As a father, there are times when you may feel like you can’t catch your breath. There always seems to be more to do than the time to do it. We’ve all seen the coffee mugs and T-shirts speaking about the need for twenty-five hours in a day.
Contrary to what seems like public opinion, it’s usually not a lack of time, but rather not having the right priorities that make us feel stressed. What I’ve learned parenting four kids is that being an exceptional father means protecting the margin in your life.
What’s the margin in fatherhood, you ask? It’s creating the space or “breathing room” in your life that allows you need to be an engaged father to your children. In today’s fast-paced society, it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends and get stretched in so many areas that it’s difficult to be the best father you can be.
We’re stretched professionally, financially, physically, mentally, and socially. It’s very easy to get to the point where your bandwidth is so strained that you just have very little left when you get home at the end of the day or when you get to the weekend.
It’s vital you have awareness of the margin in your life and create an allowance for intentional time with your children. Examine your current schedule and pace and be honest with yourself. Are you creating margin so that when you enter the home at the end of the day or when you get to the weekend, you’re bringing energy to the table?
Even for someone who has a high personal velocity, if your RPM gauge is constantly in red, there’s going to be a breakdown. There has to be a conscious effort to plan your ideal week and create periods during the day to create that margin.
I want to share with you how I create margin in my life, and how that margin helps me be a better father. Now, as you read, just know that you don’t have to do exactly what I do to create margin in your life, but you can absolutely take the cornerstone principles and apply them to your life in the way that works for you.
My Morning Routine
When I speak, one of the most common questions I’m asked is “what’s your morning routine?” I’d like to share how I start my day as a few simple practices have changed my life, and perhaps you can take some of what I do and change your life too.
I like to get up early in the morning to do a couple of things that help me create margin in my day. I wake up between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m., make a hot tea and do a devotional, and spend some time in prayer and meditation for about thirty minutes.
By 5:30, I’m dressed and out the door for a daily workout that I Iearned from one of my mentors, Spartan founder Joe De Sena. Next, I work out in my home gym and then finish with a couple mile run. By 6:15, I’m in the house eating breakfast, getting Heather coffee, waking the kids up, and helping them get ready for school.
Mornings used to be such a chaotic and stressful time for our family. It’s still chaos, but it’s more of a controlled chaos now and my morning routine has changed the game for both me and my family. I’ve already created margin by frontloading my day, and now I have space to operate in. While there are four lunches and four book bags to pack, homework to sign off on, breakfast to eat, clothes to iron, and hair to style, I have the time to engage my kids and help Heather during a chaotic time in our household.
As we are getting ready, I often like to ask the kids what their goal is for the day, and then follow-up with them during dinner to see if they accomplished it. Most of the time it’s something simple like not talking in class or getting a good grade on a test.
By getting up early, I’m able to run my day, rather than my day running me. There are so many times when things don’t go as planned during the morning hours getting ready for our day. By creating margin first thing in the morning I have created the extra allowance of bandwidth necessary to handle whatever comes my way.
Simple Ways to Create Morning Margin
Morning margin, as I like to call it, is a powerful tool because it serves as a catalyst for the rest of the day. If I spend time with God first thing in the morning in prayer and meditation I’m far more likely to have increased patience and a sense of purpose during the day. When I work out first thing in the morning, I tend to make better nutritional choices at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Just waking up early provides a sense of pride and accomplishment, and all I did was open my eyes and force myself out of bed!
If you haven’t established a morning routine yet and want to make a big change in your life, just wake up fifteen minutes earlier tomorrow. Do this every day for the next week, and then do the same the following week. If you have trouble not hitting the snooze button, set your phone somewhere away from the bed so you have to physically get up to turn off the alarm. Or spend $15 on Amazon and buy an alarm clock!
Once you’re up, start with something as simple as writing down one thing you’re grateful for each day and progress to reading something that will improve your life.
Now you might not have a home gym, but everybody’s got a pair of running shoes, or you can YouTube exercise videos and do them in your living room. I have found that when I go to the gym, there’s a lot of distractions, so I created a workout area at home.
I want to get in and get out and move on with my day, but do whatever works for you so you can create morning margin and be better equipped to handle the stress of your day. If you’re not already exercising in the morning, then begin by stretching or going for a walk. Listen to podcasts during your exercise time focused on topics of interest to you. The key isn’t necessarily how much you do as much as it is the consistency with which you do it.
Morning Margin Improves the Rest of Your Life
By establishing morning margin in your life, you will begin to see how it leads to the establishment of other positive habits. For example, since I’m early to rise, I have to go to bed early. Therefore, we don’t watch much if any TV in the evenings.
We also only have TVs in the entertainment areas of our home. If you have a TV in your bedroom, I recommend you remove it immediately. When my wife and I went through premarital counseling over fourteen years ago, our counselor told us the bedroom is for three things: sleeping, communicating, and having sex…and TV is not one of the three.
We took his word for it and over a decade later our marriage is much better off thanks to his sage advice. The new challenge we face is the use of mobile phones in the bedroom. My wife and I have made it a pact that we will put up our phones when we walk into the bedroom and place them on chargers away from the bed.
The discipline to not have a TV in the bedroom or use our phones in bed is all driven by the morning margin principle—a true game-changer for our marriage and family.
For more advice on creating margin in your life, you can find the book Daddy Saturday on Amazon.
Justin Batt aims to disrupt fatherhood with intentionality, by creating intentional fathers who raise good kids who become great adults. He founded Daddy Saturday in his own backyard with his four children, and it’s grown into a national movement engaging fathers across multiple channels, including YouTube, social media, the Daddy Saturday book, an Alexa skill, a podcast, merchandise, live events, and a 501(c)(3) foundation, through which Justin plans to impact 10 million fathers in the next 10 years.