On Margin

Over the years, I have gone in and out of so many seasons where I felt on the edge of burnout. Frustrated at home. Creatively dry at work. Freaked out about money. Etc.

Sometimes I’ll realize that I’ve unintentionally allowed myself to develop habits that pull me away from a life with margin. From things such as letting my spending slip beyond what is budgeted; to checking Twitter and email during any spare moment; or sacrificing my workout routine in order to work longer hours during the day.

I even have a disposition of taking on too many responsibilities, and then finding myself stretched thin. Something I talk about in the video at the end of this email.

To be blunt: A life without margin sucks.

Literally.

It will suck the air right out of your life.

When my life is low on margin, I can feel it.

I get anxious.

There is a heavy burden that I can’t put my finger on.

I will wake up feeling an urgency to do something and keep busy yet I don’t have a clear aim… I’ll feel afraid, frustrated, nervous, and I don’t know why.

I have spent years figuring out solutions to the challenges we all face related to focus, time management, and margin.

As I’ve examined my own habits, I have worked hard to create a lifestyle that is conducive to living with margin on a consistent basis.

It definitely fluctuates. But.. that’s the point.

Margin is what allows that fluctuation in the areas of our lives. That’s literally what breathing is.


Registration for The Margin Course is now open!

What you will discover in The Margin Course are the same tactics, ideas, and mindsets that have allowed me keep breathing room in my work life and personal life.

These are the things that have helped me recognize when I am lacking margin as well as the tactics I employ in order to regain it.

I cannot wait for you to begin.

On Margin

Behind The Scenes: Filming The Margin Course

Here are a couple of shots from the studio. These were taken about 3 weeks ago while filming the upcoming Margin Course that comes out this upcoming Tuesday the 30th.

We recorded all 19 videos for the course in a day and a half! I use a teleprompter app on my iPad to help keep me on track with the main talking points. Otherwise I will ramble and ramble.

If you look carefully in the second photo, you can see that my right foot is on a box. I’ve got an Apple Bluetooth keyboard there, and I use my big toe on the space bar to stop / start the teleprompter as I pace through the videos.

It’s July. So I’m wearing shorts (though you wouldn’t know that by watching the finished videos).

Here’s a screenshot from one of the final videos. That stack of books to the left of the frame, on top of the white bookshelf? Those are the main books we used as references when building the course. Can you guess what they are?

Behind The Scenes: Filming The Margin Course

View From the Top of Nashville

A few weeks ago I was in Nashville for about 24 hours to briefly visit an old friend and connect with a new one.

We had dinner at Bourbon Steak. A restaurant that sits on top of the JW Marriott in downtown Nashville.

Despite the name, the bourbon selection was unexpectedly average. But no matter! The steak was fantastic, and the view from the top of the city was incredible.

Shot with the Leica Q and edited in Lightroom an my iPad Pro.

View From the Top of Nashville

Over on The Sweet Setup, Marius Masalar reviewed the wide-angle, macro, and telephoto iPhone lenses by Moment.

Here are a couple of awesome photos Marius took using the wide-angle, 18mm lens:

I used to have an Olloclip and I loved it. But that was back on my iPhone 4.

Since then, my photography usage has gone the opposite of the rest of the planet. As fancy, dedicated cameras are dropping in popularity as the iPhone takes over, I’ve gone the opposite direction.

Aside from snaps and videos, I rarely ever shoot with my iPhone. Instead I take my Leica Q with me just about everywhere, and use it for pretty much all my the photos I make.

Marius Masalar Reviews the Moment Camera Lenses for iPhone

How to Restore Margin

Margin is the space between our load and our limit.

It’s the breathing room between that which we are capable of and that which we are responsible for.

In short, it looks like this:

Your total capacity, in any area of life, is the combination of your total load plus your total margin.

If you have no margin in an area of your life, then you are at your max and operating at capacity. Which is bad news bears and a recipe for burnout.

Looking at the drawing, you can see that in order to increase the Margin in your life — the space between the top and the bottom — there are only two options:

  1. Increase your limit.
  2. Decrease your load.

Increasing your limit means expanding what you are capable of. Decreasing your load means reducing what you are responsible for.

If you do nothing then your margin will slowly fade away. Why? Because that’s how life works.

If you do nothing then over time your load will naturally expand and your limit will naturally diminish. Thus, eating up your margin.

And so, in order to restore and maintain your margin, you can focus on increasing your limit or decreasing your load. Or! Both!

It looks like this:

As you can see, there are a few ways you can increase your limit as well as decrease your load. Both of which improve your margin.

You’ll probably want to use different approaches for different areas of margin you are trying to increase.

For example, if you want to restore some financial margin through increasing your limit, you need to earn more money. That will increase your spending power, and, boom, you’ll have more financial margin. (Unless, of course, you take on more financial responsibilities at the same time… a.k.a. golden handcuffs.)

Or, if you want to restore physical margin through increasing your limit, you simply need to do things that will give you more physical energy. Such as exercise, eating smart, staying hydrated, and consistently getting a full night sleep.

And did you know that you can increase your creative limit through focus and deep work? Yep! By having regular times of focused work — being in the “zone” —then you will increase your mental capacity and strength.


You have five areas of margin that matter in your life.

We all do. They are:

  • Physical
  • Time
  • Financial
  • Emotional
  • Mental

Only one of them has a hard and unmovable limit in terms of our ability being to increase it. Do you know which one?

. . . . . .

Your time.

You will never be able to increase the amount of time you have available to you in the day. It’s a hard limit of 24 hours.

But good news! You can also restore margin to your life by decreasing your load. Reduce the things you are responsible for and you will be able to get back some margin.

Make more time in your schedule by saying no to certain tasks and responsibilities. Then, use that reclaimed time on other things that matter more to you. Which may include sleep and rest.

You can also reclaim time in your schedule by improving your focus and productivity. If a task takes you twice as long as it should because your not focused, then get your act together and overcome those distractions and diversions.

Financially, just about everyone knows that you can reclaim margin by cutting back on spending. Eliminate an expense and right away you have a more money in your pocket!

I love what Herbert Simon said: A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.

You can restore emotional and mental margin by cutting back on novel stimuli. (Something we unpack quite a bit within the Margin Course.)

Stop cramming in more stuff. Let your life have breathing room.

Over the decades, we have gotten ever more productive at doing work. What used to take 40 hours, now can be done in 10 or 20. And so we piled on more work to our 40-hour week. And then we were able to compress that into less time. And so we added more.

These days it feels as if we are cramming 80 hours worth of work into a 50-hour week. Why? What’s the rush?

This is something Cal Newport and I discussed in a conversation about the three waves of productivity.

Productivity over the years has gone from a focus on efficiency, to a focus on intentionality, to, now, a focus on meaning.

These three waves serve one another. You need all three to get the true benefits. But it’s not until you get to the third wave that you start to see all the benefits. Where you’re able to be efficient with your time, intentional with what you are focusing on, and then clear about what your values are.

But you will never get there without margin.

Without any breathing room, you’ll be stuck fighting for efficiency. With little to no breathing room to focus on what truly matters.

And this is the sad irony. For many folks, their pursuit of meaningful work and a meaningful life is what led them to sacrifice margin in the first place.

Which means you must value breathing room in your life so you can embrace it, and use it to your advantage…

As I said earlier, to fight for margin is to fight for your values.


By the way…

The Margin Course launches soon! On Tuesday, July 30.

You’ll get access to 19, on-demand video lessons that share everything you need to know about why Margin matters so much, how you can reclaim it in your life, and how you can keep it (because that’s the real struggle, tbh).

As we get closer to the course launch, I’ll be publishing more info about what exactly is in the course.

There will also be be a very limited, first-come-first-served Margin Mastermind group. The Mastermind will be led by me and my team and will include three digital-live coaching calls with discussions, Q&A, and group accountability for a 5-day Margin Reset that we’ve set up. (If you already know you’re going to want to sign up for the Margin Mastermind group, send me a DM on Twitter. That will help me gauge the interest and I’ll be sure to let you know first when registration opens up.)

How to Restore Margin

In order to restore and maintain margin in your life, you’ll have to become comfortable with making trade-offs.

As I’ll talk more about tomorrow, there is a sad irony to many people’s lack of margin. You see, for many folks, their pursuit of meaningful work and a meaningful life is what has prompted them to sacrifice margin in the first place. And yet margin is the thing needed in order for us to live out our values.

Margin and Trade-Offs

Breathing room for your values

To be blunt, without margin, you are suffocating your ability to walk out your values.

This goes for your finances, your emotional availability, your physical energy, your relational presence, and your creative intuition.

Without breathing room you — quite literally — cannot breath.

Therefore, you need margin to give space for your values.

Margin lets you adapt, be present, be happily available.

Which means that margin is not just good for YOU… it is also good for those around you.

To fight for margin is to fight for your values.

Breathing room for your values

Our next Focus Course LIVE event will be in Atlanta this fall.

For at least the first round of early-bird tickets, we’re doing an application process.

In part, the application is an experiment to see if it helps with the overall event process and expeirnece. Also, the applications are super helpful to give us an idea of who is wanting to attend and what specific topics we may want to highlight at this next event.

If you’re interested in attending the next live workshop, then here’s the link to apply. It’s just a few brief questions.

Then, after you’ve applied, we’ll be in touch with registration info for you. Hope to see you there!

Application for Focus Course LIVE: Atlanta

Isaac Smith:

Earlier this year, I decided to experiment with trading in my smartphone for a “dumb” Nokia feature phone. The long and short of it? Switching to a dumb-phone was easier than I thought it would be.

What surprised me was the lingering residue of mental clutter that carrying a smartphone for six plus years had left.

Isaac also shares some of the challenges he was afraid of encountering at first and how they compare to real life. Such as driving without Maps or podcasts.

One Month Without a Smartphone

Long-time readers will know that for years and years I’ve used a hybrid approach to managing my tasks and time. I use both Things on my iPad and also a Baron Fig notebook.

But a few weeks ago I wondered how it would be if I went fully digital.

And then, of course, I wrote about it.

Over on The Sweet Setup you can get a look at how I’ve been experimenting with the GoodNotes app on my iPad and using some custom templates to plan out my weeks and days.

Using Custom GoodNotes Templates for Productivity and to Plan My Life

A Few Photos from The Talk Show Live at WWDC 2019

The Talk Show Live at WWDC 2019

The live podcast events at WWDC are turning into the main events, second only to the keynote. I was just barely able to get tickets to the Talk Show, and I only managed to do so by setting an alarm on my phone for a few minutes before they were scheduled to go on sale, and then furiously refreshing the web page.

But it’s worth it. This year’s The Talk Show Live show was fantasic.

I’ve been to nearly every live Talk Show. And, aside from the year when Phil Schiller showed up completely unexpected, I thought this year’s show was definitely best. John’s interview with Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak was just excellent — both insightful and entertaining.

The Talk Show Live at WWDC 2019

The Talk Show Live at WWDC 2019

The Talk Show Live at WWDC 2019

The Talk Show Live at WWDC 2019

These photos were taken with the Leica Q and edited in Lightroom CC on my iPad Pro.

A Few Photos from The Talk Show Live at WWDC 2019

Photos from WWDC Trip, Day 0

Yesterday, Sunday, I flew in to California for WWDC. Here are a few photos from my first day at WWDC 2019.


Even though the conference is in San Jose, I first flew into San Fransisco to meet with a friend for dinner.

At my layover in Las Vegas.

My WWDC travel bag. (Read here for more details.)

Outside Marlowe restaurant in Soma.


After dinner in San Fransisco, I hopped the Cal Train to San Jose and got in just in time to meet up with a bunch of other Apple nerds…

Stephen Hackett and me. (Photo by Mike Hurley.)

With Federico Viticci and “Underscore” David Smith. (Photo by Mike Hurley.)

Myke Hurley.


Side note… I forgot my iPad’s SD Card reader! And, to top it all off, there’s a bug with the Leica Q app on my iPad that is keeping me from being able to import photos.

So let’s just say my photography workflow this trip is a bit convoluted. Here’s what it looks like…

I am using the Leica Q app to connect the camera to my iPhone via the camera’s built-in WiFi. Then I transfer the JPG files over to my iPHone. And then I transfer them via AirDrop to my iPad where I can edit them.

Normally, I’d just plug in the SD card reader dongle and transfer the RAW files directly to my iPad. Ah well.

Photos from WWDC Trip, Day 0