I have a great list of ways to find some margin in our lives. All of these came from a book entitled "Margin" that was written by Richard A. Swenson, M.D. (I haven't yet read the book, but I'm planning to in the near future). This list has fourteen items, so I'm going to split it up into two posts. I'll list the first seven below and then be back next week with the remaining seven.
1. Expect the Unexpected - A Proverb in Ecuador states: "Everything takes longer than it does." This is not a perfect world, and the unexpected happens. To plan for the unexpected is not an invitation to sloppiness or mediocrity but instead a concession to reality. If you want some breathing room, increase your margin of error.
2. Learn to Say No - Because progress gives us more and more of everything faster and faster, the obvious result is steadily increasing options, opportunities, and obligations. Meanwhile, we are struck with the 24-hour day. The inevitable collision between this escalation context and a fixed time frame catapults the word No to the front of the class. Saying No is not an excuse for selfishness, rudeness, or insensitivity. Instead, it is an invitation to listen carefully to the Spirit's voice, adhering closely to a system of wise priorities that inform our Yes and our No.
3. Turn off the Television - As long as you are saying No, say it to your television set. For the average adult, this would gain twenty to thirty hours a week. No other single effort will secure as much time margin as this simple, nearly impossible action.
4. Prune the Activity Branches - Activities and commitments often have a way of adding themselves to our lives. Even though it is much harder to stop something than to start it, periodically, get out the clippers and prune away.
5. Practice Simplicity and Contentment - We all consume significant quantities of time in the buying and then maintaining of things. A life of voluntary simplicity and contentment, on the other hand, is opposed to the unnecessary proliferation of material possessions. It is free of the clutter much of society must sort through on a daily basis. With fewer possessions, we do not have as many things to take care of.
6. Separate Time from Technology - The best thing to remember about time-saving technologies is that they don't. Instead, they consume, compress and devour time. All the countries with the most time-saving technologies are the most stressed-out countries - an assertion that's easy to prove. Remembering that technology is responsible for much of our time famine, it is good to go on strike occasionally. Try disconnecting from clocks, watches, alarms, beepers, telephones, and email for a day, a weekend or a week. Find the off switch. Don't answer the telephone. Stop giving people the number to your cell phone and instead use it to make calls rather than receive calls.
7. Short-Term Flurry Versus Long-Term Vision - Americans are notoriously shortsighted. We live in a state of myopic mania that blurs the future. The horizon is never visible in the middle of a dust storm. But we must have vision that extends beyond tomorrow. Living only from week-to-week is like a dot-to-dot life. Our goals should be flexible to the redirecting God so often asks of us. But each of us needs a direction and a vision that can inform his or her focus.