Thoughts On… Margin + Deep Work

by Devin D. Marks
Founder |

For far too many years than I care to admit, I struggled to protect flex time and potential for recharging. I forever felt too rushed and too harried. And by 2017, I thought it would stay the same until my daughter’s tuition checks ended. 

As I’ve shared elsewhere, in the pell-mell rush of life as a spouse, parent, employer, and more… it was far too easy to push on — to just keep pressing the accelerator. But that came at an ever-increasing cost. 

Then I stumbled upon some hard-won insights by folks as varied as Bill Gates, Greg McKeown, and Robert Waldinger, MD. 

From Mr. Gates I learned (albeit virtually) the value of carving out a “think week” twice a year. Mr. McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, and his related lectures highlighted how rewarding rhythm and saying “no” can be. And my client, Dr. Waldinger, with his TED Talk and “good life” research at Harvard reinforced the importance of unplugged, meditative time and relationships. 

By-and-by, they each served as face-to-face and virtual guides as I sorted my way towards building regular margin for relationship-building, creativity, and more. In conversations over lunch, tumblers began to fall in place and a weekly practice of intentional, slow Thursdays was born.

Today, each week, as a THINKER THURSDAYS™ devotee, I block out the full work-day to read a book, connect with a deeper mind over lunch, and reflect on paper about the same.

The result has been transformative in so many ways — mentally, relationally, creatively, spiritually… (The list of potential benefits goes on and on.)

But the “how” of it all includes some hard-won lessons and best practices — some gleaned from others, some resulting from simple ahaaaas that have proven replicable.

I’ve spent several years refining this list and I’ve shared — even tested — them with friends. In doing so, I have learned that if you honor these habits… You can become a better steward of margin and deep work; you can adopt your own version of THINKER THURSDAYS.

1. START SMALL, BUT REGULAR. Instead of a full day, block out the morning and lunch, once a month. But schedule it as a recurring “busy” appointment with yourself. A half-day is a good start. Pick one month or quarter as an experiment and easy on-ramp. That said, after a few weeks, you’ll most assuredly feel the benefits and want more.

2. SHARE YOUR PLANS. More than accountability (tho that is good), informing others of your plans is almost guaranteed to produce encouragement. Setting your email vacation reminder for one day alerts others to your availability and results in “I so admire what you’re doing!” comments.

3. GO SCREEN-FREE. Read a real book without pausing to craft a tweet. Pursue an extended conversation with a “thinker” without the interruption of a vibrating phone. Take pen-in-hand to write without Instagramming another perfect latte on a distressed wood table. Shut down and unplug and expect serendipity to strike. 

4. MAKE READING FUN. Your book stack needn’t be all about work — or one author. Give yourself permission to shuffle your reading list as you see fit. A chapter from one book or four… It is up to you. And you can change the titles at any time. The important part is reading something that you value completing.

5. WRITE IN GRATITUDE. We all have thank you notes that should be hand-written. We all can benefit from journaling. We each have a family member who would treasure a long letter that touches on why we’re so grateful for their place in our lives. Writing needn’t be work reports, a chapter in a novel, or a blog posting.  

6. BE WILLING TO FORGIVE. Forgive yourself for skipping the writing part one week; for reading only three pages and then picking up the New York Times; for eating lunch alone. This isn’t about strictures and perfection. And be prepared to forgive your “thinkers” — many of whom may have to rain check at the last minute.  

There you have it, six simple habits that can powerfully combine to make a bit more margin and deep work possible on a weekly basis. Yes, there are others. And likely you have some life hacks of your own to SHARE BELOW.

Alternatively, please, don’t hesitate to hit REPLY or FORWARD on email. The more, the merrier!