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Margin


At the recommendation of a counseling professor, my wife purchased Richard A. Swenson’s book Margin. I was glad she did. I read it over the weekend and found it very helpful.

Here is an excerpt:

The formula for margin is straightforward: Power – Load = Margin

Power is made up of factors such as energy, skills, time, training, emotional and physical strength, faith, finances, and social supports.

Load is made up of factors such as work, problems, obligations and commitments, expectations (external and internal), debt, deadlines, and interpersonal conflicts.

When our load is greater than our power, we enter into negative margin status, that is, we are overloaded. Endured long-term, this is not a healthy state. Severe negative margin for an extended period of time is another name for burnout.

When our power is greater than our load, however, we have margin. (70)

Swenson points out many examples of margin, like margin on a page of a book, margin for error for connecting flights, and more. We live in a world of margin. We planted our church with margin in mind. We wanted people to have time to eat with their neighbors and do evangelism. Yet, it’s a challenge for me.

The reason I want margin is twofold: (1) I want to be healthy, (2) I want to be available for interruptions, that is, have space to invite my neighbors over, meet with church members for dinner, counsel a friend, go serve in the homeless shelter, surprise my wife with a date, or fellowship with a fellow professor.

Overwork is a concern of mine. Recently I was laid up in the bed for three days. I thought I had a virus, and went to the Doc, but discovered that wasn’t the case. I think I hit a wall. My grandfather died in his mid-forties in Detroit, in part because of too much work and the stress that came with it. He worked two full time jobs. So, this book is relevant for me, as I try to pastor, teach a full load, be a husband/father, and write. It’s also relevant for anyone else who is needing space – emotionally, financially, physically or with time.

On the issue of time, Swenson gives the following recommendations for restoring sanity to our schedules. It was good for me to think about implementing some of them:

  1. Expect the unexpected
  2. Learn to say “no”
  3. Turn off the television
  4. Prune the activity branches
  5. Practice simplicity and contentment
  6. Separate time from technology (technology is responsible for much of our time famine)
  7. Short-term flurry verses long-term vision (don’t be short-sited)
  8. Thank God
  9. Sabotage your fuse box
  10. Get less done but do the right things
  11. Enjoy anticipation, relish the memories (plan trips and then talk about them later)
  12. Don’t rush wisdom
  13. For type A’s only: stand in line
  14. Create buffer zones
  15. Plan for free time
  16. Be available