Margin. What is it and How do we get it?

What is margin?

mar·gin – noun
     1.  the edge or border of something.
     2. an amount by which a thing is won or falls short.

When I think of margin, I think of notebook paper.  What purpose do the margins on the notebook paper serve?  The margins serve as guides for placing our words.  They give our eyes white space on which to rest.  Can you imagine reading a notebook page where the words went from one edge of the paper to the other with no white space to be seen?  I think I’d get a headache trying to read it.



Margin does the same for our life.  It serves as a guide for our activity, for our busyness.  It serves as a boundary so we have some place of rest for our souls.

In his book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives Richard Swenson, M.D., has this to say about margin:

Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances. We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.

Does this sound familiar?  It is all too common, and easy, to over schedule and overbook our lives.  What happens when we don’t have enough, or any, margin in our life?  We can find ourselves stressed, angry, depressed, and possibly even sick.  It effects everything from our health, to our ability to work, to our relationships.  We may even feel like Job.

“I don’t have any peace and quiet. I can’t find any rest. All I have is trouble.” – Job 3:26 (New International Reader’s Version)

We need margin!  To quote Michael Hyatt, “Margin is not something that just happens. You have to fight for it.” So when we realize we need margin in our lives, how do we put it there? We are unique individuals created by God and as such, have unique needs, likes and dislikes.  So that answer is going to be different for everyone.

Here are some suggestions for adding margin to your life, ways that I am currently working to add margin to my life.  As unique individuals these are not one size fits all answers.  If these don’t fit you, find what does.

  • Create a quiet space to go to relax and spend time by yourself.  This is an ideal place to spend time in the Word of God.
Quiet Space

My Quiet Space

I created a sitting area in my bedroom by placing a cedar chest in the corner and adding an upcycled pad on top, some pillows which have special meaning to me and a soft, snuggly blanket.  I added these comforts so that I am drawn to this space.  If I had not added these little bits of comfort, I would not break away from all of my daily responsibilities and take the time to be there to relax, to find the margin so desperately needed.

  • Set aside a specific time, daily if possible, to spend in your quiet space.

I make sure that my family knows my specific time and that I am not to be interrupted (unless it is an emergency, of course) and that the phone, dogs, etc. are their responsibility for the time I have set aside.

  • Don’t let everyday situations keep you from spending your specific time there. Keep that “date” with yourself!

I touched on this one above when I shared how I made my space comfy so that I “want” to be there.  If I “want” to be there, I am more likely to keep that “date” with myself.

  • Set aside a time once a week to have a relaxing bath or do another activity that relaxes you.

For me, that time is when my boys go to Boy Scouts.  I run a hot bath, put in some stress relieving sea salt mix, turn down the lights, turn on relaxing music and just sit and listen. My bath ends with rubbing on some coconut oil, putting on comfy pj’s and rejoining my family for much enjoyed family time.

  • Spend time periodically doing something you enjoy, with friends who enjoy the same thing. For example, tonight is “craft night” with several ladies from church. Sometimes the kids are there and sometimes it’s just “girls night”.  Either way it is something we place a priority on doing together and look forward to it once a month!

Maybe the most important thing is, write these things down.  Put them on your schedule just like you would your gym workout, haircut or work.  If you don’t schedule margin, you are likely to find that it slips away.  Again, margin doesn’t just happen, it’s something you have to fight for.

You need margin in your life.  When you’re not hurrying and worrying, you allow yourself time to relax, to think, to enjoy your life.  You may find that you are able to live abundantly and boldly for your God!  That sounds exceedingly better than the alternative!  It is a process.  A one day at a time, baby steps, intentional process. It is something that I am willing to fight for!   Are you?

Do you have enough margin in your life?  Do you need to add some?  What things have you done, do you do (or plan to do) that add margin in your life?  How important do you think it is to “schedule” activities that provide margin in your life?





Faith, Intentional Living, Marriage, Parenting , , , , , , ,


  1. Since I work from home, it is sometimes easier for me to build margin into my life, yet sometimes more difficult since work can push into home time. Overall, I have a good amount of margin in my life right now. I enjoyed your post, and I’ve read the book by Dr. Swenson. Keeping that margin is a constant battle though.

    (Also wanted to let you know that the link on the Commentathon list doesn’t lead to this post. I got a Page Not Found message, and clicked on your “Home” tab to find this post. )

    • Kelly


      Thanks for stopping by. I am a stay at home, homeschooling mom of two, one who has Dyslexia and the other has some other special needs. It can be difficult for me to find the margin, but I am realizing that I desperately need more. It is something that I need to put some energy into placing in my life.

      Also, thanks for the heads up about the broken link. Luckily my hubby is a computer guy and was hopefully able to fix it.

      Blessings, Kelly

      • I popped back to check, and it is fixed! I subscribed to your blog, and look forward to reading future posts, too.

        • Kelly

          Yeah! Thanks for the update Elaine. I was hoping it was fixed, but wasn’t sure how to check it…I’m not a computer “whiz”. Thanks for subscribing. I hope more of what I share touches your heart and meets you where you are! Blessings to you and yours! Kelly

  2. Hi Kelly!
    This post hits home is so many ways. I have this relaxation space in my home, and I also have two boys in Boy Scouts, my only issue is, I always find other things to do rather than sit in my “happy space”. I need to get that book! I have honest and full intentions of creating time just for me to blog, relax, read….I just need to actually take that step of putting it on the schedule. Great post and so relevant to me. Thanks for the book reference too!

    • Kelly

      Hi Kris,

      Thanks for the kind remarks and for stopping by. I’m glad my post hit home for you and hope you picked up something from it that you need and will work for you. I want to encourage you to make your “happy space” a place that you “want” to go. Put something special there that draws you to it. I am new to adding margin in my life, as I am one who will always find other things to do as well. But, I am realizing it is so vital to my health, relationships and so many other areas of my life. It is something worth fighting for. Keep up the good fight and let me know how it’s going, will you?

  3. Thanks for sharing this! I actually posted not too long ago about “rest” on my own blog, which touches on the same concept. I like that you included suggestions as well. I am in complete agreement that you have to “pencil it in” to your calendar so it gets done like any other important appointment. If I didn’t do that, I’d never get me time! Even though I myself have posted about this before it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who needs reminded. 🙂

    • Kelly

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. It is important to schedule “me” time. It always helps when we run across a reminder to put some effort into ourselves. It is definitely worth it! Blessings to you!

  4. I find that I am able to be a better wife and mother when I have taken time to renew myself. It doesn’t have to take long, but just a little time every day to be by myself, read the Bible, pray, etc.

    • Kelly

      So true Jennifer. Just a few minutes everyday to pray and spend some time in the Word puts everything into perspective and provides that white space we need.

  5. So, at first when I read I was like margarine? Is this about all the ways to use it? Nice! Ha! I digress, margins are a great way of putting it. I have never thought of it that way. It’s like the white space, the silence that can rejuvenate and refresh you. Like giving your mind a reboot. Always much needed, but rarely done. This is something I need to do. I like your “get away” place, that is such a great idea.

    • Kelly

      Margarine…Too Funny! I heard a pastor speak on it a few years ago and have recently begun to really concentrate on putting some in my life. I also like the way you describe it “like giving your mind a reboot”. Thanks for the compliment on my “get away” place. I have been desiring one for awhile and just decided that I needed to make it happen. And it was 100% free too, which is a plus!

  6. Margin is something I struggle with. I always feel like I have to be doing something. I like your idea of making a spot nice and cozy that you WANT to be there. Looks like I will be finding myself a nice little spot in the house to dub my own and make it comfy. Thank you for sharing your ideas. They will be something I will be working on!

    • Kelly

      I’m glad to hear that you will be finding a spot to make your own. Having that spot to quiet my spirit, that I look forward to spending time in, is sort of like a “reset” button for me. No matter how I am feeling when I go to my spot, I always feeling better when I leave it.

  7. This is a good post on something we all need. I recently read The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner (the mom creative) and found some great encouragement on the different ways I could use “margin” time or fringe hours to do some thing I enjoy or to rest, just refresh and reset. This is a good topic for us ladies to continue to talk about and encourage one another to put into practice!

    • Kelly

      Thanks for mentioning The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner. I will have to get it and read it. I think it is important to use our time wisely and I agree that it is a good topic to continue to discuss and possibly more importantly, to encourage one another with.

  8. Oh my goodness, this was awesome!

    I am a huge fan of the self-improvement methods and this concept of margins, I have never heard of along with Michael Hyatt too!

    I love your idea of creating a space for yourself and how you make that “date” to yourself. SUPER awesome idea.

    I think a lot of people now-a-days don’t focus enough energy or attention on their own well being (mentally, physically, the list goes on!)

    You have a new follower here!

    • Kelly

      I love the energy in your comment (and in your “Escape the Room Style game” post. I stopped by after I received your comment here, but I still have to comment on your post. Make sense?) Anyway, I’m glad that you found something here that you loved. I know that for far too long I put my own health and well-being (mentally, physically and on, and on, and on) on the back burner. I am already seeing the positive rewards of making that date with myself in my quiet space like having a better attitude about the demands that I am under. This is something so simple yet so important.

  9. What excellent tips you’ve provided. I love the idea that margin can be created using a physical space and by starting your own rituals – these physical spaces and activities give way to the mental clarity and rejuvenation we need. I’d like to point out that your margin doesn’t necessary have to be alone time. I find margin taking my dogs for a ride. They love it, and it’s a time for all of us to relax and enjoy 🙂

    • Kelly

      I’m glad you found some things here that you like. I am amazed at how much better I feel when I have spent some time in the “quiet” of my personal space. I totally agree that you can find “margin” with animals and other people. I look forward to the time spent with my girlfriends that I mentioned in the post. I am also an animal lover. We have an alpaca farm and I loved the time I used to spend (okay, this is gonna sound really weird) cleaning up the poop when my boys were young. Now my boys older and it is their job, but I loved the quiet with nature and the the animals just “being” with me.

  10. Margin is a crucial element in everyone’s life. Right now, I am trying to give myself some screen-free reading time every day when I feel the need to recharge. Scheduling it in would prove much more effective. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kelly

      Screen free reading time is a fabulous thing isn’t it? If I start to watch something on a screen I tend to get “sucked in”. I find that staying away from those things that I know distract me and instead focus on “scheduling” that date with myself I am much more likely to have that balance in my life that margin provides.

  11. Thanks for the thoughtful post! So often we don’t take the necessary time for ourselves to add some peace and balance to our lives. I am going to try to make a conscious effort to just sit and relax for a period of time before I go to bed, and maybe even indulge in a relaxing bath once a week.

    • Kelly

      I know that I have struggled with building margin into my life and know so many, especially women, who are so busy taking care of everybody else that they don’t make time for themselves. I am learning how to do this after years of taking care of everyone and not paying attention to my well being. I’m glad to hear that you are going to set aside some time for yourself. Enjoy that bath!

  12. I struggle with margin. I bite off more than I can chew and I multitask myself into oblivion. I needed to read this today. Thank you.

  13. Eli

    I love the idea of making me-time a priority, Kelly. We tend to steal snippets of time to get some rest, read book, enjoy morning coffee, pet a cat (or dog… or both) but it strangely produces enough guilt that something more important has been neglected so we shy away from it as much as we can. I think rather than setting more guilty pleasures aside we should change our attitude towards them. We need them, we want them, we should be proud to announce them to the rest of the household. As often as it feels good.

  14. Thank you so much for your post. We tend to spend so much time attending to everyone needs that our own get neglected until we have nothing left to give. I have to remind myself often to charge my batteries with some me time so I can have more to offer others.

  15. This is something that I struggle with. My husband has his own business and I work with him. It was much easier to find time to relax and enjoy when we worked during the day for others and then had the evenings and weekends to ourselves. Now, we actually have to purposefully plan this time because when you work from home you can spend all day until you go to bed working. I do try to wakeup before the rest of the house so I can have 30 minutes in the quiet to read my Bible and pray (and sometimes do some other reading) before the house gets crazy!

  16. Hey, Kelly!

    Your margin post is the perfect complement to my sister’s and my post on renewing and relaxing! I loved reading it. I read that Margin book years ago before I was really able to apply any of it to my own life.

    Oddly enough, I’m in a place now where I say “no” to more outside opportunities (volunteer and otherwise) than ever before in my life…and I’d have to say I’m more content as well. God and His direction and work in me have accomplished that. What a better way to live, than to live a marginless life that sucks a person dry.

    Fantastic post. 🙂

  17. You’re so right! We as a culture have totally lost the idea of margin, quiet space, sitting, resting, etc. Technology even makes it harder. I really have to purpose to push aside the technology, leave it all in another room, and choose a truly restful activity – reading the Bible and praying, cooking (if my husband has the kids – otherwise it’s too hectic and no longer restful), painting, or even just sitting outside while my kids play and just watching them. It truly is refreshing and allows me to DO so much better when it’s time to be busy. Someone told me years ago that rest/leisure/vacation aren’t (or shouldn’t be) idleness, but restfulness that refreshes us to come back to “real life” better than when we left. That’s always stuck with me. Makes so much sense. My husband and I have actually become much more intentional about our vacations and days off because of that.

    • Kelly

      Those are wise words that you were give on rest/leisure/vacation. I am realizing how important it is to schedule some every day! There is always something to be done, or someone to take care of, but we need the refreshment that scheduled down time provides. And yes, I agree that Technology does make that even more difficult, especially all of those mobile devices like cell phones, ipads, tablets, laptops, etc. When we moved into our home, we made a conscious decision to put our only TV in the basement where we do not spend most of our day. If it were in our living area it would be too much of a distraction.

  18. I love my time everyday! I get up early with my husband every morning before all the kids are up and we each take our time. It is such a blessing before the busyness happens. Thanks for your post.

    • Kelly

      I struggle with getting up early in the morning. I have never been a morning person and some health issues that I have work against me in that area. I know I would benefit from it and have getting up early as one of my goals for 2015.

  19. I love your space that you created. When we build our new house my one MUST is a comfy seat by a big window. I want to be able to have my devotional time every morning while looking outside. Thanks for sharing this with us!

    • Kelly

      Thank you for the compliment on my quiet space. When we built our house 12 years ago I wish I would have thought more about creating that space. But I have one now an I love it!

  20. I need to work on my margins. I am stay too busy. I also need to be more consistent in God’s Word. Some weeks I do great and other, all I get done are work, sleep and run someone to a doctor appointment (husband, grandma or child). I feel so much better when I can read my Bible or listen to some preaching. But some days, it doesn’t happen.

    • Kelly

      Being consistent in God’s word, devotions and prayer is something that I have had a hard time doing. I am finding that since I am scheduling that time I am much more consistent, look forward to it and am much more productive with that time. It doesn’t happen every day and I miss my time spent with God on those days. It is very important to me so I try to keep that schedule as much as I possibly can.

  21. This is a very interesting way to look at taking time for oneself. A lot of time, I want to take time to myself but don’t feel it’s the best use of my time. You have inspired me to schedule a little R&R into my daily routine.

    • Kelly

      I have had the same struggle with feeling that time for myself is not the best use of my time. I am realizing though, since I am taking time for myself, that I am actually much more happily available to my family and those things that I have made commitments to.

  22. I need to work on my margins. Instead of over doing it with too much activity, I need to work on setting a consistent schedule that includes the down time activities I enjoy but spend too much time on while neglecting what actually needs to get done.

  23. Thank you for the reminder. Years ago I learned how important margins are, but I have gotten away from it. I was on a committee and I called a lady one day to ask her if she could help me with something. It wasn’t a big project so I was surprised by her answer. It was “Can I call you back after I check my schedule?” She did call me back and said yes, but she explained to me that she never gave a quick answer on anything until she checked her schedule and made sure that she was not overcommitting. I learned a good thing from her. Thanks for reminding me. I am feeling very over programmed right now.

  24. Deb

    Solid advice for sure! I think sometimes as women, and moms we feel guilty doing anything that is just for ourselves. I went through many years as a single mom where all of my day was spent working, and doing for my kids. Now, in a different position as a stay at home mom with a super supportive fiancé, I do finally have the time to do things for myself and I am so appreciative of it! It makes us better wives and moms if we take a little time to take care of ourselves!

  25. There is NO margin in my life, and I am painfully aware of it. I’m a work-from-home mom to two awesome kiddos, both happen to have special needs. I also have zero support. I’ve been working very hard to make the time and space I need, but it doesn’t come easy. I love some of your ideas here.

  26. Ironically, yesterday I just asked someone to see if they could come watch my kids for a few hours so that I could get some work and quiet time to myself. This is needed and so true so that I can quit getting overwhelmed with life. Thank you for posting! It was good timing for me to read it TODAY. 🙂

  27. Margins fade in and out for me depending on what is going on with my hubby and I but I do deeply appreciate them when I get them!

  28. What a wonderful concept! I’ve never labeled it before, but when I lose my margin, I actually get sick! It’s like my body just can’t keep up!

  29. Hello from a fellow homeschooler! 🙂 I recently set an alarm on my phone to serve as a reminder that it’s “quitting time” for the day. Time to be done on the computer, that task that I wanted to finish and time to start getting ready for bed. I totally agree that margin is something we have to fight for!

  30. Busy, busy, busy. We live in a culture of busyness. I believe it is satan’s way of distracting us from the important things. If he can take us out of the game by busyness, we do not even realize we are no in the game. When we create margin, I believe we can keep a clearer perspective in every part of our lives because we are not just reacting we are intentionally living. Thank you for your post. It is a good reminder to take time to live in the quiet and establish margins.

  31. I like your analogy of margin on paper in comparison with the margin in a person’s life. I took a course this summer. My really wise professor said that a person needs a minimum of 30 minutes to an hour a day of “me” time on a daily basis. I think taking a bubble bath is one of the best, most amazing ways to relax. I love to put up scented candles when I do so. I agree with you – taking time to read scriptures on a daily basis is a good way to bring peace into your life.

  32. I am a very visual person, so I like the way you describe margins like the edges of binder paper, giving our eyes white space to rest. I can literally see my life running over the edges of the paper. Great analogy and reminder to take time from your busy schedule to create some white space. Love it!

  33. This all made sense to me. I do have a place in my home that I like to spend time. Your article helped me understand why I like it and why I like to spend time there. This was very helpful. Thanks for helping me have a different perspective.

  34. For me, that ‘margin’ in my life is doing Artist Trading Cards, which I only get a chance to do every once in a while – maybe a couple times a month. It relaxes me and I love seeing these small works of art come to life (3 ½ by 2 ½ inches). Then, I send them to a host and I get back cards in exchange (from around the world). I guess this is my equivalent of doing something fun with like-minded people….even if it is snail mailed. It would be nice to have an actual ‘girls night’ but I don’t have any ‘girls’ to hang out with.

  35. What good suggestions! I really like the idea of creating that quiet place. Since so many of us don’t have the luxury of a spare room, it is so necessary. It is difficult when your time is so filled up that there is no room for something unexpected. I like to be a little spontaneous every one in a while! Thanks for the advice.

  36. What a great reminder! I definitley need to work on my margins. I am constantly trying to cram more and more into an already overloaded schedule! I overdue it to the extent that I am ornery with my family and I don’t want to do anything fun with them cause I just don’t have the time! Thanks for reminding me about the importance of margins!

  37. This is such a cute and cleverly written article. I loved all the tips.

  38. Kelly, well said! We homeschool our four boys. My husband is disabled (due to an on-the-job work injury in 2010) so he is home and helps run our business (merchant services and writing services) We began a second business in 2013 (publishing company). We volunteer with our church, Boy Scouts, and are active small-scale miners. We do business networking weekly. We meet with business associates or clients as the need arises. There is a fine line (that is not always seen, you and the author you quoted are correct) between overloaded and almost-overloaded. That margin is not always an easy one to pinpoint. Thank you for this post. I will be added the book you mentioned to my wishlist. ~Adrienne

  39. These are great pieces of advice! I need to get some margin in my life! My office is my quiet space , but I’m thinking adding a nice chase lounge would make it my own little oasis!

  40. Kelly,
    This is a great post and I resonate with the need for a quiet space! I love your reds and that it’s in your own bedroom so you can shut the door! makes me think of Elizabeth Prentiss and the book Stepping Heavenward!
    Btw, the video is working in the Is Your Zeal Harmful To The Kingdom Of God? post! I’d love to know if it blesses and challenges you as much as it does me!! Blessings!

    • Kelly

      Jacqueline, Thanks for letting me know the link is working. I am anxious to watch it. I haven’t read Elizabeth Prentiss’ book Stepping Heavenward. I am adding it to my “to read” list. Blessings to you!

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