The Importance of Improving Personal Margin in Your Professional Life
How thin is your personal margin? Many of us complain about it, but few of us make a serious effort to improve it. For any professional, personal margin is space, energy, and priorities. It is work life balance. Adequate personal margin can lead to gains in both creativity and productivity.
Although thousands of books and blogs have been written on the subject, most of us still struggle to take actions that will increase our margin. Where should we start?
What is My Current Personal Margin?
As with many things that involve change, one needs to start with awareness. This is not a glance and a nod, for that is perfunctory and will pass. We need acute awareness, and that requires an assessment. Keeping in mind that your personal margin requires balance, take note of:
• How you spend your time
• Which activities drain your energy and creativity or prevent productivity
• When you feel most passionate about what you are doing
• What generates measurable achievement in weekly targets or goals
Time tracking is an illuminating exercise for increasing awareness. Use a timer and notepad, or a time-tracking software, to accurately chart your activities. You may be surprised (or not surprised at all) to learn that you’re spending too much time on unimportant things and not enough time on productive activities.
Remember that this assessment must be coupled with a conviction to make meaningful changes before something breaks or breaks down. But keep in mind that these won’t be changes for change’s sake. The goal of this entire exercise is to improve margin. What’s next?
Set Boundaries to Create Better Margin
When we first talk with business owners at the Walters Group, one of the most frequent subjects is boundaries. Boundaries are barriers that protect you, your time, and what’s important to you. Setting appropriate and strong boundaries within which you can function in a healthy and productive way is vital to improving your personal margin. How can you start setting some boundaries?
The first boundary we should all set is to take control of our cell phones. The cell phone has become one of the biggest intrusions in our lives. It is designed to call you, text you, alert you, wake you, interrupt you, distract you, and steal your time. Rather than allow this tool to control you, exercise boundaries that keep it under your control. Turn off notifications. Use the ‘do not disturb’ feature when in meetings, events, and while driving. This will allow you to be present at business activities and maybe give you a little quiet time while you commute.
The last boundary I’ll mention today is time blocking. Many of us who went into business on our own started with grand ideas about controlling our schedules. As it turns out, a structured workday is one thing we probably need to keep from our old employee days. This doesn’t mean you have to be on the hamster wheel from 8am-5pm, but you should plan your work time around some kind of daily schedule. Use the assessment you worked on above to schedule your time for maximum efficiency and productivity.
One advantage of time blocking is that you can decide when you are available for meetings. Simply block a variety of times throughout your week, and then offer those availabilities to anyone who is trying to set up a meeting with you. This boundary prevents you from taking on more meetings than you can handle, interrupting important projects for meetings, and getting stuck in never-ending scheduling emails.
One of the best uses of time blocking is making a weekly appointment with yourself. It is a legitimate meeting that must be kept. It can be one of the most productive hours you spend. So, be your own client and schedule that weekly time with yourself.
Being aware of your activities and setting boundaries are age old business topics. The technology and distractions may change, but the basic principles never do. Whether the past year gave you more margin, less margin, or entirely new priorities, take time to think through how to integrate the best of pre-2020 and post-2020 into a work life balance that gives you the best personal margin in your business.
If you’re intimidated by what you might find when you go looking for your own margin, let us help you. The Walters Group has helped hundreds of small business owners who know the reality isn’t pretty and just need a nudge to face it. Give us a call at 267-377-7240 for a painless first conversation.