Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.
2017 flew by quickly with plenty of challenges. (See birthday post). Life was spiralling out of control for me in November, and I had to find a way to stop it before I had a full mental breakdown. I had to slow things down and regain control so I could see more clearly what was happening.
The first thing I did was purchase The Focus Course by Shawn Blanc. I had been following Shawn on social media and his blog for quite a long time. He writes a lot about productivity and technology, but he started to put more emphasis on developing a focus on what you were doing in life and work. Those writings led him to creating The Focus Course.
When it first came out, I was quite intrigued- the problem being it was priced well out of reach for me at the time. I put it in the back of my mind and bought the books he recommended, like Essentialism, and Deep Work. Those books are excellent, and helped me out when I read them a few years ago.
For 2018, I needed something more. I opened up an email from Shawn saying the Focus Course was reopening registration again. I clicked the link to learn more and rediscovered that the price had a monthly fee option. I was sold. I clicked purchase, then delved right in.
Shawn describes what the course is more eloquently than I could, but the gist of it is creating habits. In order to create habits, you need to clear space, and expand your margin. Habits are something I was familiar with, margin was new:
Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.
Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances. We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.
It’s the last few lines that stood out for me. I was filling my life up with as much as I could to appear busy and tell myself I was accomplishing something, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t feeling healthy, successful, or making progress. I needed to push some things to the side and create some better habits for myself.
I started working out again (until I caught the flu), started reading more regular (Harpers Magazine, long form journalism mainly), started to watch less TV (especially sports), and took more time to think about what’s next. I’m nowhere near where I would like to be, but a few weeks into 2018, I’m feeling better.
The other big thing I’ve been more aware of is clutter. For the most part, I’m fairly organized in my life. After going the first module of the Focus Course, I knew I could do better. I started going through my old paperwork, books, clothing, paring down anything I could to clear up my physical space. I had no idea it would affect me so much mentally, but I feel much better walking through my home than I did even a month ago. I’m going through the same process with my digital life. Backing up a lot more files into the cloud and deleting old pictures that aren’t of anything particular memorable (sorry, pictures of quail) has made a small difference when I look at my computer.
Next will be rethinking how I can apply focus to my work. Work, in this case, doesn’t just mean the hotel consulting business or property management, but the work here. The creative side of me that is mostly constrained when it comes to the work that makes money.
I have been re-reading a lot of my work from when I first started writing and publishing to this site. My subject matter was varied, but the one thing that was consistent was how often I was publishing. In 2011, I published 60 posts. In 2012, I published 40 posts of varying length, and had nearly 20,000 views on my site. In 2017, I had 25 posts, and just over 2,000 views. I certainly don’t think I’ll hit 20,000 views this year, but it would be nice to build a more regular audience.
The challenge will be in not just writing more, but in writing about something that appeals to not only me, but others. This isn’t a personal diary completely- the birthday posts are the one exception to that rule. I don’t want to emulate others’ success, their writing style, or their photography. I want to discover my own way to express myself that is appealing to others.
I also want to find stories to share and explore different ways of telling them. I started that process by creating mini-movies on Instagram, using the 15 second limit to find other ways to edit and share beyond one video shot. I’m not prepared to say I will do them daily right now. One a week is my goal right now.
All of the above isn’t going to happen unless I truly focus. It won’t be enough to carve out some time to work on my writing or other work, I have to actually do the work, as Seth Godin preaches. The danger is I will clear out the space to work, but fail at doing anything productive. As Shawn Blanc puts it:
One of the most common challenges when it comes to focus is people feeling paralyzed from indecisiveness. They finally make some time to work on something important, but when they sit down there are so many thing they want to work on that they don’t know where to start. They spend all their creative energy deciding what to do that they don’t have any willpower left to actually do the work.
By going through the remainder of the Focus Course, I hope to avoid those problems and have one of the most productive, and creative, years ahead.
Onwards to 2018.