Margin is the space between your load and your limit.
Your load is all the things you’ve got to deal with on a daily basis - personal stuff, work stuff, family stuff, all of it. It all goes into one big bucket. No matter how good you are at compartmentalizing your life, each facet of your life affects all the others.
Your limit is just that - it’s what you can handle. How equipped you are to deal with whatever life might throw at you. How capable you are of managing things.
The margin in your life, which you can fill however you want, is what exists in between those two things (as long as your limit is bigger than your load). Having margin in your life is what lets you try new things, relax, develop yourself, develop others, and explore new opportunities.
So with two variables (load and limit) to manipulate, it stands to reason that the only two ways to get more margin in your life is to either increase your limit (how capable you are) or decrease your load (how much you’re directly responsible for). So what does that look like?
How to Increase your Limit
The Catch-22 of it all is that in order to raise your personal ceiling, you’ve got to spend some time investing in yourself - your skills, your mindset, your knowledge base, your network. But most of the time, doing those things requires that you have margin in the first place. When there are fires to put out and you’re on a deadline, no one really wants to see you reading a Tony Robbins book or spending the day at a networking event.
But just because you have other things that are urgent, it doesn’t mean that investing in your own growth is less important. In fact, it has to be done in order to be successful on a long-term basis. Gary Vaynerchuk talks about doubling down on your strengths and letting other people do the work you’re not best equipped to do. Figure out where you add the most value and stay in that lane. By doing that, you’re applying the most leverage you possibly can and also lightening your own load (which we’ll talk more about in just a second).
So take the time to make that connection with someone new and build your network. Set aside 15-20 minutes a day for meditation and getting the shit lined up in your head. Block an hour out in the morning to go to the gym. Make those things a non-negotiable because the amount of impact you’ll be able to apply later on in the day when you’ve actually given yourself some traction will more than make up for any time you “lose.”
How to Decrease Your Load
Outsource. Delegate. Hire. You may think you’re the only one who can do that thing you do as well as you do, and today that might be true. Particularly for entrepreneurs who run businesses as lean as they can, there’s a sense that they’ve got to have their fingers on everything the business does. Here’s how to make that go away:
The next time you do whatever you’re going to delegate, write down every step you do as you complete that task. Yep, it’ll take you 3x as long this time, but don’t miss any steps.
Hand it off to someone and stand over their shoulder as they do it. Edit your directions because they probably sucked the first time you wrote them down, and that will become plainly obvious when you watch someone try to follow them.
Using your new directions, give it back to the same person and let them give it a shot on their own. Once they’re done, they need to report to you on the results and any difficulties they encountered.
Iterate again, this time with their help.
Give them a final process (which they now have some ownership in) and check back with them in what probably now seems like a ridiculously long time - let them handle things for a month or two without you even checking on it.
Ask them how they’d change the process now that they’ve got some experience. Let them, as long as you both agree on what the overall objective and deliverable should look like. Keep checking in monthly (I’m going to make a bold prediction here and say that within a few months, they’ll have developed a process that’s better than what you were doing because this process is their baby where it was just part of your list of responsibilities)
Repeat for as many tasks as you don’t want to do anymore.
It’s important to mention that each of these goals fairly quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. There’s only so much you can grow in a certain period of time. Beyond that point, reading another book, taking another course, hacking another process, won’t have much effect on your overall ability to execute your job.
And when you’ve handed off all the non-essential work you’re doing, it’s possible to find yourself with a massive gap between what you’re capable of and what you’re responsible for. In those moments, it’s time to take on a big project. Dream up a new initiative, try something bold, and fill that margin with challenging, meaningful, impactful goals.