margins of safety aren't all created equal26 May 2017
so right now i’m reading an article by james clear (another one of my favorite productivity gurus) on the margin of safety. i book marked it a while ago, but it seems relevant to a friend i’m supporting via productivity coaching.
the general idea is that you should always leave yourself some buffer when doing… well, anything: building a load-bearing structure, traveling somewhere, lifting weights (all examples clear uses). in all of these cases, you want to make sure you have a little extra ability to do the job so that you have enough capacity to do the thing thing. in the travel case, which i think is the most widely applicable case:
One of the keys to being prompt and reliable is to use a margin of safety when scheduling your day. If it takes 10 minutes to get somewhere, don’t wait to leave until 11 minutes beforehand. Instead, leave 30 minutes beforehand. Similarly, if it always seems to take an extra five minutes to wind down a meeting, then don’t schedule meetings back-to-back.
If you’re always running late it is because you are living your life without a margin of safety. There will always delays in the real world. When everything has to go perfectly for you to be on time, you’re not going to be on time very often. Give yourself a healthy margin of safety.
now, first of all, i must admit that, though i’m getting better at this, i still fuck it up on a regular basis. (one of my goals for my personal ecosystem is to also be getting better at not fucking it up, but it’s a slow process). second of all, in my productivity work with people, i’ve noticed that having a margin is safety isn’t the same task for all people. unsurprisingly, systemic oppression (and its dynamics) make it harder for some people to have a margin of error.
for example, last night, while traveling from one location to another at a conference we’re hosting at work, i took the bus while a bunch of other people took uber/lyft. the bus i took is often delayed. if it had been, even though i left 30 minutes before everyone else, their ability to pay to take a taxi makes it easier for them to be on time. essentailly, they could pay for their margin of safety whereas someone who needed to take the bus, could not. the bus rider has to pay for a margin for safety with building in time. and then, say over the course of moving around town all day, the extra time needed to be on time is less time doing things like reading or studying or working or whatever… and on and on and on.
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