The Freedom of No

Keep your life in balance

Instead of searching for the next productivity hack so you can continue to do it all, become more intentional about what you put on your plate in the first place.  It's crammed full because you keep saying yes.

But there's freedom to be found in learning to say no.  No is a word that establishes boundaries and saves your time and energy for the things that are important to you.

As more and more people receive the Covid vaccine and restrictions are gradually loosening, many of us are once again becoming busier.

And isn't this a good thing?  Children and teens are once again enjoying at least some time in the classroom with teachers and classmates, and some activities, especially outdoor team sports like softball and soccer (football).  In my area, people are once again going out to restaurants and movie theaters (still keeping a distance from others).  We attended church inside on Easter Sunday (wearing masks and leaving space between ourselves and other worshippers).  The San Francisco Symphony has announced that they will give live performances in Davies Symphony Hall in May and June (with reduced audience size to maximize physical distancing).  Many more opportunities are just around the corner.

Of course we should rejoice!  We're beginning to emerge from a dark time.  But part of me doesn't want to.

During this past year, my husband and I spent almost all of our evenings together, watching movies, playing games, taking walks, or working side by side (he on virtual lessons for his 6th grade students; me on writing and publishing four books).  We couldn't physically visit family members, but we had many long phone calls and video chats.  I wrote more letters and sent more cards.  I read more books.  Surprisingly, I enjoyed the lack of pressure to warm up and rehearse (I'm an operatic singer), and found myself not only listening to a lot more music, but singing (when I felt like singing) for the fun of it, rather than as an obligation. 

This situation of fewer time demands and greater appreciation for simpler pastimes may be coming to an end as we all hurl ourselves back into the go-go-go lifestyle so common before the Covid era.

Make no mistake, I'm more than ready to actually hug my kids and grandkids, and after years (I have to admit) of less and less enthusiasm, rehearsing with a choir might even be fun once again.  But I'd like to make the case for re-entering the hustle and bustle slowly and intentionally, retaining the freedom to say no – no to being constantly stressed and hyper-busy, and no to optional tasks that pull me away from what I really want to do.

8 Ways to Use the Freedom of No

1.  Consider your purpose.

What do you really want to accomplish with your one life?  When you come to the end of it, what memories and achievements will give you most satisfaction?  How do you need to live so that you will be remembered as the person you really want to be?  What is your legacy?  I can tell you it's not your possessions or your awards, but your character and your love.

Which activities, of those available, will contribute to your purpose?  Forget the others.

2.  Plan free time.

It's stressful and exhausting to be constantly on the go, so establish blocks of down time on your calendar.  Give yourself a chance to anticipate and prepare for a busier afternoon or evening by making it a bit rarer.  Leave that margin so you have more energy and fresher ideas for the obligations you choose to undertake.

3.  Acknowledge limits.

Free yourself from the illogic of the fear of missing out.  You are finite, your time and energy are finite – you cannot do everything.  So yes, you are going to miss some things.  So is everyone else.  It's okay!

So having admitted that, set limits.  Let your child choose one after-school activity, not something for every day.  Limit the number of meetings or social activities you accept.  Set a specific limit on when you will have an outside obligation, say three evenings per week.  Then relax about everything you've chosen not to do.

4.  Observe a day of rest.

Whether it's Sunday or another day (and if you teach Sunday School or direct the choir, it needs to be another day), give yourself and your family one day a week when you have no obligations.  Then you have the freedom to spontaneously choose an activity you enjoy or that really captures your attention.  Or you can simply rest.

5.  Leave room for the unexpected.

It's happened to all of us.  You have an appointment to get to but you really need to use the restroom.  Or your child's practice runs long, so you wind up late to the meeting you scheduled right after it.  Or you're supposed to meet your sister downtown but need to gas up the car before you can go anywhere.

It's a fact – plans don't always go smoothly.  You know this.  So stop acting like a machine and leave some wiggle room between each appointment so you don't have to blow a gasket if traffic or a toddler just won't cooperate.  And if you don't need the extra time, you'll be running a little early – calm, cool, collected, and with a moment to breathe and give thanks.

6.  Delegate.

You don't have to be personally responsible for everything!  Teach your children to perform regular chores, share cooking or laundry with your partner, team up with a colleague on a project.

7.  Set your intention.

If you've decided an activity or project is worth doing, don't let yourself be sidetracked by the unnecessary.  Turn off alerts and save checking email for two or three specific times a day.  Close your browser and stop going down those rabbit holes of "research."  Schedule tasks, get started, and stay focused.

8.  Release perfectionism.

Stop comparing yourself to others.  Remember that social media posts only show the tip of the iceberg, not the full reality of anyone's life.  Let someone else's perfect-looking house or kids or life go, and focus on doing what you need to do the best you can.

Without boundaries, we can be overwhelmed, and the quality of all our activities will suffer.  Say no so you can focus on what really matters to you.

For more:  How to Say No

And even more:  The Minimalist Tool Kit: Habits and Strategies to Help You Find Freedom and Happiness With Less (paid link)

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash


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