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When was the last time you scheduled blank space on your calendar?
I mean empty space where you said, “During this time, I will specifically and intentionally not do anything.”
You know how sometimes someone cancels a meeting or an appointment with you and you suddenly have some extra free time? You know that relieved feeling? That’s margin.
Margin is something we all crave but very few of us create. By habit, we fill time. If there’s space on our calendar, we schedule something there.
But this space is important. As with all things important, it needs to be planned for. That means we need to schedule margin, as in, intentionally plan to do nothing.
In this episode, we talk about the ways that margin gives you a better life and how to get it.
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- When people have nothing going on, they feel like they aren’t important.
- You need margin to know you need margin.
- If you’re stressed and you aren’t taking a step back to evaluate, you could be running yourself into the ground doing work that’s not important.
- Make sure the things you’re doing are important and have an impact.
- You can’t afford to burn out.
- You don’t see all the things people are saying no to, you only see the things they’re saying yes to.
- Focus on the things you should be focusing on and give up the rest.
- Take a sabbatical when you can’t afford to.
- You don’t get margin by adding or doing more—you get it by doing less.
- Margin is an investment in yourself which allows you to invest in your work.
- Margin means you have to say no to things, but it means you can say yes to anything, which are usually the great things.
- 03:29 Sean: We had a show about creating margin way back in the day (Related: e55 Preserving Your Sanity by Creating Margin) and was a good show, but I want to revisit the topic.
Why Are People So Busy?
- 05:17 A lot of people are running around stressed. They have a lot of things going on, and they habitually fill the gaps in their life, the empty spaces on their calendar. They’re constantly frazzled, but they see the gaps on their calendar as things to be filled. “This is time that I have to schedule things on.” Every time you see a gap on your calendar, you say, “Yes, I’m available. Yes, I can do that. Yes, I can do more.” We feel stressed and we wonder why.
- 05:58 Ben: It’s almost like when you have that mental attitude, there’s some hidden thing broadcasting to the universe that you have available time. It seems to me that when I don’t protect my time or think very much of it’s value, I get the most calls for things to do with my time. Maybe that’s somebody who wants to meet and catch up over coffee, someone who wants to pick my brain, or somebody who needs help with something. It could even be clients who have work that I don’t normally try to do—they have some extra thing and they already have a relationship with me. Most of the time, when those things come up, because I’ve got that empty space on my calendar, I’m more likely to say yes and less likely to be objective about the value of my time. If I did say no and I didn’t have something scheduled, I have a weird feeling of guilt, like maybe I should say yes.
- 07:18 Sean: Is that tied in any way to your feelings of importance? If you didn’t have things going on, you must not be that important. Do you think there’s a connection there? People feel this busyness and, on the one hand, they lament, but on the other hand, they worship. It’s cool to be busy. You seem important.
When people have nothing going on, they feel like they aren’t important.
- 07:53 Ben: I definitely see that. I’m having trouble seeing what the root of that might be. There’s definitely a correlation between how important or meaningful to society someone thinks they are and how busy they are, as if the amount of time you spend is the thing that marks how meaningful you are, regardless of how valuable the thing is that you do with that time. It’s a weird thing. It’s like food, for example. There are a whole variety of foods that provide different levels of nutrition. Some provide almost zero nutrition and some provide a lot of nutrition. You can eat a small bowl of salad and get all of the nutrition that you need or you can eat a huge plate of fast food and be nutrition deficient. It’s not about the quantity of time you spend—it’s about the quality of that time.
- 09:06 Sean: Maybe the continual adding of things on our agenda helps us feel better, like we are doing important work, because it overshadows us taking a reflective look at the quality of the work we’re doing.
- 09:27 Ben: I wonder if people feel like they aren’t capable of doing the quality of work that would afford them the ability to take some time away for themselves. It becomes this negative cycle. You fill up your time so that you feel like you’re making a difference, some kind of impact, but because you’ve done that, you no longer have any margin to evaluate how effective that time really is, to optimize things, and to make things better.
- 10:02 Sean: It’s almost like you need margin to even know you need margin. That’s probably why people don’t get out of this state of busyness.
- 10:13 Ben: “I can’t afford to give myself margin right now. Once my time is worth more, then I can afford to take margin.”
The Cost of Not Having Margin
- 10:21 Sean: It’s almost like you live in Texas and you want to take a road trip to San Fransisco, but you’re driving towards New York City without realizing where you’re going. Someone says, “Hey man, don’t you think you should look at the map?” You say, “No, if I look at the map, I’m going to be late! I’ve got to make it to the destination. We’re losing time here.” You might actually be doing yourself a disservice, going in the wrong direction.
If you’re stressed and you aren’t taking a step back to evaluate, you could be running yourself into the ground doing work that’s not important.
- 11:06 For me, that’s half of the reason why I have sabbaticals. One reason is to prevent burnout, but the other is to reflect on my situation and give myself some space. When I say sabbaticals, I mean taking off every seventh week. Other people may not do sabbaticals. I know people who keep Friday open completely for calls, talking to friends, peers, interviews, and things like that. It usually ends up getting filled, but I think that’s a scary thing for people—leaving something open without having anything to fill it immediately.
- 11:51 Ben: It can be very uncomfortable if you’ve gotten used to always having something to do. If you took a step back and took a hard look at how you spend your time, how efficient you are with your time, whatever you would schedule for yourself as margin is probably time you’re already taking in pockets here and there, sprinkled throughout your day in little distractions, in little breaks you give yourself, in how inefficiently you do some of your work. One of the most frustrating things is knowing that you could be doing something more efficiently, but feeling like you can’t take the time to step back and optimize it.
- 12:38 It’s like what Sean was just describing. You’re supposed to be driving to San Fransisco but you’re going the wrong direction, but you’re so worried about being late that you won’t take a step back and recalibrate. You look at all of those things, and they probably add up to even more than what you would give yourself in terms of margin. That’s kind of a sad reality. It’s happening to us and we have no control over it, and it’s making us less effective than if we were to just take the reigns.
- 13:17 Sean: Kyle just said, “This is a standard conversation that makes me cringe: How’s everything going? Just staying busy.” “Well, busy is a good thing.” No one really wants to talk about it. They just say, “Oh cool, you’re busy. At least you aren’t not busy. That would be bad.”
- 13:35 Ben: How would that conversation go? Ask me how I’m doing.
- 13:38 Sean: Hey Ben, how are you doing?
- 13:40 Ben: I’m good. I’m just taking it easy.
- 13:44 Sean: Oh yeah? What are you working on?
- 13:47 Ben: I’m working on stuff, but I’m taking it easy.
- 13:52 Sean: Have you thought of trying hard mode?
- 13:55 Ben: What do you mean, “hard mode”?
- 13:57 Sean: You know, where you’re doing stuff.
- 13:59 Ben: Oh, I get a lot of stuff done, but I’m not stressed.
- 14:05 Sean: Are you doing okay?
- 14:07 Ben: Yeah, I actually feel really good. I’m just taking it easy.
- 14:12 Sean: That’s really weird, man.
- 14:14 Ben: Why is this so hard for you?
- 14:15 Sean: You can call me any time.
- 14:17 Ben: I’m really good.
- 14:19 Sean: I really mean it. Any time, day or night. I’m here for you.
- 14:24 Ben: Seriously, my life is better than it has been in a long time.
- 14:28 Sean: Do you want to go on a trip or something? Remember in the old days, how we could just take a trip?
- 14:44 Ben: I suppose I can move some stuff around. I’ve left myself plenty of margin, so what about next week?
- 14:49 Sean: I can’t, not this week. I’ve got a lot of things, but any time. You just let me know—I’m here for you. If I hear of anything, any projects or stuff, I’ll let you know.
- 14:54 Ben: I’ve got plenty of projects. I’ve got more than enough projects. I’ve managed things well, and I’ve given myself plenty of margin, so I’m good.
- 15:06 Sean: I hope you find something to do, man. It was good catching up with you. I’ve got to go, good seeing you. That was terrible.
- 15:24 Ben: That was a little bit self-serving. Would the conversation really go like that? I think it would be a little bit disorienting for folks to get that kind of answer—”I’m doing good, just relaxing.” There are a lot of assumptions to be made in that situation because we’re so used to hearing, “We’re staying busy, keeping up with these kids.” I dislike that one a lot, because it assumes that, even if you have a big family, you must be busy and life must be crazy for you. That assumption makes it seem acceptable and normal, but it doesn’t have to be that way. On our best weeks, we’re not over-extended.
Families that aren’t overbooked have better, more meaningful time with each other.
Every “Yes” Is a “No”
- 16:39 Sean: Cory Miller says,“Sometimes it feels like the ‘hustle’ mentality that is required to build a business (which is important) overshadows the idea of margin or rest. I see these guys working 18 or 20 hour days, and they’re accomplishing their goals, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m not willing to work that much in a day.’ Does that mean I won’t accomplish my goals?”
- 17:02 Ben: I wonder what you define as “work.” If my definition of work was making products or doing client work, things that are generating income, I definitely don’t do 18 hours of work a day. If you’re calling things like having quality time with your family and taking care of household stuff work, all of the things that come in as life responsibilities, I’m easily putting in 16 to 18 hours of work a day. Most of that doesn’t feel like work, because it’s stuff that I enjoy doing. That’s part of the answer to the question. The other question I might ask is, if you didn’t have something to do with those 16 or 18 hours of the day, what would you do with that? That’s not to guilt you into saying that you have to find something that provides some kind of value. I don’t think that’s the answer either.
- 18:41 Sean: The reality is, if it takes 1,000 hours to build a house and you put in 10 hours a day, you’re going to get there a little bit faster than someone putting in 8 hours a day. That’s just a reality. Someone who’s working on achieving their goal more is probably going to accomplish it sooner. There are a lot of other things going on. Every “yes” is 99 other “nos”
You don’t see all the things people are saying no to, you only see the things they’re saying yes to.
- 19:23 Are they saying no to their family? Are they saying no to their personal health? Are they saying no to sleep? Are they saying no to exploring their creative outlets? Most likely, they are. If they’re working 18 or 20 hour days, that’s all they’re doing. They’re saying no to things. Maybe you’re not saying no to those things. Maybe those things have value to you, and you’re getting benefits that they aren’t. You don’t see the detrimental effects it may have on their health. Yeah, they might achieve their goal sooner, but if they were beyond an unhealthy level of work, they might die sooner. There are a lot of factors to it.
- 20:13 Ben: Just because you aren’t putting in that same amount of time absolutely doesn’t mean that you won’t accomplish your goal. It’s exactly like Sean was saying—sometimes it takes longer. The more concentrated time you have, the faster you’re able to get there in relation to when it’s broken up in smaller chunks. That doesn’t mean that those smaller chunks, those ten hour, five hour, or maybe even less hour days depending on what your circumstances are, isn’t the right path for you right now. A lot of people feel so discouraged when they see the output of others and the successes that other people are experiencing. If they know this person is spending 14 to 16 hours a day working toward their passion, that can feel discouraging if they think, “I don’t have that time.” They’ll give up. You can achieve your goals if you only have five hours a day or five hours a week. It’s going to take you longer to get there, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it and start taking those steps.
- 21:33 Sean: People are only thinking about what you say yes to and what they say no to. People take for granted their own yeses and other people’s nos. When you’re comparing with someone else, you take for granted that you watch two shows on Netflix every night. You take for granted that you hang out with your brother every week. You take for granted that you go out for drinks or bowling with your friends. You take for granted that you sleep in until 10am on Saturdays. All of the things you say yes to, you take for granted, and you take for granted all the things they say no to, because you don’t see them.
- 22:15 The other thing that’s in play here is sacrifice. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, so if someone’s accomplishing more, they’re sacrificing something in some area. Sometimes that’s healthy, sometimes that’s not. You can’t really know, and that’s why you shouldn’t be comparing. You don’t know what they’re saying no to in order to say yes. You’ve just got to focus on yourself and your margin. We do believe that you should be creating margin for yourself. You need blank spaces on your calendar. They’re not going to happen automatically.
- 23:05 I’m busy and that’s why I started doing sabbaticals, because I realized that there’s always too much work to do. If you base whether or not you take sabbaticals or have margin in your day or in your week on whether or not you have work to do, you’ll never get it. There’s always work to do. It’s only going to be there if you schedule it. That’s why we say to schedule your margin. You have to start by saying, “I’m not going to do anything on Friday afternoons.”
- 23:43 Ben: The thing I really love about scheduled margin, especially sabbaticals, is that you don’t want to be using your work time worrying about whether or not your workflow is optimized. You don’t want to use that time worrying about whether or not your process is good. You don’t want to use that time getting distracted, trying to set up your calendar, or making sure that your task thing is working. You don’t want to be doing those kinds of activities. When you have scheduled margin or a sabbatical, that’s a perfect time to take a step back and reevaluate those things.
- 24:37 Say, “Okay, this was working for me and this was not. Here’s where we can make some tweaks.” That’s when you do the maintenance on the machine. When you get back into work time, that’s when the machine is running. You don’t want to interrupt the machine running—you don’t want to have to turn it off and recalibrate things when you should be working and getting things done. If there’s a major malfunction, sure, maybe you need to take some time. If you’re working and you have the feeling, “I feel like I could be doing this more efficiently,” it’s so freeing to know that you have time set aside to take a good look at that. That’s going to be a better time to think about those things, so you can put them out of your mind.
- 25:26 Sean: I just had a sudden realization. I understand why people struggle with this. People are so used to adding to their schedule, so all they know is adding more things. When we come in and say that they need margin in their lives, they think, “Great, one more person telling me yet another thing I need in my life, one more thing I need to add to my schedule.” Hey, you need to work out. Hey, you need to hang out with your family more often. More, more, more, add, add, add. We’re coming in and saying that you need more margin, so you’re thinking, “Great, I guess I’ll have some margin after I work my 12 hour day and get less sleep as a result.” They’re thinking in terms of more and adding. That’s the opposite of margin.
You don’t get margin by adding or doing more.
You get it by doing less.
- 26:29 You’re going to have to start saying no to things to carve out time for margin. If you want margin, we aren’t saying that you should add margin to your life. We’re saying that you should remove things until there is margin. It’s about doing less and doing those fewer things to a greater extent—doing better work, taking on fewer clients and doing a better job at those, charging more and working less. If you’re spending time with ten people a week and it’s surface level, not good time, say no to six or seven of them and really hone in on three people. Go deep with those three people. Maybe you’re doing eight hours of work punctuated by Facebook every fifteen minutes. Maybe you could do five or six hours of work with no Facebook breaks. Now you have two hours! It would feel silly to spend those two hours on Facebook because now you realize where all of your time is going, so you have it to do what you want. You start creating margin because you’re doing less.
Make sure the things you’re doing are important and are going to have an impact.
- 28:01 Ben: One of the things I’m going to talk about at seanwes conference is making your time more meaningful. I think that’s really the point of this topic. Margin allows you and, in a way, forces you to think about the meaningfulness of your work time. When you can work more efficiently, when your processes are better, when your workflow is optimized, when you can get into the flow faster, your work is more meaningful. When you can charge more for your work because of the quality that you’re providing, your work is more meaningful. When you’re able to focus more because you’re only working on one task or with one client at a time, your work is more meaningful.
- 28:43 That meaningfulness goes back to the issue of quantity vs. quality. If you could produce the same amount of money and derive the same amount of purpose and satisfaction out of a smaller number of hours, why wouldn’t you do that? Margin is one of the tools you have to use to realize that. It’s something you have to use before you can afford to get it.
- 29:45 Sean: For seanwes tv, I was previously writing the episodes ahead of time. That became the post and the transcript, and then I delivered it on camera. It took a lot of time. We do seven days a week, so there’s a new episode every day at seanwes.tv. We’re either shooting seven in a day or three on one day and four another day. It takes hours of preparation and then hours of shooting. Normally, for four episodes, it would take us under two hours if you don’t include all of the writing time—which is a lot. We got it to where we did four episodes in well under two hours with no writing at all.
- 30:28 I realized that I’ve developed my “hybrid voice,” where my writing and my speaking are very aligned. If I read my words, you can’t really tell I’m reading, because it’s very synonymous to how I speak. If you transcribe my words, you wouldn’t really be able to tell that I hadn’t just written them in the first place. I’m not 100% perfect on it, but it’s much more than 90%. If we compared the unscripted videos to the scripted videos, it was about 98.5% dead on. It was really good. I realized that I had been held back because I talk about how it all starts with writing, and I was convinced that if I did a video I would have to write first.
- 31:17 I didn’t think about how I was speaking on a topic I had written about in the past, and that’s how it started with writing. Writing showed me what my message was, and now I can deliver that from memory. I don’t have to write every single time. The biggest thing that was keeping me from doing that was thinking, “Oh no, that’s going to be more work for my employees.” I’m no longer pre-writing it, to where they proof it, but they now have to transcribe it completely because it wasn’t written beforehand. I thought, “That’s more work for them, and I don’t want to make their workload worse,” but that’s not how I should have been thinking about it.
- 31:56 I should have been thinking in terms of the effectiveness of my time and the value of my time. If I’m able to save six hours a week, what is the value of that time? I’ve looked into hiring a transcription service. They have a minimum of 30 minutes per batch, but if you can hit that minimum, it’s a dollar per minute. It’s pretty affordable. The episodes are, on average, seven minutes long, so it’s not that bad. That’s a few hundred bucks a month. If I’m saving six hours a week, that’s a ton of time saved, which equals money, which equals focus, which equals margin, and all of these good things.
Do less, but do it to a greater extent.
Focus on the things you should be focusing on and give up the rest.
- 32:58 Ben: You really have to be self-aware. You’ve got to know where you are in your ability. For some people, going off the cuff like that would cause them to lose time because of all of the editing they would have to do on the back end. When I deliver something from a teleprompter vs. going off of the cuff, the amount of time I have to spend on editing isn’t quite below the time I would have spent preparing. Until it reaches that threshold, I’m better off preparing. At some point, I might want to make an investment in my skill to deliver off the cuff. Even though it’s going to cost me more time in editing, the practice eventually will bring it under that threshold. Think about the things you’re doing in those terms. How could you potentially open up more time for yourself by being aware of your strengths and where you could optimize your workflow?
Protect Your Margin
- 34:16 Sean: Breaking that down into steps, it looks like this:
- Identify your most important work.
- Invest upfront in being able to do it better.
- Cut back on everything else.
- Protect the margin that’s left.
- 34:38 Put a fence around it. Like we had said in a previous episode, make a margin calendar. Say you’re blocking out Friday, that you aren’t going to take anything on Friday. Instead of leaving it open, where you have this temptation to add things to it, use your margin calendar and make a big huge block that’s a different color and says “margin.” Any time you go to put something in there, you see that it’s filled. It’s accounted for. That’s essentially what we’ve done with the sabbatical. There’s always work to be done, but we have a recurring event on the calendar. Every seven weeks, we have a sabbatical week. It’s blocked out. It repeats forever.
- 35:26 It’s been going over a year now and I haven’t changed it. I was tempted in the beginning. The first break I took, the first sabbatical, I was trying this out. It will be the same way with your margin. It was an experiment. It’s like having a treat in the afternoon that isn’t really good for you. When you skip it the first time, you think, “Alright, I’m holding out.” The second time I came to the sabbatical, I thought, “I can’t do this. There’s too much work to do. I can’t afford to take this sabbatical.” I had to go back to the reason I was doing this in the first place. I’m heading toward burnout. I’m going to burn out. It’s not sustainable to keep going and overworking yourself.
- 36:21 I realized, what’s the cost of burnout? Burnout is terrible. Burnout will destroy you. You could stop making money, lose your audience, or become sick. There are so many bad things. You could lose your motivation. You can’t afford to burn out. It’s not that you can’t afford to schedule some margin for yourself, you can’t afford to burn out. Once I powered through that second sabbatical, since the third and on, for over a year, I’ve never looked back. There is no other way to live. I’ve explained it to people, “Imagine if your week was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and that repeated forever. No weekend, no light at the end of the tunnel, no end in sight.”
- 37:14 You would feel like you were on a hamster wheel, spinning your wheels, running in place. That’s what it feels like to not have a sabbatical week every seventh week. You work really hard for six weeks and then you keep going? At some point, maybe you get a week or two of vacation, but other than that you’re working, working, working. It’s a reset point, a time to take a step back and re-evaluate your situation. Decide if this is even the work you want to be doing. Am I heading toward New York City when I really wanted to go to San Fransisco? It’s invaluable.
You have to have margin for yourself to get perspective on where you are and where you’re going.
- 38:04 Ben: I was telling Sean that I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. Right now, I feel like I have a ton of stuff I need to do that’s all due today. That’s impossible. I recently started doing sabbaticals. I’m on a different schedule than the seanwes team, but my second one was really kind of a fake sabbatical. I gave into the temptation to continue to work because I was feeling the pressure. I hadn’t set myself up for being able to take that off. I hadn’t scheduled things correctly, so I didn’t take the break I needed, that I should have taken. That was my second one.
- 39:03 The situation I’m in today probably has a lot to do with the burnout I’m experiencing from not having taken that break. Sometimes burnout isn’t so obvious, like crashing. Some people think of burnout and think that you reach this point where everything falls apart. Sometimes, burnout is a subtle, incremental thing that gradually increases. For me, it’s come in the form of seeking out more distractions and procrastinating more. The more I do that, the more these things pile up and the more weight I feel of them needing to get done. The more weight I feel, the more stressed and burned out I become. It becomes this negative cycle.
- 40:10 Taking that second sabbatical, scheduling margin for myself, would have been me taking control of those things. This goes into something Sean and I were talking about earlier—procrastinating vs. being purposeful. I’m going to need to take those breaks anyway. I’m going to need to have some time to myself, time to evaluate, but when I don’t schedule it and I’m not purposeful about it, I seek out those distractions and I reach a point where I’m not sure what to do next or I feel uncomfortable, so I say, “Okay, I’m just going to take a break.” It’s controlling me instead of the other way around.
- 41:08 Sean: I think a lot of people are in that situation, and they want to be in a place where they have margin, where they don’t feel stressed and overworked. The situation is controlling them, and they’re under this impression that they can’t afford to take a break, to schedule margin, because of everything that’s on them, that’s required of them. They’re waiting for the situation to let up enough so they can say, “There’s margin! I’ll take that.” Unfortunately, the situation is not going to let up. You have to take hold of it. It’s a chicken-and-the-egg thing.
Choose Margin Before It’s Convenient
- 42:11 Here’s your assignment: schedule margin. Take the break. Decide to take a sabbatical when you can’t afford to, because that’s the only way. Magically, let’s say there’s no work for you next week. There’s nothing on your plate or on your to-do list. It’s all checked off. Your email inbox is at zero. There’s nothing for you, no projects, and you don’t need to work because you have enough money from the last job. It paid really well, so you’ve got your bills covered. Nothing is going on next week. That is one situation where you could take a sabbatical next week. The other situation is you saying, “I’m going to take one even though there’s a bunch of things.”
- 42:55 Those are the only two. The former is never going to happen, so you have to acknowledge that if you’re ever going to get to the point where you have this margin, this freedom, this breathing room, you’re going to have to start by creating it before the time is really there. You have to be the one to start it, even when it doesn’t feel like you can do it. Take hold of it. Trust my word here and say, “I’m going to schedule this even though I can’t and see what this is all about.” It takes that margin to realize that you need the margin. You’re not going to realize how you can’t live without it until you’ve experienced it and realized that you never were living before.
- 43:40 Ben: Now, if you’re in a situation where you have client deadlines and those kinds of things, maybe you can’t take a sabbatical next week.
- 43:59 Sean: That’s a short term example. It might need to be several months from now. I’m not saying, “No matter what your responsibilities are, do it next week!” At some point in the future, schedule it.
- 44:12 Ben: If it is at all possible, do it. If it’s something that’s short term enough to interrupt some of your deadlines, that may be the motivation you need to decide to make some sacrifices for the next week or so to get those things done so you can take that time off. It’s like you’re saying, “I have these deadlines, so if I take the sabbatical then, that’s a week I was depending on to get these things done. If I schedule that sabbatical and move the deadline up, what other things do I need to sacrifice between now and then in order for that to be possible?”
- 44:57 Sean: That’s a good one. We all plan our lives ahead of time to some degree. Some of us do it a day out, a week out, a month out, or ten years out. If you’re going to have sabbaticals, you have to plan ahead of time for them. If a week is too long for you, that’s too big, start just taking Fridays off or the first Friday of the month.
Start with taking a small amount of time off and realize the benefit of margin.
- 45:27 Let’s just say you’re going to start doing sabbaticals, taking off a whole week every seven weeks. You’re going to need to start scheduling things around it. It’s going to feel weird at first, but eventually, it becomes your normal. It’s just like a weekend. You’ve got seven days in a week with a little weekend here, and this is just blowing up that model to six weeks and then a seventh week. When you’re looking at Sunday on your calendar and it’s Friday, and someone says, “Hey, you want to meet me for coffee?” You don’t say, “Yeah, how’s Sunday? I mean Monday?” It’s just normal. You have time, but of course you aren’t going to meet them on Sunday, so you schedule it for Monday. This is the same thing. When you get a client who’s ready to start a project, look at your calendar. If the next week is your sabbatical, tell them you can start in two weeks. Sabbaticals become the new normal, the Sunday of your week blown up on a bigger scale.
- 46:32 Ben: It doesn’t feel natural. I highly recommend you have something in your calendar. This is one of the most uncomfortable things for me to do. I do it every once in a while, but I try to avoid it as much as possible. Sometimes, I have two things occupying the same time slot on the same day. They have to sit side by side, and if one of them is longer than the other they might overlap. I feel so uncomfortable with that. It feels yucky to me. There’s some resistance that I feel, and I’m going to use that to my advantage by putting something there. You should definitely put it in your calendar. Still, you’re going to be dealing with feelings of guilt because you’re conditioned to think that you need to fill every moment of your time with activity that provides some kind of value, so you have to think differently about margin.
Fear of Taking Time Off
- 48:12 Sean: In a lot of cases, it is guilt, but it’s also a little bit of fear. You schedule out the week, your margin or your sabbatical, and you say, “I’m not going to do anything here.” What does that mean for the rest of your life? It means that you need to make up whatever you need to pay your bills in the other six weeks. You don’t have more time; you have less time. What does that mean about the time you’re spending? It needs to be purposeful, more focused, and less about distractions. What else does it mean? It means that the work you do in this smaller amount of time needs to be priced higher.
- 48:55 Now we’re starting to feel Imposter Syndrome—“Am I really worth this? Could I charge more? How could I do this to my clients?” Take a step back. What is the margin doing? The margin is allowing you time to do whatever you need to do. There are all kinds of benefits. There’s rest, so you become more healthy, more focused, and more alert. There’s education, so you’re reading, learning, and bettering yourself, practicing skills, other passions, things you enjoy that tangentially help out what you’re doing. All of these things help make you a better person who’s more productive who does better work. No matter how you spend that time, it makes you better.
- 49:48 That’s true even if you’re just resting. You’re never going to find margin—you have to identify the most important work, invest in it so you can do it better, get rid of everything else, and then protect the margin. Part of that is minimizing, doing less. Don’t see this as doing more, as adding a sabbatical.
Do less of the things that aren’t important so you can do more of the things that are important.
- 50:21 This means that the work you give your attention to is better. The results you produce are better, more valuable. Therefore, you have a right to charge more, because you’re creating greater value. You’re doing better work for your clients as a result of this. That’s how you have to think of it. Margin is an investment in yourself, which allows you to invest in your work, which provides greater value to your client, which justifies you charging a greater rate, which means that you can work less and make the same amount that you were making, if not more, and still be a healthy person.
- 51:10 Ben: The margin is just as, if not more, valuable than the time you spend working. How valuable is it for a person who wants to drive to San Fransisco and is unknowingly driving to New York to pull off on the side of the road and look at their map and see where they’re actually going? It’s incredibly valuable. They’re losing value and time by continuing to drive in the direction they’re going.
- 51:42 Sean: Every moment was spent going in the wrong direction.
- 51:46 Ben: That’s not to say that if you don’t have margin, you’re moving in the wrong direction.
- 51:50 Sean: It is saying that you don’t know. You can’t know. You’re roaming around in the forest without a GPS or a map. You can’t see, because it’s a heavy, dense, Lord of the Rings forest, and the checkpoints are where you climb to the top of a tree or you find a mountain peak and you look around and find out where you’re going. You very well could be going in the right direction, but you can’t know.
- 52:27 Ben: If you are going in the right direction but you aren’t really sure, that creates friction in your work. That causes you to work more slowly, more tentatively, vs. feeling confident in the direction you’re moving and working forward with boldness.
What You Do With Your Margin
- 53:31 Cory: My situation is really different because I feel as if I have too much margin, like I’m not doing enough really good work. There’s a lot going on, so I don’t know which thing to do first. I can see how scheduling margin would be good to get some focus, but I feel like I’m not working hard enough to deserve that yet.
- 54:00 Sean: Cory has a forced margin, because I make everyone at seanwes take a sabbatical week. He’s operating from a point of getting a week off every seven weeks, which most people don’t have. Maybe another question would be, can you imagine not having that? For me, I feel like having a sabbatical is surviving. We need that. I can’t imagine not doing that.
- 54:31 Cory: It’s obviously necessary, seeing how we come back to work. It’s crazy. I can’t imagine not having it.
- 54:51 Ben: Cory said something to the effect of, “Part of my problem is that I have extra time but I don’t know what to do with it, and I don’t feel like I deserve to use that as margin.” We’re talking to people who feel like every moment of their day is scheduled and they don’t have any room, but I wonder what it would mean for the person who does have extra time but who isn’t being purposeful about scheduling margin? Sometimes, there’s the ambiguity of not knowing what you’re going to do with that time that causes you to feel a little bit insecure. Not knowing, feeling like anything could happen, is a worse feeling than having all of that time taken up with stuff you’ve scheduled, like this huge void.
- 55:54 Sean: It forces you to come face to face with how you spend your time. Let’s say you want to carve out two hours, so you cut back on all of the time wasters and you have two hours at the end of your week. If you’re going to spend that two hours on Facebook, playing video games, or browsing feeds—if you consume things in a concentrated time, it forces you to come face to face with how you’re spending your time. You might think, “Ew, I don’t want to spend my time like that.” By not having that and spreading that time out throughout the week so it dissipates and the time is just lost somewhere, you don’t have to confront it.
- 56:38 Ben: It’s a way of calling those things out. It’s almost as if you have someone examining your life. If I estimate that I spend five minutes on Facebook every hour that I’m working and I’m working for six hours a day, that’s 30 minutes. 30 minutes a day, five days a week, is 150 minutes. If I do that for 52 weeks out of the year, that adds up. Being able to look at it from a large scale like that is a benefit you get from scheduling margin, because it forces you to think about things in those terms.
- 57:24 Sean: It’s like a magnifying glass.
- 57:25 Ben: Another thing that might be going on is the Fear Of Missing Out. If you schedule margin and block off time and you say, “No, I’m not going to do anything with that time,” what if something comes up that you would want to go check out in that time? Scheduling margin doesn’t mean that you have to say no to something that comes up at the last minute. It gives you more freedom, because now, if someone calls you up and says, “Hey, do you want to hang out on Saturday?” you can say, “From this time to this time I’m not available, but what about this time?”
- 58:33 Sean: That’s one of my notes here: freedom of choice. Like Ben said, some people don’t want margin because it means they’ll have to say no to things.
Margin means you have to say no to things, but it means that you can say yes to anything, which are usually the great things.
- 58:50 It’s funny that Ben should say Fear Of Missing Out, because it’s an opportunity cost thing. You’re afraid of missing out on all the minutia that you accept into your life when you have no idea what opportunities you’re missing by not having the margin to say yes. You’ve got all of these little pockets of time, and you’re afraid of not being able to fill the pockets. If you saved those up and had a nice full day of nothing, what could you do? How many times do you not realize that you say no to something that would be a day plan, because you think, “Of course I can’t take a day to do this”? How many opportunities do you miss by people never inviting you to those because they know you’re too busy to do anything that’s a day plan?
- 59:40 Ben: On one hand, that’s kind of nice. If you have scheduled margin and people know that you’re otherwise engaged, they never ask you, and you never know. Ignorance is bliss. On the side of scheduling margin, if your consistent upholding of margin causes people to realize that they can’t do last minute plans with you, your Fear Of Missing Out might go away because you never get asked to go do those things anymore. If it’s something you really want to do, you can let them know that you still want to be invited.
- 1:00:33 Sean: I’ll tell you exactly how it plays out, from the experience of someone who has taken sabbaticals for over a year now. Your availability to do something, on short notice or not, is completely separate from you having a sabbatical. That’s purely predicated on your willingness to accept short term plans. You can do that with or without a sabbatical. All of my friends, everyone I know, knows that I take sabbaticals, but they also know that’s a protected time. I’m either resting, traveling, or working on projects, but I also have freedom of choice. For instance, last sabbatical was a rest sabbatical, but I chose to take the last three days, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, going to a conference, because I have that freedom of choice.
- 1:01:27 My friends know, first, that it’s protected, but also that I have the option to give up that time or spend that time. It’s a valuable resource. They also know that, even if I’m available, on principal I won’t do things last minute. That’s not how I choose to operate. I do not accept that level of stress into my life. I want to plan it out ahead of time. If they want to do something with me, they can’t tell me, “Hey, later tonight we may or may not do this thing. Stand by! An hour before, I’ll call it off.” They have to be serious, and it needs to be at least a week—and hopefully a couple of weeks—out, to where I can say yes.
- 1:02:09 They know, everybody knows, that if Sean says yes, there’s no question that I’m going to do it. My yes carries a ton of weight. If I say, “Yes, I’m going to go to your band’s show. Yes, I’m going to go to your event. Yes, I’m going to go out to dinner with you,” I’m going to be there on time every time.