Margin is the most important weapon in my planning and time blocking arsenal. Without margin, I would be a stressed-out wreck, and Raging Swan Press would likely be a smouldering ruin.
What is Margin?
Margin is a buffer of spare time.
Marginis best thought of in terms of days and months.
The Daily Margin
Every day, I build margin into my schedule. Most importantly, this comes in the form of a half-hour period at 16:30 in which I never schedule other work. This means, I always have time to deal with any unexpected things that pop up during the day. If nothing comes up during the day, I can work on the next day’s jobs or noodle about with something else. Having this buffer of time means I’m not at the mercy of minor events beyond my control.
I also plan margin into every work hour. I break my work day down into 45-minute blocks, and I always leave a 15-minute ago between blocks.
This gap—spare time—fulfils several functions:
- If the task runs slightly over, the 15-minute margin normally soaks it up. If I need more than 15 extra minutes to complete a task, I clearly catastrophically underestimated how long it would take. In this instance I schedule another block of time to compete the work.
- If the work does not bleed over into my margin, the margin becomes free time. I’m a huge fan of deep, concentrated work but you can’t do unending hours of brain-intensive work. These “pauses” are a chance to rest and reset my brain. I normally, do something quick around the house that doesn’t require brainpower with this free time (which keeps the wife happy).
My daily margin means I rarely end the day with things left undone on my to do list. This means I rarely have to migrate tasks to the next day which in turn means I can be better and more efficient at planning my upcoming work.
The Monthly Margin
I work at least a month ahead when it comes to finishing books. So, for example, at the end of August all of September’s books were ready to go. This means that if something serious happens I can continue to release books for a month or so. This gives me immense peace of mind, and enables me to be tremendously flexible if I am needed elsewhere by friends or family. This strategy has been of great use, recently.
The Monthly Catchup Day
This is one of the most important days of the month for me. At the start of the month, I designate one day in the last week as the Monthly Catchup Day. I plan nothing for this day until the proceeding Friday. I use the Monthly Catchup Day to work on things that have either come up or fallen through the cracks thus far in the month. It’s like a sponge of sorts—soaking up all the work overflow.
I can’t imagine running through a day without any margin. Going from thing to thing with no chance to take a breath or without any flexibility is a recipe for stress and general disaster.
Do yourself a favour: try adding margin into your schedule for a month, and see how you go. I virtually guarantee you’ll be less stressed and more productive at the end of your trial.