EP 319: Why Our Plans Need More Margin

Jan 28, 2021 | Mindset & Identity, Podcast

Tara McMullin is a writer, podcaster, and producer who explores what it takes to navigate the 21st-century economy with your humanity intact. Click here to support this work.

Margin is space—the space between and around.

There is the margin of a page, of course. And there is the margin around the border of a forest. There’s also the margin in your business–the space between your revenue and your expenses.

Most of us don’t have nearly as much margin as we used to. At one point in our lives, we uttered the words, “I’m bored…” and our caregivers rolled their eyes and told us to go outside. The margin between planned activities, play dates, and bursts of play gave us an opportunity to feel that boredom.

When do we ever feel bored now?

When are we ever faced with a lack of things to do or chores to take care of? Even in the midst of this Great Pause, margin feels tenuous. I’ve had countless conversations with people who fear returning to normal and, with it, the crush of things to do and places to go that squeezes all of the margin out of our lives and work.

I’m one of those people who feels anxious at the thought of losing the margin I’m now enjoying thanks to the forced change in my habits and patterns. My 12 year-old daughter is too. She loves cooking and crafting and finding endless ways to rearrange her Harry Potter Lego sets without the distraction of constantly coming up with things to do outside of the house.

This month, we’ve been talking about how to work our plans—how to see a plan & its execution as a learning process, how to identity the working style that works for you, how to invite change into your plans.

Margin is a key component of planning, but one we rarely acknowledge.

In fact, a lack of margin is one of the chief reasons we fail to follow through on our plans.

We don’t allow for margin at the start or finish. We don’t leave margin between projects or items in a check list. We certainly don’t make room for error. And the result is that everything we do starts to feel rushed, harried, and full of anxiety.

In Episode 298, my friend Kate Strathmann told me that she noticed she’s more likely to cause harm when she’s feeling urgency. We were talking about sales in that conversation, but I think this idea applies to many things—including planning.

We’ve inherited a pattern of over-scheduling, over-planning, and over-committing, as well as technology that eliminate our margins and induce urgency—and, with it, anxiety. We’re taught to believe that more is better by cultural forces like rugged individualism and white supremacy, as well as our broken capitalist economic system.

We try to tackle too many things at once. We think we can do things faster than we really can. We forget to factor in preexisting commitments. We don’t take stock of our resources before we start doling them out—literally and figuratively.

It’s no wonder then that we so often feel “the crunch” when we’re trying to stick to our plans.

And when we’re feeling “the crunch” we’re much more likely to take action that causes harm to ourselves, to others, and to our communities.

Maybe we ignore our families or intimate relationships. Maybe we pull too many all-nighters. Maybe we resort to choices and tactics that damage the community or industry ecosystem we’re a part of. Maybe we start to believe the horrible things we say about ourselves: how slow we are, how unprepared we are, how unskilled we are—and my personal go, how lazy I am.

When we’re constantly executing our plans in a state of urgency, we’re exposing ourselves to all sorts of triggers and negative influences.

That’s not a helpful way to engage your work. It’s not the state of mind you need to do creative and critical thinking. What could leaving more space in your plans do for you? And what would it mean about the choices you need to make?

As you consider your answer, I’m thrilled to bring you the stories of 3 business owners who have recommitting to margin in their own ways. You’ll hear from photographer & podcaster Yvonne Marchese, business strategist Maiko Sakai, and mindset consultant Shulamit Ber Levtov. While the details of their stories might be different than yours, I know they’re going to feel familiar and could help you see your own experiences in a new way.

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