Margin

Extracted from Shawn Blanc’s topics on Margin:

Margin in your finances means you’re living within your means and even have a rainy day fund.

Margin in your schedule means you have time to do the things you need to do as well as the things you want to do.

Margin in your emotions means you don’t live constantly on the edge — losing your temper or your patience at the drop of a hat.

Margin for your thoughts means you have the wherewithal to make clear decisions and focus on your most important work.

All of these areas overlap with one another — they’re not isolated. Which is why, when a household lacks margin in its finances it can erode at margin in the marriage. Or when we lack margin in our schedule, it can erode the margin in our emotions.

Look at it this way: when you know you have rainy day fund saved up, you’re safe in thought that should you get retrenched, you have enough savings to tide you over this tough period. Or, should any mishap happens, you don’t have to go on a mad scramble to find money.

On the other hand, if you live pay cheque to pay cheque, it’s a state of constant worry. Cash flow is often an issue. You may not like your job, but you have to stay because it’s the only way the money is going to come in. It erodes decision-making. We cannot make rationale and long-term decision when we live in such less-than-ideal environment.

I know it’s not a nice position to be in.

And I certainly agree that margin doesn’t stand on its own. It overlaps into many aspects in our lives. When I feel I’m starved for time, it affects me emotionally. I rush through things. The feeling of not having enough time makes me anxious. When I’m anxious, I tend to be distracted doing everything except the task I’m supposed to do. When the thoughts of unfinished work lingers in my mind, I get disturb sleep. I eat more and those tend to be unhealthy food.

It’s a cycle: our emotional, physical and financial are interlinked. Margin in one area gives momentum to create margin in the other two areas.

To create margin, the first step is to be intentional.

Take for example, myself.

While I always wanted to read but find myself never having the time to do so, I schedule for it. Everyday, I shall read 20 pages. I used to set aside 30 minutes before bedtime to do so, and it works too. The idea is to build small wins like this – 20 pages daily isn’t hard, the hard thing is to start and not be distracted – so we can build a routine. Once a routine is in place, it develops into a habit. With habit, the things we do are second nature.

Just like brushing teeth daily, we don’t think about how tired or groggy we are in the morning, we instinctively know we need to brush up. It has taken me a year to develop a habit to brush my teeth before bed, but the impact has been tremendous. Dentist said my teeth are cleaner, gum is stronger, and I spend less on dental visits.

When it comes to reading, I know I’ve to read whenever and wherever I’ve time to hit the 20 page mark. So, instead of constantly and mindless scrolling through social feeds, I fire up the Kindle app on my phone and read a book instead. On the 2 hours commute, I have hit the target for the day. 20 pages a day, 140 pages a week. For most books, I can finish them in less than 2 weeks. That’s within my goal of reading 24 books in a year.

That’s a good start for me. Once I’ve build up a routine for reading, I’ll move on to other areas – like building a rainy day fund – to create margin in my financial.