Extra Cushion to Safeguard Your Relationships, Schedule and Finances
Over the years I’ve struggled in 3 important areas of life. Even with the best intentions, I’ve had a history of embarrassing — even traumatic — experiences. During the worst of times, the anxiety and stress would wreak havoc on my emotional and physical health. Then it would become a vicious cycle spiraling downward. Took a while, but I finally came up with an effective way to avoid the unnecessary headaches.
Create and maintain buffers.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll define “buffer” as:
1. a thing that prevents incompatible or antagonistic people or things from coming into contact with or harming each other.
“family and friends can provide a buffer against stress”
synonyms: cushion, bulwark, shield, barrier, guard, safeguard
“a buffer against market fluctuations”
I began rethinking buffers after reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, where he describes the disciplined pursuit of less but better. Critical to this pursuit is the ability to create buffers that afford us emotional breathing room. Within that space we are also better able to think strategically.
Consistently maintaining buffers in my relationships with people, time and money has had a compound effect on my overall quality of life.
Relationships with people — family, friends, coworkers, followers, etc. — are give and take. As Covey would say, you have an emotional bank account with each person in your life. Investments of your time and attention to that person make deposits into the emotional bank account. Occasionally you may need to make a withdrawal because of neglect, or simply because you need a favor.
Making deposits can be as easy as showing that you care, and truly listening when others don’t. Recognizing someone’s effort even if the results were disappointing. Remembering personal details. (I like addressing people by name even though we only met once before.) It doesn’t take much. Just a little effort where others don’t usually bother. Random acts of kindness. Establish trust with empathy and integrity. Make deposits regularly.
Make time and the effort to maintain a healthy balance in the emotional bank accounts of the key people in your life. When forgiveness is needed, you won’t be overdrawn. In other times of need, they’ll be there to help without being asked. It’s not about the number of connections you have. It’s about the quality of those relationships that count.
There was a time in my life when I was late for everything: family parties, doctor appointments, work…you name it. By incorporating buffers into my time blocks, punctuality is now easier by design. Instead of scheduling everything back to back, I also block out enough time between meetings, appointments and other responsibilities to accommodate the unexpected.
For example, as much as I try to get done in the morning, knowing when to stop and consistently leaving early for work dramatically reduces any commuting stress. If there happens to be an accident or unusual congestion, I’m still on time. When conditions are normal, I’ve got ample time to mentally switch gears before jumping into a productive workday. Planning for adequate lead time sets the right tone to start the day which has a positive ripple effect on the rest.
Find a scheduling strategy that works best for you. I recommend time blocking — per Gary Keller and Jay Papasan in their book, The One Thing — based around your priorities.
“ Designing your life starts with designing your days.”
— Srinivas Rao
Srinivas Rao also wrote a useful article on ‘Why Calendars are More Effective Than To-do Lists.’
Proactively use your calendar to schedule not only your priority activities but your transitions and down time as well.
When I first started my career many many years ago, I would live paycheck to paycheck. And because of credit, I would often spend more than I had. When large unplanned expenses would pop up, I’d be at a complete loss. By the time I was married and expecting our first child, I knew things had to change. While I personally didn’t mind eating ramen to make it to the next paycheck, my wife and child deserved much better.
Fortunately, my wife is much more fiscally responsible than I am. While I was primarily focused on the percentage growth of our year-over-year income, she continued to save, invest and diversify. As CFO of our household, she has managed our money well and established a healthy buffer for rainy days.
The past year or so, it’s been raining. After my Career Break, I deliberately chose a different career path which brought our annual household income from six figures down to just above the Federal Poverty Level. If it weren’t for our financial buffer, we wouldn’t have been able to afford that decision. (And yes, more than a year later, it still feels like the right choice. We may make less, but life is better.)
This is what has worked for us:
- Leveraging the compound effect wherever we invest time and money
- Creating multiple streams of income including forms of passive income
- Having many egg baskets but choosing our baskets wisely
- Living well below our means
- Building a runway (enough savings to last a year without income)
- Thinking long term
My Dad once told me, “It’s not how much you make. It’s how much you keep.” I agree. The more I think about it, it’s really a combination of both. You can’t keep what you don’t already have, so I work hard to continue building that financial cushion. My wife always makes sure we keep enough for everything our family might need in the long term. This usually means making disciplined trade-offs and delay of immediate gratification.
Like I mentioned with scheduling buffers, when it comes to finances, find a way that works well for your individual circumstances. Financial Samurai suggests that “The Best Way To Gain Financial Security Is To Develop Financial Buffers For Your Financial Buffers”
The Buffer Benefits
Space for Uncommon Sense
You would think all of this is common sense but from what I can see, not enough people act on it. This actually helps those who do. The space is less crowded. It’s easier to stand out and get ahead. Unlike the masses in the mainstream who get caught up in the current, people who create and maintain buffers only flow with the main stream when the current is taking them where they want to go. Otherwise, they slip away on their own to yin when others yang and to ebb while others overflow. It’s in this space where they strategically choose the vital few over the trivial many.
The Compound Effect
By getting started and taking even small yet persistent steps, you can build momentum. Habit fuels a virtuous cycle spiraling up. In the long game, you experience the compound effect of focusing on less but better.
Buffers are like life insurance. You don’t think you need them. Until you do. Life rarely goes as planned. Give yourself some cushion just in case.
Today I continue to face daily challenges with my relationships to people, time and money. Fortunately, safeguards are in place. If ever I veer off course, I catch myself sooner and course correct earlier. And because of the buffer, I avoid accidentally colliding with anything.
Respect the people around you by giving them both time and space when needed. Healthy relationships maintain a healthy balance (as in emotional bank accounts).
Value your time and the time of others by scheduling and committing to the important things with enough flexibility to accommodate downtime and the spontaneous.
And continue to insulate your finances for those rainy days. When it pours, you’ll be ready.
Creating buffers in these essential areas of life make room for peace of mind and abundance.