Margin Week

The Focus Course culminated in Margin Week, where we channelled our energy into creating margin in our lives.

Margin was the secret sauce that sold me on the focus course in the first place. Shaun discussed and posted about the flywheel of productivity, but also the negative counter-productive wheel as well. What I’d got out of a previous blog post was that I was certainly on one of these wheels, and it wasn’t the good one.

Flywheel of Pructivity outlining the steps of Identify, Plan, Act and Celebrate as well as it's inverse - Busywork, Reactive, Procrastination and Burnout

The last few years had slowly spiralled out of control, and I found myself lost in busywork, being completely reactive, prone to procrastination and having repeating bouts of burnout. I needed to change, and what was coming out of this course was some of the mechanisms to do that.

We were introduced to the 7 Areas of Resistance, which were set out as common impediments to change because they undermine our ability to focus.

  1. Inbox addiction
  2. Urgency mindset
  3. Distractions
  4. Lack of planning
  5. Counterfeit rest
  6. Busywork
  7. Perfectionism

Inbox Addiction was a key one for me. This isn’t confined to email, but our tendency to check our online life and dip into the firehouse that is the modern social feed. I’ve become pretty dependent on my phone as a tool for distraction, scrolling around at every pause in daily life. This clip came up in one of those feeds somewhat surreptitiously:

Mindfulness. Yeah I guess that’s what it is.

The Urgency Mindset was in regards to prioritising urgent over essential. This is a behaviour that I have grown into and with sober expense when it comes to my health and wellbeing. I’ve struggled with getting my priorities right, more so my decision making when it comes to my priorities. Essential are things like exercise, family time, relationships and networks, but not giving them the attention they deserve because of whatever is on fire or due tomorrow is not good. I need to address this better this year and have started to mark out some key boundaries at work and set some more realistic expectations for myself.

To be honest the whole list applies to my life at the moment and it’s why I’m here! Out of the remaining items I found the idea of Counterfeit Rest quite interesting. True rest is the kind of activity that give you energy rather than take it. I’d actually started to think about this a bit earlier having read something similar. At the end of most work days my brain felt like it was fried and so rest became a mixture of scrolling on my phone and watching shit TV. It didn’t make me feel more rested, in fact it probably made me more tired and more distracted. All I was doing was adding more inputs into my already stretched brain. More inputs, more options, more choices = more distractions. But if I spent the same time playing guitar or writing some code or editing photos, or writing – then I felt better. I felt that even though I'd given something of myself, more had come back in return. Rest wasn't just about sleep, but a more holistic practice of recharge. Given our electric lives I think we spend more time and effort ensuring our devices can recharge more than ourselves!

This area of my life needs some more work. There is a lot of solidly built up habits that revolve around my phone and I need to break that habit, but I need to come up with some better practices. This is on my to-do list and I'll probably write up something if I find some that work.

The next exercise got us to jump into our Urgency Mindset. I really liked this quote from Stephen Covey included in the workbook:

Urgency addiction is a self-destructive behavior that temporarily fills the void created by unmet needs. And instead of meeting these needs, the tools and approaches of time management often feed the addiction. They keep us focused on daily prioritization of the urgent. […]

It’s important to realize that urgency itself is not the problem. The problem is that when urgency is the dominant factor in our lives, importance isn’t.

This concept of urgent and essential was really clarifying for me. The definitions used:

Urgency is usually defined by external factors.

Things that are essential are fundamentally important, regardless of external factors.

In a lot of ways the simplicity of this is to focus on the meaningful aspects of life — your health, wellbeing, family and relationships - as these are essential to life. Everything else isn't as important because its not essential to our lives. We can argue that our jobs are, but in reality work might be or an income, but not our jobs.

Urgency, therefore is relative while essential is absolute.

Now it was on to Margin.

Margin is breathing room.
It’s the opposite of overload.

This idea of space and capacity is central to the concept of margin, and to be honest, I could feel that. At work, I felt like I was sprinting all the time, but the race I was in was a marathon. This meant fatigue and burnout were not just inevitable, they were guaranteed. Without space to rest and recover, I was going to degrade over time. It was already happening. My health wasn't great, my family time had been distracted, and my ability to care had been challenged. There wasn't space for everything, so I was pushing out the essentials and had replaced them with the urgent. I needed to change that around.

The meaning around Margin itself was essentially

Margin is the space between our load and our limits.

This required a bit of unpacking from my perspective. I couldn't tell you what my baseline load was, nor my limits. For years I've just been operating without thinking. Working in a field with knowledge rather than physical labour, finding and accepting those limits was challenging. I have a drive to do more, to do it better – but I can't do everything, and that's the only limit I'd found – not everything.

Obviously, this wasn't sustainable and bordered on the absolutely ridiculous. There were hard limits if I looked. One was simply what I got paid for – there are only so many hours in a week that I get paid for, so all work has to fit into them. If it doesn't, then it's not my problem to solve. I needed to prioritise what was important at work, what were the essentials vs the nice to haves. Completing my timetable in the habits week helped me deal with the biggest constraint in life — time. There's no way to create more of - just to spend less time in specific areas. Time wasn't the only area, though; there were a couple of other areas in life that needed margin.

  1. Time
  2. Health
  3. Emotions
  4. Finances
  5. Creative/Mental

The next challenge was to create margin in each area in two ways:

  1. Increasing our capacity
  2. Decreasing our load.

Increasing our capacity essentially was around ways to raise our limits and how much we can take on. We could do that through a number of practices such as intentionality, routine, deep work, discipline, saving and strengthening. Decreasing our load was looking at ways we could automate, eliminate, delegate, set boundaries, have self-control and focus.

So for each area that's what we did - come up with a way increase our capacity and decrease our load. Doing this we would restore margin into our lives (or at least craft a path to do so).

So for me I chose the following:


↑ planning the week and month ahead
↓ creating clear boundaries at work


↑ create some new income streams
↓ spend less - no new big expenses


↑ more time outside with family
↓ less time wasted scrolling around feeds


↑ switch off my devices and find a flow state
↓ less time wasted scrolling around feeds


↑ more exercise and physical activity
↓ less bad food

You might notice a bit of a double-up on the scrolling around - but I feel that insidious behaviour is impacting a couple of key areas of my life and that it's taking up too much of my attention (despite the fact I do it to escape!).

My Focus Declaration

The final part of the course was filling out our Focus Declaration. The statement drew on a bunch of the activities we had completed during the course and summarised what we achieved. So here is mine

Because I value understanding and independence, I want to focus on my career and begin moving toward my desired outcome of being able to have a choice in the work I do.

I know that small, consistent steps can result in big change. Thus, I will begin to make time in my schedule for developing a side hustle.

In order to protect my ability to focus, I will work to restore and maintain margin in my time, by planning the week and month ahead and creating boundaries at work.

TIM KLAPDOR 17/2/2024

It took me a little longer to finalise the last week and return to my Focus Declaration, but I actually appreciated the extra time.

So, in the end — would I recommend The Focus Course?

Yes, 100%. I've started to use a lot of the techniques in other areas of my life, and I've come back to my notes on numerous occasions. I feel better about work and life. I've made peace with some critical aspects of my job and have really enjoyed embedding some of my habits. I still need to break my phone addiction, but at the same time, the device has let me complete a few of my habits. While I'm yet to publish much on learning design, I have been writing and creating words (via text-to-speech) using my phone. I've found the commute to be incredibly productive as I've shifted to taking the train every day rather than driving. Increasing my outputs rather than my inputs is my happy place, and I feel like I've got traction and am moving in the right direction. I actually feel like I have a focus that I haven't had in years — not just on the everyday, but on the bigger picture too. I know more about what I want out of life and what I want to achieve, which feels empowering.

Yes, do the course!