I remember the assignment like it was yesterday – a one-page paper for my Comparative Lit professor during my second year at Cornell.
“And that one-page limit is FIRM, class. Don’t test me.”
After reading, and researching, and note-taking my way through the project in a Diet Snapple-fueled frenzy (this was the 1990’s in New York – Diet Snapple essentially coursed through my veins), I was ready to write. And write I did…unfortunately well past the one page limit!
No matter though, I thought. I’ll just shrink the font size a bit here.
Okay maybe a bit more.
Annnnnnnd I’ll adjust the spacing to 1.5.
Grrr. Single-spaced with 0pt before and after?? (Don’t act like you’ve never done this.)
Alright FINE. I’ll narrow the margins to .25 inches all around.
I promise you by the time I was done, not one more character could have been printed on the page. The paper was more black than white but it was DONE. One single page rolled off the printer and I walked across campus to hand it in (because, ahem, it was the 90’s, and we had no email – for real).
I got an A on the paper, but I shouldn’t have. My professor should have drawn reasonable margin lines around my work and docked my grade for being lax about editing.
He missed the chance to teach a lesson that would have served me far better than anything I’d learned about Shakespeare or Socrates that semester.
If the single page paper were a metaphor for your schedule, how often would you find yourself narrowing the margins, eliminating the spaces between lines, squeezing in one more thing (and then another and another.) How often would you just say yes, cramming in meetings and commitments till there was no room to breathe and wondering why you were so exhausted and still didn’t feel like you were getting enough done?
I know it’s so hard to imagine life any other way. But…
Here’s an idea. Protect the margins of your life.
Become an expert editor. Learn to identify the things that matter and to recognize the things that simply don’t.
This is the essence of Life Design – picking and choosing among the many opportunities you have in order to select the vital few worthy of your time and attention. These choices will shape your legacy.
Let’s get good at saying no with grace.
Then say yes with an open heart to the things you love and the people who love you and the places where you can offer immense value to the world.
Get clear about what won’t fit in your life if you do say yes to these essential few.
Leave room for the unexpected. Someone once told me it’s where God does His best work.
Leave room for play, and art, and music, and beauty.
Leave room for rest.
Resist the urge to fill in every open space.
Protect the margins.
You’ll find in doing less you may well be doing more.
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This is based on a blog post originally published August 11, 2015.