Four Ways to Find More Margin In Your Day

4 Ways to Find More Margin in Your Day

Throughout the last few years, I’ve become a firm believer in the need for margin in my life. Without it, I become overwhelmed and overworked.

Having white space in my day allows me to breathe, think and keep my creative juices flowing. It gives me energy and zest for life — which is a beautiful thing.

Now, I know that about right now, most of you are simultaneously nodding your heads and shaking them back and forth. You long for that breathing room in your day, but it seems impossible to pull off with your current packed-to-the-max schedule of must-dos.

Well, here are four suggestions that have helped me achieve that much-longed-for and greatly needed margin in my life:

1. Have a Plan

Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog (a book I love!), has well said, “Every minute you spend in planning saves ten minutes in execution; this gives you a 1,000 percent return on energy!”

While I think there is such a thing as spending too much time planning to stall the actual execution, I’m a big proponent of spending at least fifteen minutes mapping out my day before my day begins.

I just jot down the things I need to accomplish and am planning to accomplish that day and the approximate times when I plan to do them. I typically write these lists out for each day in a cheap notebook. It’s nothing sophisticated, but having a simple plan for each day improves my productivity and focus in a big way. When I finish one thing, I move onto the next.

Of course, there are interruptions, and things that come up. And some days, if a fairly big disaster happens, I end up chucking the list or completely re-vamping it. But if I didn’t have a plan in the first place, I’d be guaranteed not to get as much done. In fact, I’d probably spend most of the day running around in circles.

White Space

2. Simplify and Say “No”

Want to know a surefire secret to having more margin in your day? Plan less to do from the get-go. It works every time!

In this day and age, it’s almost as if there’s some sort of holy merit in packing our day to gills. As if busyness is next to godliness.

But all that sets you up for is exhaustion, burn-out and a mom who doesn’t have time to enjoy her kids and nurture her marriage.

So when I’m done writing my daily to-do list or plan, I try to make a habit of evaluating the list immediately and crossing off three non-essentials before I even start on the list. This exercise not only instantly frees up some space and time in my day, but it also helps me focus on the most important things instead of getting caught up spending a lot of time on something that might not really have much worth or value.

3. Get Up Early

I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve found that when I get up at least 30 minutes before my family does, I seem to have at least an extra hour or two in my day. However, when I wake up when my kids do — or am woken up by them telling me excitedly that it’s time to get up, I start the day behind. And I rarely catch up.

Being intentional about setting the alarm clock at least 30 minutes before I know anyone else in my family will wake up gives me time to sip some coffee and read my Bible and then make a game plan for the day. If I’m able to get up a little earlier, I can also slip in some blogging, exercise and maybe even a shower before the whole house is up and bustling with activity.

Busyness does not equal Godliness

4. Do the Hardest Things First

I’ve discovered that I’m really good at spending the day stalling, keeping busy with lots of different non-essentials to avoid doing those things that really need to be done but that I dislike doing. This leaves me exhausted at the end of the day with little to show for my efforts but a lot of busy work.

As I’ve realized this, I’ve been challenging myself to stop putting off that thing I wish I could avoid but must do. Instead, I make myself just do it. And do it first thing.

It’s amazing how much more I get done when I start my day by doing the hardest things first. You know what else? I seem to float through the rest of the day with ease and cheerfulness because I got the burden of my hardest thing off my back first thing in the morning.

What tricks and tips do you have for finding more margin your day?



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  1. Elizabeth Ann says

    What great ideas! :-) I am pretty good at planning out my day and getting up early but have a hard time saying no! :-) Haha! Something I will probably always work out! :-)

  2. Kate says

    Just thinking about this whole ‘margin’ thing is healthy for me. Thanks for planting it in my mind – I’ll be pondering this for our family as we approach the new year. Blessings to you! – Kate

  3. says

    That’s a great post, thanks for the tips! I love the idea of crossing off three non-essentials before you even start. It sounds like just the kind of thing I need to do with my list :)

  4. Diana says

    I was just thinking about the whole “getting up before the kids” idea this morning. I feel like now is not the best time for me to start that, since my little stinker is STILL up multiple times a night. But this morning I thought, “I just need to make sure that’s on my list of goals for life and even if I’m prioritizing sleep right now, I need to start that as soon as I can!” I would *love* to be able to do that regularly! But I do make a plan every day of what I’d like to accomplish, and that does give so much focus and some incentive to get off my chair and get moving. Speaking of…I’d better do that now! :)

    • says

      I definitely have had seasons when it wasn’t feasible to get up before my kids got up — especially when I was waking up multiple times per night with a baby. I’m all about giving yourself grace and accepting the season of life you are in — with all its wonder and limitations. :) I love your perspective; thanks for sharing!

  5. Amanda-EatLikeaRabbit says

    In a book you (Crystal) recommended–can’t remember the title at the moment–I learned that my best trick is to make that list the night before. Then I can jump up and get those items that require all my attention done before the kids get up. I wake up knowing what I have to do. I guess this is an alternative for people who might procrastinate.

  6. says

    All great ideas. I started with a plan yesterday and even though I spent the morning running errands I was able to finish a project for someone that usually takes me a least a week, on good days, to complete. I was astounded at the progress. I have another big project that has to be completed today and I’m sitting here planning out the steps.

  7. Celeste Smith says

    Thank you for sharing! At this point in my life, my husband and I are working full time with the goal of me being able to stay home someday. Right now we have an infant and a toddler. By the time I get home at 5:30 p.m., prepare and eat supper, spend a few minutes with the kids, get them to bed, clean up the kitchen and straighten a little bit around the house, it seems like there is hardly time to sleep, much less have any margin in my day at all. I have tried making a plan, but often end up overwhelmed and exhausted. Any tips for working moms?

    • says

      My advice: keep it super simple and lower your expectations. You’ve got a lot on your plate!

      Have you tried prepping food on the weekends or using your crockpot so that you don’t have to do much in the evenings before dinner? If I cook during the week, I usually make a double batch and freeze one or we’ll eat the same thing two nights in a row.

      Also, find out what energizes you and make sure you’re intentional about including it in your week — even if it means that you let some other things slide. You need to be replenishing your “tank” so that you don’t burn out.

      By the way, it sounds like you are doing a great job — keep it up and don’t be discouraged!

      • Celeste Smith says

        Thank you Crystal! We have been doing a lot more crockpot meals lately. I am thinking about investing in a second crockpot to possibly make a main dish and veggie, or a double batch at the same time. We do our best to keep our grocery bill down by making meals at home, but homemade meals are a little more time consuming than just throwing a frozen pizza in the oven (although there are days we do just that). :)

        Thank you again! Your post and your blog are inspiring!

  8. says

    Yes, margin is crucial. I get daily margin by resting every afternoon, something I need to do for my health anyhow. That is my Bible reading time, and right after my 20-30 minute rest I do some mild exercising. Often I end up planning the rest of my day, or even my whole life, as I slip off to sleep. :)
    The morning is basically the same most days: homeschooling, minimal house clean up, and laundry and, when possible, gardening and a swim. So I only need to plan the afternoon. :)
    If I get up early, I have time to blog; if I say no, we have time for everything else, and if I do the hardest thing as early as possible, the rest of the day flows smoothly. Often that’s French or math around here.
    The other margin we build into our family is that Sunday is a day off. We still cook and do dishes and care for the animals, but that’s it for work. Church, fellowship, and relaxation make up most of the rest of the day.

  9. Julie says

    I, too, am a working mom. I have a teenager who is involved in a lot of activities, and a want-to-be teenager heading in her big sister’s footsteps. I work 8 hours a day, along with my husband, and have a small business on the side. Crazy? Yep!! I’m learning ways to cut out a portion of my part-time business, with the hopes of cutting it completely out within a year. The funds were used mostly as ‘play’ money, but with the extra business comes extra work which means I have no time to play. I’m also learning that having less means doing less. The more toys the kids have, the more we have to pick up. It’s the same for adults. I’m finding ways of having more in terms of relationships and time, and less stuff – and boy, has it helped. I’m still in the ‘cleaning out’ process, and I realize it may take a while, but it is so worth it :)

  10. Lisa Jacobson says

    Such good, solid counsel! I’ve been wrestling with making myself get up earlier and your post just confirmed my suspicions :)
    I no longer “have” to get up as my family is old enough to carry on without me, but it’s something I should do nevertheless. Thank you for the encouragement!

  11. KristenCelebrateEveryDayWithMe says

    Read this last night on my phone, but had to come back and leave you a comment. Thanks for the great reminders. I have been avoiding housework, finding every excuse to put it off. I think I need to do this first (or nearly first because I get up early for Bible study and quiet blogging time). But next in line will be some household chore. It is amazing how much better I feel when I get a “dreaded or boring” task done first. Thanks!!

  12. Alexis @ A Moment with M.O.M. says

    Great article, thank you. I will be sharing with our readers, our theme this month is very similar. ~Alexis on behalf of everyone at A Moment with M.O.M.

  13. Shana says

    I love “white space”. I schedule 15 minutes on each side of every appointment or time I block on my calendar. This makes room for interruptions, changes etc… If nothing happens, I have 30 minutes extra. I keep a list of things that take only 15 minutes to do-which include some “happy items” for me-cup of coffee, quick walk, reading…. or empty dishwasher, start a load of laundry, vacuum a room, quick house pick-up,

  14. EricaB says

    I cannot thank you enough for this blog and your posts!!! Just stumbled upon it trying to find out how to sabbath as a sahm of 2 tot boys I feel totally worn out and this blog has very practical, Jesus centered advice. Answer to prayer. THANK YOU SO MUCH!


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