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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

April 11, 2024 - 11:24am --

What’s on your to-do list?  We all have lots going on, either by choice or because we don’t say no. Whether we are balancing our work and family life with ease or letting things get ahead of us, I hope some of the following information from Shannon Carter will be helpful.

Do you find yourself often rushing from one activity or event to another? Is your schedule so full that a little “hiccup” in the day creates a tragic loss of unrecoverable time and the rest of the day falls apart like a line of dominoes? Perhaps you could use a little margin in your life.

Margin is the space we leave in our day for a little downtime, for error, for wiggle room. When we learn to only schedule up to 60 percent of our day, we have room for the unexpected. Then our day is not so tightly packed that a bump in the road is not enough to make the wheels fall off the bus.

Margin: The space between load and limits

In his book, “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives,” Dr. Richard Swenson describes margin this way: “Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.”

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 underachievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.

If we were equipped with a flashing light to indicate “100 percent full,” we could better gauge our capacities. But we don’t have such an indicator light, and we don’t know when we have overextended until we feel the pain. As a result, many people commit to a 120 percent life and wonder why the burden feels so heavy. It is rare to see a life prescheduled to only 80 percent, leaving a margin for responding to the unexpected...”  A long time ago I was reminded, when I say “yes” to something to add to my schedule, I’m saying “no” to something else.

Create your own margin  

The American Psychological Association offers these tips for creating margin:

1. Practice mindfulness. Research shows the mind-body benefits of mindfulness: reducing stress and anxiety, boosting the immune system, and helping to maintain work-life balance.   Find a practice that works for you, or maybe an app on your phone to help with a variety of times throughout the day.

2. Practice positivity. Positive thinking can expand your mind and open new possibilities which can boost your resilience. One simple way to practice positivity is to express gratitude.  How many times today have you said, “Thank you?”

3. Seek social support. We all need a social support network. You’ll find others with similar struggles, and it helps to not feel isolated. You could even learn a new coping strategy or helpful tip from your family, friends or colleagues.  Find out what works for others and see if it could be helpful in your life.

4. Get moving. Exercise can boost your mood, improve symptoms of depression, and help protect your brain from cognitive decline.  Discipline is hard but the benefits are not only physical but mental as well, what can you commit to and who can hold you accountable to follow through with it?

5. Get outside. Connecting with nature can have physical, mental, and social health benefits for adults and children alike. Research results found that spending time in nature can help prevent cancer cell development, strengthen the immune system, and aid in stress reduction.  Find someone who likes some of the same things you do and enjoy a walk or exercise together.

We all have choices.  May we all have the capacity to recognize the benefits of setting margins in our lives by beginning today. 

Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or
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This article was previously published in The Daily Record