Almost every year, I set some goals for what I want to accomplish that year. This year is no different.

I started with Zig Ziglar’s Wheel of Life, which lists seven areas of life that need to be in balance. The idea is that if any of the seven areas are especially weak, the wheel of life won’t roll very will - like a car with a flat tire.

The seven areas he lists are:

  • Financial
  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Family
  • Social
  • Career

If you’re like me, you’re probably really strong in a few of these areas and quite weak in others. I generally do really well with the Career, Financial, and Intellectual areas. I’m much weaker in the Physical and Social areas.

This year, I set goals in each of these areas. I won’t bore you with the entire list, but here are a few examples:

  • Physical: Complete the 60-mile (4400ft of climbing) cycling route in Pedals ‘n’ Pairs in April.

  • Intellectual/Spiritual: Read an average of one non-fiction book per month, with at least four of those being related to spiritual areas.

  • Social: Spend social time with other guys or, along with my wife, with other couples an average of once per month (I told you I was really weak in this area).

  • Career/Intellectual: Develop three personal-use applications that will allow me to explore and learn some new technologies.

You get the idea.

A number of my goals require regular work and attention. I’m not suddenly going to be ready for a 60-mile bike ride in April if I haven’t trained for it. I can’t post a blog article every week if I don’t make time to write on a regular basis.

Other goals are more one-time things. For example, the applications I want to build will take effort, but not regular effort week in and week out.

I’m finding that the “regular effort” goals along with my normal responsibilities (work, spend time with my family, household chores, etc.) set a bar that I need to get over every week before I can have time to work on the “one-time” goals.

If this bar is too high, I may not be able to accomplish all of my regular effort goals, and I certainly won’t get to any of the others.

So far, I’m doing really well with the regular effort goals. I’m doing what I set out to do each week. I’m not doing as well as I’d like on the one-time goals. It’s possible that I’ve set my weekly bar a little too high with the goals I’ve chosen this year.

As I think about this problem and whether or not I need to make some changes, I’m realizing that the key factor might be the idea of Margin.

One definition of margin is “the blank border on each side of the print on a page.” In the context of this post, I think of margin as the blank border around the areas of my life.

If I don’t have any margin, life’s little surprises can throw my plans into chaos.

If I do have margin, I can absorb these variations and keep everything on track.

One contributing factor to margin in my life is the height of the weekly bar I’ve been talking about. If the bar is too high, I have to spend all of my time just getting over the bar every week. Any surprises, and I don’t make it.

This year, I’ve had some weeks where I’ve had to travel for 2 or 3 days, and that meant I didn’t have that time available to work on some of my weekly activities. I’ve had enough margin that I’ve been able to get back on track later in the week. That’s a good sign.

In order to live up to our full potential, it’s important to set goals and pursue them. Leaving ourselves too much margin means that we’re not doing all we can. But leaving ourselves no margin is also sub-optimal, because any hiccup wrecks everything we’re trying to do.

I recommend working to find just the right amount of margin - enough to keep our goals on track, but not so much that we’re limiting ourselves.