it all work – family, training, work. Great advice :-)

  3. says

    Such a great way to describe it- leaving margins. I think I automatically ‘leave margins’ because I just automatically only do so many things in a day. I don’t know how to explain it- I think it’s priorities for me- school and studying come first, personal health second, family third (I live alone right now and I know that when I get married and have kids that order will change- family will come first) and then all the extra fun stuff like blogging comes in last. If I’m busy, I don’t blog, or I don’t work out. I just make sure to fit in the big stuff first. Have a great day!!! (and wear some great leggings!!)

  4. says

    I don’t have margins. I have buffers. Or padded bumpers as I careen from one demand to the next …. Thanks for opening my eyes to my need for margins.

  5. says

    My book club and I were discussing this in exactly the same terms – margins – last week. They are much needed in my life, spaces to just be. Thanks for the wise words!

  6. Sarah MomRunningonEmpty says

    I love the idea of margins! I think that like all working moms, I struggle with how to be the best me in every roles. It’s time for me to set some margins in those roles so they can stop sabotaging each other. I have not allowed for proper time at rest in any if them! Thank you for the healthy reminder that being the best me means allowing myself a break!

  7. Shelley says

    Lovelovelove it. And inside that lesson is another that I need to work on: learn to say no to the stuff that will clutter my margins, so I can leave room for the good stuff when it arrives.

    Great food for thought, miz.

  8. says

    I love this! I’ve never thought of it in this light but I love the idea of margins! I think it’s so important to have “me time” every day and often that’s the first thing to go if I’m busy or stressed but yet my sanity depends on it. I’m going to start calling it my margins because it just makes perfect sense! Such a great post!

  9. Tara says

    I really appreciate the fact you will admit you, too, are human Miz.

    This notion of margins resonates with me.
    I currently fill the page.

  10. Miz says

    I once had a prof. in undergrad who was trying to teach us to be terse.
    we could write as much as we wanted…as long as it fit on ONE SHEET OF PRINTER PAPER.
    People removed all margins and FILLLLED THE SHEET.
    My eyes could not tolerate that “filled up look” so I left margins and just edited my words.

    When my friend made that remark it IMMEDIATELY harkened me back to that writing seminar.

    I love margins.

    Id forgotten.

  11. says

    As a writer, I’m in love with this analogy. Whenever I take on another role/job/task/project, my husband says, “when are you going to find time to do that?” To which I respond, “I’ll make time.” Now I can add…”I left room in the margin.” :)

  12. Renee says

    After reading this I wonder if my margins are too hurried.
    I tend to think like this: me time? DONE! and onto next thing!!!!

  13. says

    So important and so easy to let slip by. When I decided to stay home in June I made a promise to my kiddos that I would not consume every minute with something so I I could be present. Life always has things to fill up our space we just have to decide what to let in. Its a hard balance but so worth making the effort for.

  14. Miz says

    And now Im thinking any time I have to proffer a NO I shall just send this link 😉

    “Im so sorry I CAINT do XYZ right now. Here’s why: insertlinkhere.”


    • MizFit says

      for me it was/is indeed a slow process.
      when Im offered something now (from an invitation to a party to a freelance job) I STOP, I ENVISION MY LIFE AS THE DRAWING ABOVE, I mentally PLACE THE NEW THING IN THE PICTURE, I see in my mind’s eye if it BLEEEEEDS into the margins.

  15. says

    Awesome, Miz, funny how the Margins notion is so visual and familiar from childhood that it instantly resonates.

    I tend to wait until I HAVE to dump something because a new opportunity has come along rather than clear space ahead of time. But I’m lucky in that many of my cherished endeavors don’t have absolute deadlines, so can be put aside if necessary. Of course some of them have been lingering “aside” for far too long…

  16. says

    I am creating more and more margins as time goes on. I’m learning about the benefits of having them in and leaving them there. Puts things into perspective. xo

  17. says

    LOVE that phrasing. I’ve gotten very very good with margins. It’s taken years, but not being overly busy (and hence enjoying what I do choose to do) is very important to me.

  18. Cheryl says

    I write in my margins- paper was once a living tree so need to save as much as we can, right? (find the metaphor)
    The more you do, the more you get done.
    For me anyway.

  19. says

    I learned compartmentalization! It was the only way I could deal with the various areas of my life and still be present in each area when I was needed there.

  20. says

    interestingly I am always able to say no on a personal level, but was really bad about it on a professional level. now that I am in control of that I’m also working on realizing it doesn’t all need to be accomplished overnight :)

  21. says

    After grad school at first I was so excited to have free time with knowing just how much I could do in time (after having gone slightly insane with work + school + life)…then I realized that just because I can do all that doesn’t mean that I should. Now, my husband and I make sure we have one weekend afternoon or weekday evening free, for us together or for us to unwind and just do something fun on our own that isn’t planned ahead.
    Your husband’s comment resonated deeply with me. It’s something I had to learn the hard way. It’s OK to say no sometimes, and focus on and enjoy some things instead of trying to madly cram everything in and lose some of the joy in the process. The process is half the fun!

  22. says

    This is a great analogy! Being the people pleaser that I am I have struggled with saying “no” to people when asked to do something for someone, the church, the PTA and so on.

    Years ago I got a call and was asked to do something and because I was available to do it I immediately said yes and as soon as I hung up the phone I regretted it. It wasn’t something I “wanted” to do and I called the person right back and told them I changed my mind! That was a turning point for me and from that I learned that when I was asked to do something if I have a negative physical reaction I need to listen to that and say no.

    I have also learned to not answer yes or no when asked to do something and tell people I will think about it and get back to them. It buys me time to think it through and decide if it’s something I want and or have time to do.

    Now that so much communication is done via email and texting we have that built in buffer of time before we respond.

    Having said all that I need to clean up the margins on my paper again as they have become a little distorted. Thank you for motivating me to do so.

  23. Elisabeth says

    Since having a baby, I’ve needed to learn the art of “just say no”. In the past, I said “yes” so often that I was moving at the speed of light all the time and not leaving any time to just be quiet.

    Now, I am a master at being quiet. It’s the reason why I don’t blog anymore (because I just haven’t written it back into the schedule yet), but it’s also the reason why I’m able to be present, be a mommy, and also be a wife and accountant.

    I have struggled with balancing everything over the past 10 months, and have on many occasions said the words “I can’t be everything to everyone” to my husband. It’s tough trying to be everything to everyone…but mostly my high expectations are just my own, and not the expectation of anyone else in my life.

    There are a few things in my week that I won’t flex on…now, it’s working out, meal-planning, spending time with the baby and husband and work-work. Other than that, everything else is optional.

  24. MizFit says

    it is interesting to me how many have commented here, FB and emailed me you struggle with this because of wanting to people please.

    I struggle with lots :-) but just not that.
    it hadnt occurred to me this could be a by product of wanting to please—for me it is all about getting overly filled with ZEAL.

    too excited.

    everything sounding amazing.


  25. says

    I tend to protect my time so my “margins” are pretty well-defined. I’m actually working harder on saying yes to things – or at least looking further into them before I decline.

    BTW, I remember when you could first change the margins on a word document – I tried it and hated that cluttered look. Keep it clean and open is my style.

  26. says

    I commented on your FB page about how BIG this thought has been to me lately too and the fact that even my pastor did a series on it. He is very good at making things applicable to anyone no matter what specific beliefs, so here is the link to the series (SO amazing) if you’re interested in listening (or any other readers). http://www.findbreathingroom.com

  27. says

    Just when I think you can’t get any wiser 😉

    I do tend to schedule in ‘down time’, kind of like your ‘margins’, but truthfully, it usually gets gobbled up by Facebook

  28. says

    Love this. I need to build in more margins in my life. I tend to pack things up to the gills and clearly it’s coming back to bite me in the butt since I’m sick again. Clearly, my body is telling me that I need more space! OK, trying to listen now :-)

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  30. says

    Great timing – just this past weekend we looked into adding in, not just 1, but 2 major undertakings. Better make sure that I still have some margins!!

  31. Ashley says

    I don’t have any tips but I can totally identify. WIth work, school, and a toddler I’m usually in the same point. Each semester I resolute to be better organized and about half way through I fail! Support group anyone? lol

  32. says

    ARGH! I need this right now! Work goals + training goals + life goals and I’m just feeling spread thin today.

    I’m drawing the boundaries in sharpie too. I need a do nothing day soon. The house can get messy, the laundry can be undone, and goals cannot be accomplished, that can wait. Just unplugging. Sounds blissful.

  33. says

    Very true. All it takes is one bump in my “perfect planning” to remind me that things come up and if I don’t have enough of a “margin” planned life can spin out of control. I think as Moms we all have our own aha! moments like this. Thanks for the great reminder.

  34. says

    LOVE the margin analogy. And the need for balance and “room” in life. And also love Jack’s comment above about the mirror being tiny and the windsheild being big. So much wisdom from Miz and her readers today! Thank you all!!!!

  35. says

    I love this idea! I often find myself trying to find the perfect balance in life and sometimes it’s difficult but I agree with you, if I left some margins that might make things a lot easier to manage. Having some breathing room makes everything else easier.

  36. says

    You just kicked me right in the arse, thank you. The answer to your question, “How do you maintain SPACE or MARGINS in your life?” doesn’t really have an answer over here. I plan my day to the ‘t’, as some say, and I leave myself maybe 5 or 10 minutes to have a slight break, otherwise there are no margins..

    In all honesty, I love being productive, and maybe that’s my downfall. Jumping on ‘AH-HA’ opportunities is a bit of a struggle for me, as it will then coincide with what I planned to do…

    You have indeed just inspired me to a change, and I’m about to plan out tomorrow shortly, and I already know I’ll leave some margins! Thank you, Carla!

  37. says

    Isn’t it so cool that sometimes something we hear just gob-smacks us right in the face and we GET IT! Love it when this happens.

  38. says

    I love this. I never really allow myself to leave margins, I want to be present for B, and then when he is asleep I fel like I need to rush and get ALL THE THINGS done. I need to leave room and give myself margins. A great life lesson!

  39. says

    Argh! You and your good posts. Everytime I read these I find myself realizing more and more about myself. Looks like lots of us are too.

    Learning to leave Margins is a lesson I desperately need to learn.

  40. says

    Your husband is a very wise man.

    I need margins. I need to be able to find the balance between life and work. It’s hard when that line becomes blurred.

  41. says

    Love the “leaving a margin” analogy since I was a “write to the edges of the paper” kind of girl myself. In the not-so-distant past, I was notorious for over committing to the point of exhaustion and feeling like there was no other choice I could make. Thankfully I’ve come to the realization that it’s OK to do less than my full capacity and that I’m more likely to enjoy those things I DO decide to do when I’m not over booked.

  42. says

    I love the way your friend put this. I was always good about keeping space before we had kids. Once we had kids, I stopped being so good about that. Then I had one year where I not only went right up to the edge of the paper and spilled over a bit and was so busy I stopped being a good wife and mom, much less doing anything for myself. I started saying a lot of “no” after that. I now know where my margins are and only go over them for really special things (like all the miles I’m running to train for the five halves in five days) and go over them knowing there’s an endpoint to that craziness. I’m a much calmer person, much more present mother, and a happier wife that way.

  43. Valerie says

    Being diagnosed with autoimmune disorders forced me to create margins – but I had the opposite problem: I created margins sooooo wide there wasn’t much room between them for life. My goals this year are all about shrinking them a little, rediscovering what I really am capable of and filling my empty page a bit more. I’m working on making sure it’s filled with a good balance of what I need to do for others and what I need and want to do for myself. Stress, worry, self-recrimination and exhaustion are not invited to the party – and tonight I needed a reminder of that. I knew there was a reason I waited till now to read this post. :-)

    Thanks for “le mot juste”, Miz. Again.

  44. says

    I’m a planner, but a few years ago I realized plans never go accordingly. SO now I make a basic layout of the day. If it gts done it gets done. If not I’m ok with that now and if something awesome comes….we rearrange to make it work. Like you said you have to make room.

    • MizFit says

      And the biggest OOOH I GET IT for me with all of this is it’s easy….TO START.
      Today can be the day you git out the sharpie and draw you some margins.
      YES it may be crowded ‘inside the lines’ initially—but given time it will all space out/fit and fill.

  45. says

    WOW. I love this comparison so freaking much. And it really hits home with me. I am working on a post that I hope to have up this week called “Get off the treadmill” b/c sometimes I Feel like all I’m doing is running at full speed on a treadmill. Can’t slow down…and if I do, I’ll fall off :/ I need to slow it all down and cut some stuff out. Thanks for this today, Miz.

  46. says

    I love this! Yes, it’s sooo important to leave margins. One of the reasons last year turned out so difficult for me was because I had left no margins whatsoever. And it did not go well. I have since learned to say “no” and have said it a lot. It’s still a bit scary, but things are so much better.

  47. says

    Carla, there’s that story about filling a jar… with rocks, then sand, then water – to remind us how to prioritise and remind us that there’s space for the little stuff if we make space for the big stuff first.

    I’ve always loved that – reminding us of what’s important AND how to fit more into our lives.


  48. Olive says

    I like the visual of the picture you and the Tornado drew.
    After work I am going to sketch out all my priorities and margins around them as a reminder.

  49. says

    This is something I definitely struggled with for a long time, but then I learned to say “no”. Sure, I may not be working as much or making as much money, but I’m happier. and now if that OMG!!! opportunity comes along, I’ll be able to say yes. In the meantime, I enjoy what I have and learn to be content being happy in the here and now.

  50. says

    What a brilliant phrase. Needing margins!

    I certainly didn’t always have extra space in my life, but now I try to make Sunday margin-day. No plans. No agenda. (Unless something fun comes up mid-week, then maybe Sunday becomes grade-papers-day.) 😉

  51. says

    There was a reason I opened this up and read this, I am dealing with this exact issue and it came full force at me today, now I am sitting here reading this and, well, I hear you. Very powerful stuff and something I have been ignoring for so long. Thank you.

  52. says

    Do you remember the big Mississippi flood in 1993? For weeks all the news reported on was the people losing their homes and their employment.

    Somewhere in the middle of that I realized a couple things: my life is more important than any THING. And I could survive with so much less.

    I’ve worked hard since then in letting things go. Without things, time opens up. And I’ve chosen to only let things that work for me into my life. And regularly I examine them and let things go. Then let new things come in.


  53. says

    I love this. Last year was so go-go-go for me I wore myself ragged and stressed out. Thai year I am allowing time and space to relax, to enjoy friends and family, to say no even when I probably should say yes to something, and to not feel guilty about it.

  54. says

    Oh, I am so bad at this! So bad that at one time the only ‘margin’ I had was 50 extra pounds. That’s how I dealt with stress and finding something to do with any extra moment I ever got.
    Wow, have I learned a lot from saying yes to things I didn’t think I had time for and then choosing the things that have to go when there really isn’t room for them anymore because other coolness has come my way. Yes, yes- we must always leave room for an open door or even a window and you can’t do that without a little breathing room!

  55. says

    You go girl! I leave myself margins by just giving myself some time off to relax and recooporate. I know a lot of times, friends from school are out and about on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, but for me that just doesn’t work. I need at least ONE night on the weekend (usually is Saturday) that I can just sit on the couch for a few hours with phone in one hand, and remote in the other, and RELAXXXXX.

  56. says

    We wisely did this on our cruise. We did not fill every moment as we could have with all of the onboard activities and port excursions. We definitely left margins and had some great “Just sit and relax and chat” moments. It was a very fun week!