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Protecting Your Margins

I was reminded recently of the importance of keeping “margins” in life and business. It’s an uncommon topic, I’ll concede. But let’s take a moment and examine what they are and why they matter.

Margins are an important commodity, but easily overlooked or ignored by many people. They affect our time management, mental and physical health and even our finances.

The margins in our lives are not the main events. They exist in between and around the edges. They are the extra time, money and energy that we have and are not required for the main events. But, they are not unimportant.

Think about the margins on a typed sheet of paper. They are the unused spaces at the top, the bottom, and the sides. But are they really unused?  They tend to go unnoticed but do provide crucial benefits.

They are more than simply blank spaces. They serve to frame the text and make it easier to read. They keep the letters from starting before the edge of the page begins, and stop the letters from falling off the edge at the far side of the page. Subtle, but important functions that provide structure and prevent chaos.

Margins protect us, in a sense. They serve as guardrails to establish safe limits on our time, energy, and finances.  By doing so, they help make us better organized, productive, and profitable.

We can all probably think of a person who uses every minute of their day  “getting ahead”, working too many hours and burning the candle at both ends.  They consistently consume all of their margins and are frequently scattered, disorganized and exhausted. Not an ideal way to live.

When my children were young they had lots of free time. It felt to them that their life was nothing but margins. They had plenty of time to do everything that they wanted or was required. They had time to play with friends, do chores, homework, and play team sports. However, they frequently burned through all of their margins doing only the fun things.

Now, when it was time to leave for school, they were out of time. They suddenly realized that they had no margin left. Panic set in as they rushed  to pack a lunch, find their shoes, eat some breakfast and do last nights homework. The result was predictable, chaos and frustration.

Finances are another important area where safe margins are a must.  Setting aside some money to provide a financial margin can not only provide peace of mind, but also avert a possible disaster.

We all know people who either do not understand or simply value having a financial margin. They work hard, play hard, and live a lifestyle consuming everything they earn. Never considering that a financial disaster could be right around the corner. One that they could be totally unprepared for, having used all of their financial margin.

Businesses must also keep safe financial margins. The need to account for slow downs in the economy is a sound business principle. Having a cushion when equipment or vehicles unexpectedly break down or having the ability to ramp up staffing when business is picking up can be critical to the health of the business.

Remember, it’s not if a financial emergency happens, but when. They will happen. If you have no margin you will have a limited ability to deal with one.  The result will be stress and uncertainty.

On the other hand, keeping proper margins with your time, finances and health will allow you to live your life and grow your business with minimal stress.

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