One of my most common memories of childhood is waiting in doctor’s offices. I was not a sickly child, but my mother insisted on being early for every appointment. And in her mind, early meant at least 30 minutes before the appointment time. When I pointed out to my mom that there was no need to be there so early, she simply shook her head in disbelief. “You need to give yourself time for unexpected delays.”
I later tried to make the same point to students when I assigned research papers. Give yourself a margin of time for those things that can go wrong. And I’m pretty sure they looked at me the way I looked at my mother all those years ago; the only difference being that their eye-rolling was more metaphorical.
I was reminded of my Mom’s wisdom last Saturday as I read this month’s O magazine focusing on good advice. One reader shared her tai chi master’s: to always leave a margin.
We don’t much like empty space in our 24/7 culture. We fill our days up with noise, Angry Birds, and television. We schedule meetings back to back, and rush from one place to the other.
But there is great wisdom in leaving a margin in life. Sometimes, it can even save a life. Imagine how many wrecks would be avoided if people just left space between cars.
But margins are important for us on other levels as well. As anyone who has attended three meetings or classes in a row can attest, fatigue sets in and effectiveness diminishes as such things drag on. A space between allows us to breathe and refresh. And gear up again.
So this week, look for opportunities to leave spaces between activities, to let one thing end before taking on something else. The days just might not seem so stressful.