Systems & Tips

The Problem with Margin

The Problem with Margin

It’s wise to leave a little space, or margin, in our day.

Between meetings, deadlines, and our normal tasks, overscheduling to the hilt leaves us frustrated – not to mention constantly dropping the ball.

Even if they aren’t specifically planned, most people normally have some small windows of time in between appointments,

Although this time to catch our breath is nice – and although it’s wise to intentionally schedule this time in our day – margin comes with a potential problem.

Margin = Break-Time

These little windows of time often surprise us.

We don’t really know what to do, so it often becomes break-time. We check facebook and click around the internet for a bit.

We end up deciding on the fly what to do, and those are rarely the best decisions.

The Best?

Rather than just zoning out, there are always those constant “maintenance tasks” to take care of: cleaning, organizing, processing our inbox, checking our Email.

These aren’t bad things to do, but are they the best things to do at the moment?

Or just the first thing you happened to think of in the moment because you don’t know what else to do?

Plan Ahead

One solution is to think ahead when you’re planning out your day or week. Consider what tasks you would want to tackle in those small windows of time.

Make this as much a part of your planning, scheduling, and reviewing as anything else.

You’ll have to think deeply about this one: it will vary greatly depending on your situation.

A mother of little children, a receptionist, an on-call emergency medic, and a corporate accountant’s strategies may all look very different.

Context Lists

In Time Management from the Inside Out, Julie Morgenstern labels this strategy as a Sudden Opportunity List.

If appropriate, she advocates having multiple lists – one for activities that take five minutes, one for 30-minute tasks, and another for one-hour projects.

But the important factor is thinking ahead of time. Consider ahead of time how to best fill the space, so that you can move seamlessly from one task to another.

Setting the Table

What can you do ahead of time to prepare for these activities?

In a few minutes, you could probably skim some blog articles – so keep your reading materials easily accessible.

If you’re going to be cleaning, do you have your supplies nearby? Maybe you can fit in some exercise if you have a dumbbell at hand.

The central point is to be intentional about what you’re doing in the margin of your day. A surprising amount of time is squandered because we just haven’t thought about what to do.

Have you ever had this problem with the little windows of time that occur in your day?

What are some other ways you can think of to make the most of these opportunities?

Photo Credit: Tim Sackton (Creative Commons)

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