As a Parent, Learning to Say ‘No’ Keeps Your Focus on the Right Things

We’ve all heard the saying that time is our most valuable asset. What you don’t realize until you become a parent is just how easy it can be to squander that asset.

How does this happen? In my experience, so much of our time is wasted each day because we have a hard time saying no. Schedules get crammed with things that don’t matter and that, honestly, we don’t want to do. How many times have you sat in a meeting that could have been summarized in an email? It’s time vampires like this that leads to broken promises, missed opportunities, and mountains of frustration. Say “yes” to too many things and watch how quickly your time management begins to spiral out of control.

Andy Stanley, the founder of North Point Ministries, has a quote that’s helped me big time with this: “You have to trust that what you don’t do will multiply what you do do.”

I love that quote because if we can become masters at saying no, it will allow us to focus on doing the right things right. That’s such an important concept for us as fathers to grasp because every one of those “no’s” brings us closer to our best “yes.”

I’ve never regretted missing a business meeting or skipping a round of golf to watch my kid’s game, attend a school performance, or surprise my kids for lunch.

My best “yes” is my family, end of story. I’m sure you feel the same way.

So, how do we get better at saying no in a world constantly demanding we say yes? In this article, I’ll show you a few easy ways to keep your focus on the right things.

Put Everything in Your Calendar

Here’s a fact I live by: if it’s not on my calendar, it’s not happening! This is the best way I’ve found to guard my availability against time vampires and ensure I deliver on my promises. When you time block on your calendar (digital or paper works fine), you’re able to create optimal days and weeks that are free of meaningless distractions.

I also don’t have separate calendars for work and life, either, because I don’t want to isolate those two areas of my life. By combining work and life calendars, my coworkers can see when I’m busy with my family, like the one day a week I’m joining my kids for lunch at school. If it’s on my calendar, that time is sacred and preserved.

Schedule Time with Your Kids

If what I just said is true (and it is), then if I want to spend quality time one-on-one with my kids, I need to schedule it. Perfect example: I do daddy-daughter date nights once a month with my daughter, Hayden. It was so fun when Hayden was younger to say, “Hey Hayden, what’s your calendar look like this month for daddy-daughter date night?”

She would get out her little play calendar, which was wide open, of course, yet she’d act like her schedule was full and she had to “fit me in!” We’d always laugh at those moments, but I know she felt valued when I opened my calendar and blocked off time just for her.

My boys took the opposite, telling me: “Dad, we don’t need to look. We’re wide open.” But they sure liked it when I committed to coach flag football for them this year. For the two nights a week they practiced or had games, it was on my calendar and blocked off.

Intentional Scheduling Becomes a Habit

I know what some of you are saying at this point: “But Justin, you don’t understand, my schedule is insane! I don’t have time to make those type of commitments.” I would say you can’t afford not to make scheduling your children a priority.

As a busy executive with an insane schedule, I can empathize with the challenge of scheduling and the time demands placed on most fathers today. I’ll be vulnerable with you for a minute and share the secret to how I changed this situation in my own family. I simply got sick and tired of breaking promises to my children. I examined my life and put things into four buckets to include faith, family, fitness, and finances. If it doesn’t fit into those four categories it most likely won’t make my calendar. If an item that’s outside of those four categories does make my calendar it’s going to be after I’ve prioritized my big four. I simply started being intentional about what I allowed on my calendar. I said “no” to stuff that didn’t really matter to me and started saying “yes” to the opportunities that did.

You don’t have to put this off until the start of a new month or even make a wholesale change in your schedule. Start by picking one thing that snuck onto your calendar this week—something that doesn’t matter to you and take it off your calendar. In its place, schedule some intentional time with your kids.

What you’ll find is that the more you do this, the more your schedule will become filled with what matters most and that you’ll automatically de-prioritize what matters least.

Don’t Forget Your Calling as a Parent

Parenting is among the most important work you’ll do in your life. This fact helps me when I have competing time on my calendar because I’m not willing to go to my daughter and say, “Hey, sweetheart, we’ve got to push off date night because I have to take on this project at work.” I know if I open that door once, I’ll find it very hard to close.

It’s never easy to tell someone no, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Now, I’m not saying you have to be so staunch about it that it’s like, “No, no, no, no; the only thing I do is be a parent.” That’s not what I’m saying here, but with all the other things pulling at you, it’s vital that you learn to say no to almost anything that isn’t essential.

I’ve taken a viewpoint in my life where I’ll have plenty of time to socialize, play golf, watch sports, etc, when my kids have left the home.

You Don’t Have to Forsake Your Social Life

When you look at the four buckets I’ve outlined in my life you see that friendships aren’t one of my big four. I’ve had to adjust my social life because of that, and my friends have taken a backseat on more than one occasion, but I’ve still found ways to make it work. How? I create social opportunities that include other families with children or other dads and their kids.

You don’t have to eliminate everything from your life just because you’re a father, it just takes a little thought about how to blend your kids and your social life together.

Maybe your son doesn’t play golf, but he loves driving the cart and hunting for golf balls in the woods. Your kids just want to be included in what you’re doing and enjoy seeing you with your friends, which is a valuable experience in and of itself.

If done well, the best part of owning your schedule are the times when you do say yes to something that doesn’t include your children, like a trip with your wife or a men’s weekend. The tension you normally feel by being gone is virtually eliminated and in fact, you may find your kids are excited for you to go and have the experience.

For more advice on saying yes to what truly matters in your life, you can find the book Daddy Saturday on Amazon, and learn more about Justin Batt here.

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