How To Reduce Overload And Create Margin In Life

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(The following is an abbreviated transcription from a video I recorded with Chris Cook. Please excuse any typos or errors.)

Today, we are talking about how to reduce overload and how to create some margin in your life.

And, I have needed margins in life sometimes. I’ve been through some battles with overload.

My guest today is Chris Cook, who’s becoming a friend of mine. We met last year at an event at Dave Ramsey‘s headquarters.

We’ve chatted a little bit since, and I’ve come to realize that he’s pretty amazing and he’s got a fantastic podcast called a Win Today Podcast.

I definitely recommend checking that out.

Chris is a business writer. He writes for Success magazine. He’s also a consultant. And, he does all sorts of other things.


How To Reduce Overload And Create Margin In Life 2

My favorite thing about him is that he’s a lifelong learner who has a pursuit of improving all areas of his life. And this is a lot of what he talks about on his podcasts, but I like people who are just constantly trying to improve because that’s something I’m trying to do.

I just want to get better and better and better at really every area of my life. And Chris does that exceptionally well.

So I thought we could bring him on today and talk about this idea of margin and how to reduce the overload, the overwhelm, the busy-ness that so many of us struggle with.

Below, you can read the transcript of our conversation… or, you can listen to it here:

Bob: So with all that out of the way, Chris, thanks for taking a few minutes and chatting with me today, brother.

Chris: It’s great to see you, Bob.

Bob: Yeah. Thanks man. So I just want to dive in because especially with this topic, there’s so many of us that are overloaded and I don’t know if I have time to listen to 30 minutes of this, so let’s get right to it.

Bob: Chris wrote a blog post that we’re referencing, there’s a lot of good stuff in there. You talked about six different kind of steps or habits to kind of make some progress in this area in that post.

Chris: Yeah.

Make Your Bed Every Day

Bob: One of the things you mentioned, which I love, you said make your bed every day.

Chris: Yeah.

Bob: So, how long has that been a habit for you? How did you establish that? And what’s the logic there?

Chris: Well, I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager and I know that’s kind of weird for teenagers to do it and I’m in my mid thirties now and I’ve just always been a neat and tidy person. So, I honestly, Bob, that probably informs a lot of it.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: But as I grew older, what I noticed, because again, I like to practice self-awareness and I thought to myself, “Why when I do this, do I feel better about how I’m starting the day?” I started to notice that by making my bed and starting my morning, my startup ritual that way, I was accomplishing something right off the bat.

Bob: Yep.

Chris: I was setting order to my day and a former, I think it was a Navy seal, or perhaps just a Naval officer that actually has a whole book I believe on this topic and his lectures available on YouTube. I apologize. I can’t remember his name.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: I found that later and went, “Oh, this makes a lot of sense.” From a neuro biological sense. What I’m doing is I’m setting order to my day. I’m framing in focus right away for the day. And so it’s just a big deal for me.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: I am an Enneagram One, I’m type A, I love to achieve, a hard worker. I’m very driven. And so I think a lot of that perhaps informs my desire to start that way.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: So, yeah. There wasn’t a ton of rhyme or reason to it until I started to dive into the research and say, “Oh wow, they’re actually people saying there is behavioral psychology that perhaps validates it.”

Bob: Yeah. And I know in my case, so back to the Enneagram, I’m a three.

Chris: Okay.

Bob: And for me, everything is about accomplishment and checking things off my list. This is a very three thing.

Chris: Absolutely.

Bob: And for, in terms of making the bed, like you mentioned, it’s something that you can accomplish immediately.

Chris: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bob: And I might’ve read or heard that same thing you’re talking about with the Naval officers seal or whoever.

Chris: I can’t remember who it was. Yeah.

Bob: We’ll look it up and we’ll try to find it.

Making Time For Your Priorities

Bob: But the thing for me is that I’ve noticed throughout my day, I have a checklist almost every day, I operate on this and my feeling of success and failure throughout the day or at the end of the day is determined by sadly how many things I check off my list and I don’t want it to be that, and I’m still working through that.  

But for whatever reason, that is a big part of it. And so this could lead to a whole nother discussion of how I’m beginning to reframe this a little bit.

Chris: Yeah.

Bob: But the point is me having an immediate quick victory or quick something that I can quickly always succeed at and always check off the list in really about 30 seconds, changes the tone of the rest of my day, because as I begin to feel more successful, it just spurs on more energy out of me. And it just helps me attack the next thing better. Versus when I have those days where I feel like when I’m just struggling for one reason or another emotionally and just not moving the way I want and feeling like I’m not succeeding the way I want that normally leads me in the opposite direction. And so, it’s kind of a thing where success in momentum begets success and momentum.

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Chris: Yeah.

Be Intentional About Rest

Bob: And so that’s what I love about it. And yeah, I love that you put that on there. Let’s talk about this. You said divert daily. Divert daily, withdraw weekly and abandon annually.

Chris: Yes.

Bob: Can you explain that and tell me a little about what you’re talking about there?

Chris: I’d Love to. So I first heard this from my pastors, Dave and Anne Wilson, and they are actually the hosts of Family Life radio, and speak around the country for Family Life. And they teach this in their weekends to remember, and they passed her up here in Detroit. I actually think that original phrase came from Rick Warren if I’m not mistaken.

Divert Daily

I want to make sure the attribution is there, but basically here’s how it breaks down. And I learned this from Dave and Anne, divert daily.

So diverting daily would be my morning time. Every morning, I have that 15, 20, 30 minutes of diversion where I’m pulling away from the immediacy and the pace of the day to get alone with the Lord, to hear from him, to unload the burdens of my heart, to stimulate my intellect, whatever it might be. That’s diverting daily, right?

Withdrawing Weekly

Withdrawing weekly basically it looks like this. There is one full day every week. It’s the principle of Sabbath, one full day that I’m not working.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: I’m not doing anything work related. I may be running errands and doing some fun stuff or hanging out with friends and family, but I’m not looking at email. I’m not answering email. Today is actually my Sabbath day and all that. And so doing this is fun.

Bob: I’m glad.

Chris: I don’t do a ton of this on Friday, but you guys are friends and I love you guys.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: And so I thought this would be fun. So basically the weekly withdrawal is the Sabbath.

Abandon Annually

Chris: And then the abandon annually, that’s taking a week, two weeks, a year, solid time. Y.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: It doesn’t have to be a lavish vacation. It can be a stay-cation where you are shut down and you’re dreaming.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: You’re thinking, your vision boarding. You’re asking the Lord, “Lord, what do you want me to know about who I am inside my identity? Lord, what do you want me to do?”

1 Samuel 30, David went before the Lord and he said:

“Lord, should I do this? Should I pursue them? Should I do this? Will it work?” We have to take time to actually ask the Lord, “What do you want me to doing is in the season?”

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: You can’t always assume that what we have been doing is what the Lord wants us to do now. And so it’s that annual abandon that I think allows us to rejuvenate our soul, to laugh, to have fun, to eat great food, to take care of our body. But yeah, that’s basically the principle of the three on that.

Bob: Yeah. I love that. So, divert daily, withdraw weekly, abandon annually.

Chris: Yeah.

Bob: Yeah. So we, Linda and I have been, we’ve been taken a one month sabbatical once a year for the last seven years. And I talked about this in the past, but it’s been after we did it the first time. I just remember telling God, “Please, if there’s any way I can just continue to do this every year.” It was just so life impacting and life-changing and beneficial.

Chris: Yeah.

Bob: That I’m like, “I have to find a way to do this if at all possible every year.” And we’ve been doing it ever since and highly, highly recommend that kind of disconnect. Yeah. Anybody listening.

Chris: That’s awesome, Bob.

Be A Quitter Every Quarter

Bob: So, one of the things I want to talk about here that you mentioned in there was you said, “Be a quitter every quarter, quit something.” Let’s talk about this.

Chris: Yeah, I think again, it’s the personal audit in asking yourself, “Is there any area of my life in which I’m no longer productive, but just busy?”

Bob: Yeah.

Fruitful Seasons

Chris: Is there any area of my life? This is where it gets hard is, yeah, maybe I enjoy doing something, but it’s just not producing the fruit it needs in this season. And really it all comes back. If we look at the things we’ve talked about today, it all comes back to the thread of being in touch with the season in which we find ourselves and through the aid of the Holy spirit, he’s going to say, “Hey, I’m done with this season.” Sometimes the Lord’s done with something in our life before we’re done with it.

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Bob: Yeah.

Chris: Because we’re sentimental people and we like to hold on to stuff.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: But being willing to get before him. And again, just to apply some self-awareness and some self knowledge and to ask, “Is this bringing fruit in my life anymore?”

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: Personal example, I don’t write on the blog a ton anymore.

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Bob: Yeah.

Chris: I do here and there, but I felt, and I saw a distinct shift when the podcast started to take off and I went, “I only have margin right now.” Because this is not my full-time thing.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: And I saw a life on the podcast and I went, “Okay, I’m going to write, but I’m not going to do it as frequently as I did.” But Bob, had I not had the wherewithal to be willing to step into that conversation. I’d be running myself ragged.

Bob: Yeah.

Quitting Allows Margin

Chris: And so quitting something allows us, again, it gets back to the principle of the margin when we quit something, what have we just done? We’ve just freed space. Now what I would encourage the viewers and listeners to do is not necessarily to fill that space right away. Maybe allow that space to sit. The best things in life often come to us in unexpected forms. But when we have the margin in place to accept them, when they come, we can step into them.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: And so I guess that’s what the principle quitting means for me

The Ability To Say “No”

Bob: Yeah. And I think that’s so good. That’s something it reminds me of a story I heard of I believe it was Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. And I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but they’re having dinner together and there was somebody else kind of interviewing them and he asked them both, “What do you think your number one secret to success is?” And both of them without hesitation said, “The ability to say, ‘No.’”

Chris: Yeah. And that’s right.

Bob: Man, that’s powerful.

Chris: Yeah.

Bob: Steve Jobs talked about this, I mean there’s so many things. And I think we’re in an era where there’s not much that’s more valuable than that, that kind of discernment to be able to say, “No.” Because we’re overrun with things to say, “Yes.”

Chris: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bob: So we’re overrun with good things. You know what I mean? But discerning the God things from the things that are good can be really challenging if we’re not willing to say no, you know what I mean?

The Principle Of Good To Great

Chris: It’s the Jim Collins principle of good to great.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: We have to be able to say, “no” to good things in favor of being able to have the margin we’re back to margin to say, “yes” to the great things that are things that are going to bring the greatest value to our life and to others.

Bob: Yeah. I mean, I’m thinking about as I’ve grown my business, started this business 13 years ago and at the beginning trying to survive and buy groceries and just get the thing off the ground. It’s like you’re saying yes to every opportunity to, yeah, to get momentum and get things going.

Chris: Sure.

Bob: But there’s a shift that happens once you get up and running to a certain point where, and I’ve talked to many other business owners and entrepreneurs who have felt the same way and confirmed it and validated it, there’s a shift where you have to begin saying no to the majority of things. And then it just gets more and more, just increases more and more to where the majority of your time is spending saying no to things, saying no to really good opportunities that you would have flipped over at the beginning.

Chris: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Trusting God

Bob: And I think this is our walk with God.

Chris: Yeah.

Bob: There’s so many things where God has called me to do something where it’s like, “God, there’s all these great opportunities.” He’s like, “No, I don’t want you to do that.”

Chris: Right.

Bob: It’s like, “Okay, I trust you.” And then every single time God knows what He’s doing. And it’s like He does exceedingly abundantly above and beyond all I can think.

Chris: That’s it, Bob.

Bob: God’s smart and He knows what he’s doing with that.

Chris: Very true.

Bob: Anyway, I love that that disciplined approach to quitting something on a regular basis is something that I think I would like to apply. Yeah, have a quarterly meeting or something where I am reevaluating and saying, “What can I quit now?” What is the thing that, yeah, like you’re talking about with the blog posts, it’s there’s so many things you can do. What are the things that I could cut that are just kind of getting in the way or that they’re my idea and it’s not really God’s idea?

Chris: Right. Exactly.

Building Margin For Priorities

Bob: So how did you, in terms of developing, reducing overwhelm and building more margin into your life, how have you done that in terms of getting to reading? Because I know for me, reading is unfortunately one of the things that like you, I love reading, that’s what I want to do on vacation. I go on vacation and bring as many books as I can because that’s my prime opportunity to just read a whole lot. It’s really important to me. But I noticed when a day gets really busy, that is the first thing to get chopped.

Chris: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bob: If it’s not urgent, but it’s actually really important and a lot of times those important things fall by the wayside and blew up the urgent. So, yeah. How have you wrestled with that? Or have you, has that been easy? What’s worked for you to kind of, I don’t know, keep that a priority?

First Fruits

Chris: Great question. My morning routine, outside of an emergency, is immovable. It’s sort of like this and I’ll, I’ll use the financial analogy. It’s the principle of tithing, so to speak for me.

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Bob: Yeah.

Chris: I believe in tithing with all my heart. I don’t tithe after all my bills are paid and see what’s left.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: No, I give the Lord it’s the principle, the first fruit.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: And because of that, I realized that I can’t give anyone something that I don’t have myself. And so while it sounds counter-cultural, it sounds perhaps a little illogical. The first part of the day is spent investing in myself so that I have something of value to give people throughout the day.

Bob: Yeah. That’s good.

Chris: And what that looks like is my time with the Lord.

Bob: Yeah.

Being Anchored In The Word Of God

Chris: Especially in the pace of culture in which we find ourselves. I think we have to be anchored in the word of God.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: And so my devotional time pouring my heart out before the Lord.

Psalm 62, I think it’s verse eight says:

“Pour out your hearts before him.”

Well, I take time to do that. I take time to empty myself before the King of Kings, who knows my name, who bears my burdens.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: Psalm 68:19 says:

“Blessed be the Lord who bears our burdens and carries us day by day.”

So every morning I have that time to worship. And honestly, Bob, it’s not, it’s a list. It’s prayers of conversation. I’m taking time to practice silence and stillness and solitude and hear him. Lord, what’s on your heart? What’s the burden on your heart? It’s a relationship. And I’m in The Word.

And so funny, someone told me the other day, I love Bible plans. I love Devo plans. I love Bible in a year and all that. But sometimes I think it’s okay to sit on a verse and suck it dry like a lozenge for hours.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: Holy Spirit, what do you want me to know inside of this? Inside my identity? Lord, what does this reveal about your character, about your truth? And so I do that. My first part of the morning, Bob, is spent investing in Him, sanctifying the day, spending time with the Lord, getting in The Word, worshiping.

Scheduling Your Time On Paper First

And then I do some light reading. I have a couple of books I’m working on right now and just to stimulate my mind. And I’m a big proponent actually, not trying to advertise here, but Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner has been a game changer for me.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: In helping me to, to start my day well and I’ll say this, I actually learn this from Michael, to schedule my time on paper first. So it almost has a blueprint to it. So because of that, my morning routine, I know I’m taking a minute to answer your direct question.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: I want to create context for the listeners and the viewers, when I have my morning routine articulated and scheduled and it’s kind of immovable outside of an emergency. There’s nothing that gets in the way. I don’t do morning meetings before my morning time. I don’t do phone calls.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: I don’t do this or that because I’ve got to do that. So how do I get my reading time done based on your question? It’s in that spot.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: And it varies like our stages of life. You and Linda have three kids. I don’t. So obviously, that’s going to look different for you than it is for me. And that’s okay. I think it’s just intending to do it.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: So, yeah.

Budgeting Your Time

Bob: Yeah. I like that idea a lot. And I’ve, I’ve had phases in my life where I feel like I’ve done this better than others, but yeah, it’s basically budgeting.

Chris: That’s it.

Bob: It’s just, instead of budgeting your money, you’re budgeting your time.

Chris: Yeah.

Bob: You get it down first and where you’re going, that just makes a whole lot of sense.

Final Thoughts

Bob: All right. Any other thoughts that you think we should? Anything else you want to throw out there in regards to this, in regards to helping people kind of increase that margin in their life that you feel like we haven’t chatted about?

Chris: I think we’ve covered most things, but my encouragement to everyone watching us, listening to us today, would simply be to listen to the pace of your soul. You got to take care of your soul guys. The overwhelm in society right now is at a fever pitch pace. We’ve got to learn how to slow down, take time away from social media, shut off the news, still yourself, get in God’s word. You need to get perspective because neuro-biologically, we were not designed to be able to facilitate the amount of information that is thrown our way every single day and the stimulation does not end.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: So there comes a time where you must just shut down and allow life to come back to your soul and your spirit. And at the same time, take care of your body. We have one life to live. What are you going to do with it?

Bob: Yeah. That’s good. That’s a good way to end. All right, man. So, if you are not already go check out Chris’s podcast. It’s Win Today. So go look that up on iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts. It’s really great. And yeah, Chris, thanks for taking the time hanging out with us today, buddy.

Chris: Hey, it’s my pleasure. Love you both. I can’t wait to see you guys in Nashville again soon.

Bob: I can’t wait too, let’s do it.

Chris: Sounds good. Thanks for having me, Bob.

Bob: Thanks Chris.

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