Here’s How I Hold on to Margin

First off, thanks so much to all the kind and positive replies to my story from Friday about the tumor they found in my wife’s eye.

It was not easy for me to write that story. But I wanted to share it because it hits on a deeper topic that I think is so important and timely right now.

As I wrote, the thing about Margin is that you can’t go get some in the moment when you need it. Because when you need it, you need it right away.

You either have the margin you need, or you don’t.

. . . .

The story I shared on Friday was a difficult example of how margin helped my wife and I make it through an extremely challenging time without being left completely broken in the end.

Today I want to share a few other examples of what it looks like for me to prioritize living with Margin in my life.

Time to read

The average American watches 5 hours of TV every day! Five hours! As much as I love Downton Abbey, I get more rejuvenation from a book. And so I choose to spend time reading each day. (And yes, I definitely do binge watch a show from time time time.)

Time to exercise

I also prioritize my physical health. It rarely ever feels convenient to do a workout, but that hasn’t stopped me from working out every single day for over 300 days in a row now. I make the time for it because working out does more than just give my energy. It also helps me think more clearly during the day.

Financial Breathing Room

With finances, I living well beneath my means. I have a healthy emergency fund in place for my both my family as well as my business. It’s enough to keep us afloat for several months in case all income were to completely get cut off.

Less frustrated at my kids (hashtag the struggle is real)

My wife and I have three boys. They are 2, 5, and 7 years old. And they are exploding with energy and fart jokes (and real farts, too).

Our evenings of dinner time and bedtime are crazy! And it used to be that I would regularly find myself frustrated and short with my kids.

But a year ago, I noticed a lot of my frustration was beginning to dissipate.

In the spring of last year I chose to try an experiment by cutting back on my hours and responsibility at work. I gave up little bits of control over certain projects, and setting boundaries around how much I would work each day. Then, I filled that time with a focus on my physical and spiritual health.

After I had reclaimed margin at work and in my physical health, I discovered that I had also been able to calm down emotionally as well.

I wasn’t so on edge in the evenings. I had more patience. I could be more present in the moment, and honestly just enjoy my boys for who they are.

. . . . .

If you are at your limit, then you have no margin. You have nothing left to draw on in your times of need or overwhelm.

Margin is a choice.

And I choose a life WITH margin.

At times it’s not easy.

Which is why many folks feel that they just can’t do it.

Perhaps you see margin as a luxury you can’t afford.

You are counting yourself out…

…saying that you don’t have the margin you need in the first place in order to get the margin you need.

Not true.

And that’s what The Margin Course is all about.

You CAN restore breathing room to an overwhelmed and busy life, even when you don’t have the time.


If you want to get access to everything I have about Margin, you need to act soon.

Tomorrow — Monday, August 5th — is the last day to sign up before we close registration.

thefocuscourse.com/margin

Here’s How I Hold on to Margin

The Tumor

They found a tumor in my wife’s eye.

Earlier this year she went in for an eye exam to see if she could get Lasik. The doctor did a double take and asked if anyone had ever told her she had a freckle or something in her eye.

48 hours later my wife was at a retina specialist where they told her they found a tumor in her right eye.

She called me immediately after the appointment. She was surprisingly calm.

I was at home with our 3 boys. My 7-year-old was in the kitchen with as his mom relayed the news to me. I scooped him up, and we sat together. I just held him. Crying.

He didn’t know what was going on. He didn’t know why I was sad.

There was a possibility that the tumor could be harmless. But the doctor had said it didn’t look benign.

I was weak. I felt as if everything around me was suddenly made of dust — slipping out, slipping away, completely outside of my grasp and control.

My son and I said a short prayer for mommy’s eye. Asking God to make it better.

. . . . .

When they find a malignant tumor in your eye it usually means that it’s already too late. It usually means there is stage 4 cancer somewhere else in your body. A malignant tumor in the eye is usually a “secondary” cancer, showing up from something that has already spread.

However, it was difficult for them to know for sure merely by taking pictures of my wife’s eye. And they don’t like to biopsy a tumor that’s in your eye because of the huge likelihood of losing vision in that eye.

So they ran a dozen tests on my wife to try and find out if there was cancer anywhere else in her body.

Over the next 8 weeks, Anna and I spent a lot of time at hospitals, labs, and doctor’s offices. In 2019 we had our first visit to a cancer center.

Through all of it, my wife was so calm. Physically, she felt fine; strong. She was confident that her body was healthy. She knew that everything would be okay.

I, however, was a complete wreck. I went with Anna to every appointment; I couldn’t bear to be away from her.

I’d bring my iPad with me to the waiting rooms, hoping to get some work done while Anna had radioactive sugar water injected into her veins. But I rarely got any work done.

Most of the time I would just sit there. Mindlessly watching the people activity around me as I thought about how much I loved my wife. How much her boys and I cherished her.

There were times when I’d be driving down the road and a fleeting, tragic thought would pass through my mind. It would completely overwhelm me. Tears would flood my eyes and I’d have to pull over because I couldn’t see the road to drive.

Over the course of those 8 weeks, each test they did helped to fill in a piece of the puzzle. The CT scan. The PET scan. MRIs. Blood work…

And test by test, they slowly began removing possibilities of different cancers. There was no lung cancer. No breast cancer. No liver or thyroid cancer.

Finally, on a late Friday afternoon we got a call from our oncologist’s office.

They called to cancel our Monday appointment…

There was no need to see us on Monday because the results had come back from the last test, and there was nothing to be found.

No cancer!

Thank God.

The tumor in my wife’s eye was diagnosed as vascular and benign. A few months ago they did a cold laser treatment to cut off its blood supply and now all is looking well.


Those few months were perhaps the most difficult, challenging, and stressful of my entire life.

Fortunately, we had the margin we needed to make it through.

Financially, we were able to pay for all the medical costs of the tests and labs.

Our schedules were able to accommodate the massive interruptions without causing any damage to my business or our other responsibilities.

We had friends, family, and co-workers who were able to help us, listen to us, and be there for us as we navigated the unknown.

My wife and I both have a daily routine of exercise that helped us stay active. This was especially important for me, as I tend to get lethargic in the midst of intense stress.

These areas of margin gave us the capacity we desperately needed in order to make it through unbroken.

. . . . .

To be candid, this was not an easy story for me to write and share.

But you’ve seen this video, then you know just how important Margin is and how deeply personal and real this topic is for me.

In a couple days I’ll share another side to the story.

Because here’s the thing about Margin…

…You can’t go get some in the moment when you need it.

…When you need it, you need it right away.

…You either have the margin you need, or you don’t.

It’s why we built this brand-new course on Margin. Registration is still open until Monday. You can sign up here, and I hope you will.

The Tumor

You may have heard… yesterday we released a brand new product: The Margin Course.

What you may not have known is that my Production Manager, Isaac Smith, had a TON to do with the development and creation of this course over the past several months.

Isaac wrote up his story of how he was able to create and lead his first flagship training course, while also remodeling a new home, while also giving focused time for his pregnant wife and their two young boys!

I love what Isaac shares at the end of the article related to how and why he set goals, and how he structured his time to accomplish them.

Creating The Margin Course

Big day here at Blanc Media HQ. We just opened up registration for our brand-new course.

What you will discover in The Margin Course are the same tactics, ideas, and mindsets that have allowed me to 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 and — most importantly — keep it.

And, if you haven’t yet seen the video we made, that’s a great place to start.

The Margin Course

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