Four years ago I began serving a great church, West Park Church in London, Ontario, as their lead pastor. In retrospect realized I could not keep the pace I had initially set. I lacked what Dr. Richard A. Swenson, author of Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, calls margin. He defines margin as the “space between ourselves and our limits.” I had read the book years before, but had failed to heed its advice. Here’s what was happening in my leadership life.
- I left no white space in my Outlook calendar. I had packed every minute of my workday with some task or meeting, leaving no margin or white space for unexpected time demands.
- I was getting home late every day. I had planned to leave the office at 5.30 several days of the week to get home in time to exercise and then have dinner with my family at 6.30. I found myself working until 6.30 or later on many of my non-meeting nights (Wednesday is the night I reserved for meetings).
- I felt exhausted when I got up each day, even after 8 hours of sleep.
- I found myself wishing I didn’t have to go into work some mornings, although I thoroughly enjoy my work.
- I could not even stay awake to watch an entire episode of Criminal Minds, one of my favorite TV programs. After dinner I usually watch TV to wind down but I was so tired I couldn’t even make it half way through one episode.
- I began to experience mental exhaustion during my Sunday sermons, even after getting a full-night’s rest.
When I began to experience these symptoms, I knew that my leadership would soon suffer, if it hadn’t already. So what did I do to bring myself back into balance? I began to work on these seven behaviors.
- I first had to admit that I was wrong and that what I was doing bordered on sin.
- I shared my struggle with our board.
- I readjusted my schedule to include white space into at least two afternoons each week for unexpected issues.
- The elders asked me to take one full day at my home office for study, so as to minimize interruptions to my study at the office. This increased my study efficiency.
- I had to give away some responsibilities. We were currently short-staffed so more ‘stuff’ fell on my plate. I shared some of these projects with the elders and they graciously consented to deal with those issues.
- I increased the time I spend each morning in activities that make deposits in my soul, my quiet time and reading. I scheduled one hour each morning for this.
I still work a solid week every week in the ministry and love the work, but I believe I set myself on a sustainable path early on in my new role.
What has helped you keep healthy margins?