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Chances are you’ve heard this word used before, possibly in relation to finances. However, today I’m going to share with you the lessons I’ve learned from another fascinating application of this word.

The concept of “margin” appears frequently on the New Year’s resolution lists of many busy people, myself included. If “margin” were a commodity on today’s stock market, it would be worth more than Apple & Google’s stocks combined.

So what is margin really? I like this definition from Paul Chappell:

“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.” The Burden Bearer: Who’s Carrying Your Load?

“The gap between rest and exhaustion.” Many days that gap is a millimeter in our lives. We push, push and push, trying to achieve more, only to grow more and more exhausted as the days fly by. As a result of this breakneck pace, our health, relationships, and even our work suffer.

In 2014, margin took it’s spot on my New Year’s resolution list, but the year ended with me exhausted and suffering from adrenal fatigue. Why? I had all the intentions of prioritizing margin, but failed to make a plan for actually achieving that goal.

In January of 2015, I decided I’d had enough. I learned from the previous year’s lack of follow-through and resolved to make a genuine effort to change. Margin once again made it on my list, but this year, I’ve made a conscious effort to actually make it happen.

How did I start the process of achieving margin in my life? Here’s a look at 10 things that I do to add margin into my life.

1. Make Spending Time with God a Priority Every Day

When you make God your first priority, everything else falls into place much easier. The reverse is often true, too. John Bunyan said “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.”

When you put God first, He will give you the wisdom, strength, and guidance you need to get through the rest of the day.

2. Meditate on God’s Word

Before I get out of bed in the morning, I spend a few minutes meditating on a few select passages from God’s Word. This not only gives my body (and brain) a chance to awaken more gently, but it also helps put me in a better frame of mind first thing in the morning.

It’s a lot harder to be stressed and anxious when the words of Psalm 19:14 are fresh in your brain: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.”

3. Make Your To-Do List the Night Before

If you are serious about adding margin to your life, you have to be willing to do a little more planning ahead of time.

The best way to lose margin is to wake up in the morning and let your emails and phone calls dictate your day. Instead, wake up with a plan ready to go for tackling the priorities of the day.

Every day I have a running to-do list ready for the following day. Not only does this give me direction, but it also helps keep me less stressed. Unless it is genuinely urgent, when a new project, request or need pops up during the day, it simply goes on the NEXT day’s to-do list.

4. Learn to Say “No”

Margin is impossible to achieve without saying the word “no”. If you are serious about getting margin, you will have to say “no” to a LOT of things. I love what Lysa TerKeurst has to say about this in her fabulous book, The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands:

“Saying yes all the time won’t make me wonder woman. It will make me a worn out woman.” Lysa TerKeurst

Remember that “no” isn’t a bad word. Every time you say “no”, you are actually saying “yes” to something better. In this case, it’s your sanity, your health, your relationships…and your life.

5. Exercise Regularly

I sit at my desk for hours every day. By the evening, I’m feeling far older than my three decades. According to the Washington Post, sitting for long periods does much more than leave you stiff…it takes years off your life!

One thing I’ve done this year is work at a standing desk for a little while during the day, and try to exercise 2-3 days a week. Exercise not only loosens up my tight limbs, but it also helps clear my head after a long day of work.

6. Have at Least 1 Night Off from Computer Work each Week

When you work from home, it’s hard to completely unplug. Your work is always ever-present and never farther away than your computer, which is often in the same room as your living room or bedroom.

I try to take at least one week night off from staring at my computer in the evening. I may have a late dinner with friends, watch a movie with the family, catch up on a home project, or anything else that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a computer screen.

7. Use a “Do Not Disturb” App on Your Cell Phone

When my phone goes off in the middle of the night, my body jolts awake but my brain isn’t all there. I’m usually completely out of it as I bolt out of bed to check my phone (I have even been known to bump my head on my desk or shelf while scrambling for my phone in the dark).

After one late night text too many, I started using a do-not-disturb app on my phone. Now, I sleep so much better! I’m no longer woken up by notifications and text messages. My phone will still ring if someone calls me (and that’s exceptionally rare), but I don’t have to worry about a text waking me up at 3AM.

8. Go to Bed Early

Gaining margin often involves more sleep. I’m a reformed night owl. Staying awake until the wee hours of the morning was my norm…until I hit my mid 20’s and started painfully realizing that my body and brain needed more sleep.

Now, I try to get between 7-8 hours of sleep every night by making it to bed before 11 or 12 at night.

9. Read Novels

I love to read, but usually my reading list is brain-energy-sapping books about business, leadership, and marketing. These books are great in moderation, but when I’m tuckered out, the last thing my brain needs to read is “10 More Ways to Market on Facebook”.

I have learned to exercise margin by reaching for a good novel. Most of the time it’s something I’ve already read once before, so my brain just relaxes and enjoys the story. Some of my all-time favorites are books by Joel Rosenberg and Michael Phillips.

10. Schedule Quarterly Vacations

This was one of the most radical things on my goal list for the year, but it’s turned out to be one of this year’s biggest blessings. I can’t begin to tell you what it has done for my stress levels and brain to take 3-4 days off from work every quarter and get away for some time of rest and relaxation.

Just because you’re going on vacation doesn’t mean it has to cost a lot! I spent 3 days at the beach in Kemah, TX earlier this year, thanks to a fabulous $69.00-a-night stay at the Boardwalk Inn. I went to Colorado with friends for four days of hiking in the Rockies, and it cost us less than $400.00 each (including airfare and a hotel)!

How am I able to do this? Here’s my secret: I have a vacation fund that automatically takes $30.00 a week out of my checking account, so that once a quarter, I’m financially free to enjoy a few days of fun. Thirty dollars a week is the equivalent of giving up a pastry and coffee at Starbucks every day. In the grand scheme of things, I’d much rather spend that cash on a vacation!

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Aaress Lawless

Aaress enjoys helping small businesses and ministries, having budget travel adventures with friends, and blogging about life lessons on Instagram.