The Importance of Margin Time

posted by Andrea | 08/22/2016
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margin time

Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize how crucial it is for me to allow PLENTY of “margin time” in my daily schedule.

I cannot pack my schedule nearly as full as I used to (before kids) because there are SO many more delays, so much more waiting, and so many more “hiccups” — plus, as many of you know, doing anything with small children in tow takes at least twice as long as it does without them.

Even something as seemingly simple as getting everyone into the car can easily take 15 minutes or more (yes, I realize how ridiculous this sounds).

  • Get everyone’s shoes on (coats, gloves, and hats too if it’s cold)
  • Get my own shoes/coat/gloves on
  • Grab the diaper bag that is already packed and ready to go
  • Bring all children out to the van and start buckling everyone up (this alone takes 5 minutes!)
  • Load up the stroller or any other necessary “gadget” we might need
  • Close all the doors and get in the driver’s seat
  • Turn on the van and find some type of music both Nora and Simon can agree to
  • Get out of the car and run back into the house for “that one thing” I forgot
  • Run back into the garage, get back into the car, get different music playing as they don’t want the first choice anymore
  • Pull out of the driveway

Have I mentioned we stay home a lot! 🙂

In all seriousness, I have gotten really good at incorporating 10-20 minutes of margin time into my schedule at various point of the day — and it’s amazing what a difference it has made in my life.

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For me, allowing adequate margin time in my daily schedule is often the difference between feeling successful, proactive, and happy or feeling stressful, reactive, and very disheartened at the end of the day.

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Even if you don’t have small children, I wouldn’t be surprised if adding a little margin time to your day could make a HUGE difference in your attitude, your mood, and your overall outlook on your day.

Let me explain…

Early Morning Margin Time:

Nora is usually the first child to wake up — anywhere between 6:30 and 7:15ish (and when she’s awake, she is AWAKE!) After almost 5 years of mornings with Nora, I know she will be awake within this timeframe 99% of the time — so if I want to wake up early in an effort to get dressed, ready, eat my “first breakfast” and get a little work done BEFORE kids wake up, I know I need to get up by 6:00 at the latest.

I also know that if I wake up at 6:00, I’m really only guaranteed about 30 minutes before Nora wakes up — but I could potentially have just over an hour if I’m lucky.

After I wake up, I immediately make the bed, get dressed, get ready, and eat something small (like yogurt or fruit). Then, I make sure the diaper bag is packed, breakfast foods for the kids are ready, the house is generally picked up, the kitchen is cleaned up, and I have my to-do list ready to go.

I can do all of that in about 30 minutes and when it’s finished, I’m ready to start my day and can tend to Nora whenever she decides to wake up. If she wakes up at 6:30, I’m ready for her and will not frantically need to rush around trying to get myself ready and make breakfast while she wants my attention. However, if she sleeps in past 7:00, I will blissfully work on quiet computer tasks until she wakes up and consider anything I accomplish to be “extra”.

I know from experience that if I don’t give myself that 30 minutes of margin time before Nora wakes up, the start of my day will be much more frazzled, stressful, and chaotic — and I don’t know about you, but I hate it when my day starts out this way!

Margin Time During the Day:

A couple weeks ago, Dave’s parents took Nora and Simon for a full morning and my parents took Nora and Simon overnight a couple days later. I knew exactly what time Dave’s parents and my parents were bringing the kids back… and I had a super long list of things I wanted to accomplish while James was sleeping.

I worked quickly, but even though I didn’t accomplish everything on my list, I made a point to STOP working on my list about 15 minutes before I knew the kids would be home.

This gave me time to quickly pick up the house, go to the bathroom (without “helpers”), refill my water bottle, get snacks ready for the kids when they got home, and be 100% completely “ready to go” when the kids got home.

If I hadn’t given myself that margin time, I would have most likely been right in the middle of a project when they burst into the door ready to show me and tell me every exciting thing they did while they were gone. I would have been flustered and frustrated that they were bugging me in the middle of my productive moment and I would have tried to quickly wrap up what I was working on while they anxiously waited for my attention.

I would have been annoyed that a few dishes were still left on the kitchen counter and that a few toys and books were left out from before James’ nap. And when snack time came, everything would have felt more frazzled since I had nothing prepared ahead of time.

I do the same thing when Nora is coming home from school, when Dave is coming home from work, etc. etc. By working 10-20 minutes of margin time into various points of my day, I’m able to simplify and de-stress my days at home with kids.

Margin Time at Work:

When I worked outside the home, it always amazed me how many people arrived 5-10 minutes late EVERY SINGLE DAY — usually with no excuse at all. They were just running late, trying to do “one more thing”, and didn’t arrive on time.

Obviously, I’m type A and usually very “on time” but it just boggles my mind that someone could drive to the same place from the same place on the same roads every day… and always be late!

Anyway, my point is, if I knew I had a meeting at 10:00, I would stop whatever I was doing at 9:50, go to the bathroom, refill my water, look over the agenda, and be sitting in the meeting room at 9:59. I would wait (somewhat impatiently) for the select few who were always 5 minutes late to come rushing in, apologize, and sit down looking frazzled and distracted.

I don’t think I ever said anything, but I always thought about how the main difference between them feeling frazzled and distracted and me feeling calm and organized was a matter of 5-6 minutes of margin time… 5 to 6 minutes! That’s it! 

Margin Time during Travel:

I already mentioned how long it takes us to get all the kids out the door, into the car, and ready to go — so I always try to leave the house about 15 minutes earlier than what I think is necessary to get anywhere. However, if I’m really on top of my game, I’ll leave 20 minutes early to compensate for traffic, trains, or any other potential delays.

I personally know how frazzled and chaotic I feel when I’m running behind and rushing (especially if the kids are with me) and I absolutely HATE that feeling. I would much rather allow a few minutes of margin time once we reach our destination than be running in the door with 3 kids, strollers, diaper bags, sippy cups, and baby carriers hanging from me and sweat dripping from my forehead.

Also, I’m positive our kids adjust better if we allow a few minutes of margin time for them to get used to the new destination.

In fact, about a year ago (right after James was born) we started getting to church about 20-30 minute early to allow the kids to check out books from the library, “run” around the hallways, see all the other people, and get excited about going to nursery or Children and Worship. It made a HUGE difference for our family as Simon no longer cried about going to nursery, Nora happily went to Children and Worship by herself, and I could feed James right before church started so I know he’d sleep in my arms during the service.

It was by-far the least stressful I had ever felt since bringing kids to church, and (for the most part) we’ve continued arriving early.

Margin Time at Bedtime:

Several months ago, I shared our “new” amazing bedtime routine and how we were getting our kids in bed by 7:30 almost every single night. We had a few late nights over the summer, but for the most part, our 3 kids have been in bed right around 7:30pm every night — and yes, it has been GLORIOUS!

However, the only reason we have been able to stick to this fabulously early bedtime routine is because we add in a little margin time to our routine.

As I mentioned above, EVERYTHING takes longer with kids — including the bedtime routine! So by starting the bedtime routine earlier than we thought necessary, we were able to finish by 7:30 instead of inching closer to 8:00 (or even 8:30 at times).

Margin time gave Dave and I our evenings back and is allowing our kids to get almost an extra hour of sleep every night — win, win!!!

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Just as the margins of books, newspapers, and magazines give our eyes a break from all the words on the pages, margins in our life give us a break from all the busyness, stress, and chaos. In my opinion, margin time is one of the simplest and most important things I do to alleviate that frazzled feeling that often shows up if I have even the slightest notion that I might be running behind.

I realize not all of you are working around the crazy schedules of small children — but I’m confident that no matter our age, our career path, our family structure, our personality, or our energy level, we could all enjoy a simpler, less stressful, less chaotic life if we made a point to plan adequate margin time into our days.

What do you think?

When have margin times been most beneficial for you?

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37 comments

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  3. Jennifer

    08/25/2016

    I love this post and reminder! I love waking up early and having my morning time, but I tend to underestimate how long some things take and find myself in the middle of something when my kiddo wakes up. Then, even though I’ve had a full hour to myself, I’m frazzled trying to finish that “one more thing” up when he wants my attention. I’m glad I’ve gotten myself into the habit of waking up early; now I just have to structure that time better and be more realistic about what I can accomplish.

    And, I think you are definitely a realist, not a pessimist.

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  4. Julie

    08/24/2016

    I have three children too. My youngest two, in Year 5 and Year 6, (I live in Australia and it is winter here), went on a school camp, this week. We had to be at the school by 6.10am as the bus was leaving at 6.30am as it was a long drive. I knew it would only take them 1/2 hour to get ready to leave (I had packed and checked everything two days before), but I got them up 45 minutes early, so that we would not be rushed or stressed. We had a lovely breakfast and arrived at the school on time. We were some of the first to arrive. As the children were being loaded on the bus, there were still kids arriving! I don’t understand how parents can leave it so late, that they risk their child missing out on camp.

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  5. Carrie

    08/23/2016

    I found it helpful to keep a joke book in the car for those times when we arrive somewhere really early….when kids were older, we would read a fact book or perhaps a Guiness World Record fact. We have fond memories of this little bit of family time

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    Andrea Reply:

    This is such a great idea! Thanks for sharing, Carrie

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  6. Maria

    08/23/2016

    Andrea, I totally agree with you. Margin time is so important, especially with small children. I find that when I’m up early and “get ready for the day”, I feel much more focused, less frazzled and accomplish so much more throughout the day. Also, I find that the kids behave better too! I’m going to try and incorporate the margin time during the day and bed time also. Thanks so much for sharing your great ideas and all your hard work.

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  7. Erin S.

    08/23/2016

    I grew up with a dad who was painfully early to things, like 30 to 45 minutes. As an adult I would show up about 2 minutes before an event started. THEN I had kids. I never wanted to look like the frazzled mom showing up late so I became really conscious about when I had to leave and started getting ready 20-30 minutes prior. Now that my youngest is 2 1/2 and potty trained (thank You, Lord!) it’s more like 10-15 minutes, but the peace of mind that comes with not having to rush is priceless.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    well… yes, 30-45 minutes is a little much in my opinion 🙂 Glad you found your balance for getting plances on time as a parant

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  8. Becky

    08/22/2016

    Margin time is a good way to think of it. I am part of the chronically-two-minute-late club. One would think that, if I can be exactly two minutes late every time, I should just be able to start two minutes earlier and fix the problem. Like the other poster, I always try to squeeze in one or two more things before I go and just don’t leave that margin. (I also REALLY hate to be early to things and have to sit around and wait or – gasp! – make small talk.)

    I read once that people who are late are optimists, assuming the drive will take the shortest possible time instead of the longest, that parking will be easy to find, that traffic won’t be bad, etc. I think that’s part of it, too.

    I like this concept of margin time and am working to do a better job of incorporating it.

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    Andrea Reply:

    well, 2 minutes isn’t THAT bad (not that I want to encourage lateness, but it’s really not horrible) 🙂

    Also, I probably would agree (at least somewhat) with your “people who are late are optimists” concept. I know A LOT of late people who are very optimistic. When it comes to arriving late, I almost always think of the “worst case scenario” — there might be a traffic jam, I might get lost, I might have the wrong address, etc. etc. Maybe that makes me a “pessimist”… however, I’m going to just say I’m a “realist” 🙂

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    Selena Reply:

    I have another perspective on people who are always late– I hesitate because I don’t want to offend the original commentor, because she sounds lovely!, but I do think it’s worth sharing.

    I heard Dr. Phil say once that chronically late people are arrogant, thinking that their “one more thing” is more important than your needs and time. I’m quite sure for some people this isn’t true at all, but it does make me stop and think. I have small children, and I’m always counting backwards, doing the math on how long it will take us to drive, then figuring in our 10-15 mins to get out the door. I tend to be on time, but a friend is always late because of her “one more thing”. I’ll admit that I pause and wonder why her need to finish the dishes (or whatever) trumps my need to expect her to meet at our agreed upon time.

    Again, obviously there are tons of variables (and diaper blowouts happen!), I just wanted to give another perspective. Thanks for the though-provoking post, Andrea!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, I’ve heard this too — and I can definitley see both sides.
    I have certainly been late in the past because I wanted to do “one more thing” but not on a regular basis…. and yes, it bugs me SO much when people are late just because they had to do “one more thing” — especially if they don’t even call or text to let me know they will be late.

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  9. Sharon

    08/22/2016

    I don’t have small children anymore, but I loved this article! I am going to try to include in my life. Maybe I won’t always be late…Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Sharon — and yes, I definitely don’t think you need to have small children to benefit from Margin Time. In fact, some of the most chronically late people in my life do NOT have small children! 🙂

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  10. Iliana

    08/22/2016

    Thanks for another great post Andrea!

    I like the way you analize things that happen in your daily life. In that way you can improve everything you do and give us great advices.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Iliana! Sometimes it gets annoying, but I do regularly analyze my own life in efforts to improve, streamline, and simplify — always a “work in progress”. Also, it does make for good blog post topics 🙂

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  11. sarah

    08/22/2016

    Margin time is the secret to being on time for anything under any circumstances. I’m working on teaching my 12 and 9 year olds this key to being on time and organized.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I tend to agree with you. However, I will say that even though I’m fairly good about planning a large amount of margin time when I’m taking all 3 kids out and about, there have still been times when even my margin wasn’t enough and I ended up being late.
    So it’s not a fool-proof plan… but it does help in almost every situation!

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  12. Barbara

    08/22/2016

    Excellent points. In our hurry, hurry multi-tasking life style we often don’t enjoy ourselves because we never slow down to a point of comfort.

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  13. Lynn

    08/22/2016

    I am one of those people who is consistantly late, unfortunately. When I have extra time, I try to fit in another chore or game or something, and then end up being late. It frustrates me, and I am trying to change things, but it is hard to learn a new way! I wish I had learned to have buffer time a long time ago because my children (16, 19 and 21) are usually late as well. Generally I think we learn to incorporate a margin time from the way we are brought up, and now I wish I had been able to pass that along to them. I think my husband learned it from his mom (who had 6 kids and probably found out quickly that it was a necessity!), but unfortunately he has succumbed to my way of life! Is there hope for me? (I am writing this instead of making dinner right now. Gonna be late with dinner!)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — well at least you have a sense of humor about it 🙂
    Also, don’t be too hard on yourself — I don’t think children learn all of this from their parents. I think it is partially hard-wired into them. One of my sisters is chronically late for EVERYTHING ALLLLLLL THE TIME and we both grew up in the same house with the same parents!

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  14. Jamie

    08/22/2016

    I call it a time warp. It should take us 30 seconds to walk from the front door to the car. But we enter some warp zone and it usually ends up taking us 15 minutes to get out there. And we live in FL where we don’t have winter gear to worry about. I can’t even imagine that. I am always so much happier and less frazzled when I plan to leave 15 minutes earlier. Occasionally, when everything goes smoothly, we get there a few minutes early. Which is nice for all of us. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    amen! It SHOULD take 30 seconds… but I don’t think that will ever happen!

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  15. Leigh

    08/22/2016

    Yes. I call this loading time. As in the time it takes to load everything and everyone (four kids under eight) up. Leaving time for it all means I am very rairly late and sometimes delightfully early when everything just falls in line.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — i like “loading time” 🙂

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  16. Lisa

    08/22/2016

    Your post was a surprise after the morning I just went through. I was to drop my son off at a meeting point for him to join up with coworkers to go to a training class out of town. We finally were given the location and the time one day ahead of the meeting date. We arrived at the facility 15 minutes ahead of the appointed time. So we thought we had allowed time to spare, and I left and went to work. The corporate office had screwed up with his manager and my son was at one location. The other trainees were at a location. He was told to wait and one of them would pick him up on the way. They decided to not do that. So the manager at the “wait” location called my son’s manager and confirmed he was not late and had followed directions. But the bottom line still was that he had to picked up again and taken back to pick up his own vehicle and make the 1.5 hour drive himself and possibly clock in late to the training session. So my “pet peeve” today is timing and communication…if there is a list of names all working for the same company and going to the same place would a reasonable adult not check the list (if he were the driver) and find out where all of the trainees were before leaving town? Someone who followed direction and was not late still paid the price.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow — that’s ridiculous Lisa! Sounds like a very stressful and crazy morning for your son. What a hassle!

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  17. Rose

    08/22/2016

    Andrea you have hit this blog out of the park! I do have three children and our youngest has special needs and I work In this mode all the time. You have too! Don’t fall behind! It’s also a great character to build into the kids!! I cannot stand when people with no kids are late! No excuse! If I can get my child on time every time to wherever we are going, (wheel chair and bags, and snacks)…anyone can! Your post today is A+ work! Thanks!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Rose!
    I will admit that I am also slightly more perturbed if people without small children are late. I guess I give parents of small children grace with these matters, but have less sympathy for others 🙂

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  18. Nancy

    08/22/2016

    I just had a similar conversation with my daughter, a new driver. I don’t want her to be tempted to speed just because she’s running late. Her car will be parked outside which means especially in winter she will have to allow margin time. Also, I have a terrible sense of direction and if I’m going somewhere unfamiliar, having extra time helps take anxiety out of the drive. A GPS isn’t always reliable and sometimes, even if you’re in the right place, you still need time to figure out where exactly you’re going (which door is the entry, which parking lot, etc.)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Good point — I guess I didn’t think of it from a safety standpoint, more just from a practical and less-stressful standpoint. And yes, even if a GPS gets you to the right place, it still can’t tell you what door to go in, what parking lot to park in, what room to walk to, etc.

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  19. Avia

    08/22/2016

    I agree with everything you said here. I’m really good about getting up before the kids are awake and planning on “margin time” during the week when the kids and I have to be out of the house by 7:10. Sometimes on the weekend when we have to be out of the house at 9 am I feel like I have all the time in the world so I don’t make sure to get myself ready before they get up and it’s amazing how frazzled and behind I feel on those mornings. I have found early mornings are my key to sanity with small children.

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    Andrea Reply:

    YES! I totally know what you mean. I tell Dave that we should still wake up early on Saturdays — but we rarely ever do. Then, if we’re super busy and have a bunch of stuff to accomplish over the weekend, we wake up at our “normal time” and area always amazed how much more we accomplish because we woke up on time and with a plan.

    Sometimes lazy Saturdays are a “must” but I definitely know what you mean!

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  20. Ann

    08/22/2016

    So true! This is something I need to implement more often! Thanks for these words of wisdom!

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  21. Kellie

    08/22/2016

    Andrea this is so incredibly helpful! Thank you! I’ve got a 1-year-old now and am just now figuring out how crucial it is to be “ahead” of your kids. Simple things like going to the bathroom alone are so difficult it with a screaming kid – HAHA! In all seriousness, this was exactly what I needed. Thanks for your insight!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yeah, sometimes it doesn’t work (no mater how hard you try) stay ahead of the kids, but that doesn’t stop me from trying (most of the time). There are days when it’s fun to sleep in and plan to get absolutely nothing accomplished (yes, I “plan” to get nothing accomplished!)… but for the most part my life is so much more enjoyable if I stay ahead of the kiddos!

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