Margins and The Art of Saying No

say-no-1310251-1279x772I’m not great at leadership, but I would say that my leadership is growing. And one of the things that has helped me to grow the most are two concepts: margin, and saying no. And both of these are intertwined.

The truth is that many of us live without margin. And this lack of margin can appear in our finances, in our work time, in our family life time, and relationships. So often we are just so busy and so full we live at full-speed all the time without breaks, Sabbath, or rest.

The true thing at least for me is this: my best decisions don’t happen in stress, and busyness can overwhelm importance.

What I mean by this is sometimes we have so little margin that we just need to get things done, that then we don’t have time or space for the non-urgent but really important things of our lives. I also know stress doesn’t bring out my best, and decisions made in a hurry or without space are never going to be my best decisions.

So what I’m been learning is the importance of keeping margin in my life and in my week. Here are some the practical things I do:

  • I try to plan my week only 80% full. This practice has been incredibly helpful. First, it allows me to have space to say yes to the things that may spontaneously happen, or crisis that need to be mananged withtout pushing me “into stress”. Secondly, if the week doesn’t fill up I have 20% of my time to now dedicate to non-urgent but important tasks (like leadership, visioning, or strategic planning). It allows me to move past the day to day to larger items.
  • I have one weekend a month off. What this means for me is that each month I have one weekend where we don’t go out, don’t plan anything, and it’s free. As an introvert I need this. Our lives can become so jammed packed with all sorts of things, that I don’t have the downtime I need. By planning out and booking out one weekend a month where we don’t have any engagements it gives me breathing space.
  • I limit my nights out. What I realized early on in my life ministry is that if I got busy, I just added another night out. And soon that became a habit where I was out more than I was at home. The trouble is that messes up not only my work/life balance, makes my family a lack of priority, but then became expected by those I met with. Almost every issue then became urgent that could be met within a couple of days. In the end the lack of margin wasn’t helpful.

But those are just a few examples, but I mention this because my bet is you need this too. My bet is that you function best with some margin, some breathing room, some space in your life. The trouble is that if we aren’t intentional it doesn’t happen. Events, work, and other pressures will crowd out our space and in the end we aren’t living, just surviving.

So here comes the second thing: learning to say no. I say yes (even now) probably to too many things. To nice things, to good things, but to non-necessary things. And you can define “non-necessary” however you want but my guess is you might know what I’m talking about. Saying yes to that event, that outing, that pressure that isn’t really helping.

What I’ve learned is that to keep margin, to keep healthy, to keep leading well – I need to say no to more things than I say yes to. I need to make sure that I’m saying yes to the best and no, to the good, because rarely do semi-good leaders say yes to the bad. But our schedules and our lives get filled with okay, good, or not bad things that crowd out our space to do the best things.

So all of this is to say one thing: my bet is your life would be better with more margin, and that starts by maybe saying no to some things.

So why not take some time and think that through. How can you structure some space or margin in your life (i.e. plan a week 80% full, or a weekend off, or night off once a week etc)? What do you know you should say no to that you haven’t? How can you free yourself to give yourself to the best things around you?

I think part of the goal of leadership is also to last, and to not burn out. So these are two practices that are helping with that: margin and saying no.

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