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Video: No, for now (but not for later) = postponing the "yes" for better time

advance priorities the ladder video May 23, 2017

My cousin Jonathan is one of the smartest guys I know. Especially to be so young. Over a decade-and-a-half my junior, my first memory of him comes from my now-deceased grandmother’s house in Tarrant City, a small bedroom community just outside of downtown Birmingham.

One Christmas I walked to through the neighbor’s yard, tossing a football or build-and-toss styrofoam airplane or some other Christmas gift contraption… 

I noticed that the neighbor had HUGE leaves attached to a random plant on the front left corner of their home’s flower bed. They were the kind of leaves you see adorning Adam and Eve in kids’ picture Bibles. 

Like any well-meaning college freshman that’s more impressed with himself than reality, I snapped a leaf off the plant, tucked the stem in my belt, and walked around the corner of the house, wearing my leaf just like Adam might have done after The Fall.

Four or five minutes later, Jonathan emerged from the same home doing the same thing, sticking loudly and smiling widely.

Yes, we were both fully clothed. And, no, I never told him to adorn the leaf. But, of course, I got a half-smirked scolding from the aunts the more and more the story spread over the next fifteen minutes or so.

I also remember playing “Go Fish” with Jonathan after Grandmother- that’s what we called her- moved to her new house. Turns out the grandkids ate at the 14-foot dining room table every holiday, consigning all the adults to the kitchen table. At the old house, the one where the leaf-episode happened, the kitchen table WAS the dining room table. All the adults (Grandmother's grown kids = my parents and my aunts and uncles) ate there proudly while the grandkids fended for themselves… 

Grandmother acquired the new table for the new home. That first Christmas, the adults went- on auto-pilot- to their former table. The grandkids, well… we all migrated to the new, bigger table. 

One side of our new table backed to a huge window overlooking the side yard. The other backed up to a wall with a massive mirror. That’s where the game of Go Fish happened. 

Sitting with his back to the mirror, Jonathan continued fishing from my hand in vain.

“Do you have any Jacks?” he asked. 

I didn’t, but I could clearly see from the mirror over his shoulder that he did. He was in elementary school when this game occurred; I was about to finish college. 

“I’ll take your Jack of Hearts,” I told him.

“Dawg,” he said, and he handed it over…

Then- “What about an Ace?” he fished. “Do you have any Aces?” 

I didn’t, but I knew he had another Jack. “What about that Jack of Spades? Do you have him?” I asked. And, of course, yes… he did :-)


Fast forward, the little boy grows up

Over a decade later, I found myself working side-by-side with Jonathan in the nonprofit world. He had grown, like Jesus- in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). He has an incredible eye for detail, the ability to think through processes and systems, and is full of honor and integrity. 

He spent a few of his post-college years working at Apple, where he further refined some of his skills. As such, he often gleaned form his experience there.

“When we were having monthly reviews,” he told me, “we used to talk about this concept of Start-Stop-Continue.”

He explained that most of us have a few things we’ve been putting off for a while. Sure, he first learned the concept as it relates to the work environment, but he quickly applied it to every area of life. 

* Maybe you've been putting off going to the dentist to get that tooth fixed- or postponing a routine check up for fear of what you'll find 

* Taking charge of our health and actually getting out of bed an hour earlier to exercise

* Tucking our kids in bed by setting the television or iPhone aside and reading them a book. You get the idea…

“We need to pick a date, calendar it, and actually START those things,” Jonathan explained. “If you don’t calendar it, it just won’t happen. Pick a time and start it. If you can’t start today, which is always the best, write down when you will…”


Reality check- the schedule is already full

The reality is that most of us have full schedules. Whatever we have on our “to do” list generally swells to fill every available second of space. And, if there are any gaps- if there is any margin- it gets consumed with fluff unless we adamantly cut the fluff out. 

“In order to start something, most people have to STOP doing a few things,” he explained. “There’s almost always a tradeoff.”

Think back to two of the examples above- 

* You can’t START exercising in the morning unless you STOP sleeping in

* You can’t START tucking the kids into bed (which always takes way longer than you imagine, right?) unless you STOP fiddling with your gadgets during that time

“Of course, there are things that are the RIGHT things… and you’ve got to protect those,” he added. “When I was talking to  co-workers during my monthly reviews, I always asked them which things they needed to make sure they CONTINUE doing. This often became a time to affirm that they were on the right track with some things…

He elaborated that some of them were working on long-term projects. Without encouragement and an outside voice affirming them, sometimes it’s easy to let those things slip…

* Continue the morning meditation or prayer time

* Continue prepping for the entrance exam to grad school

* Continue reaching out to the estranged family member 

In other words, to quote the apostle Paul, “Don’t grow weary in doing good- the harvest is coming” (Galatians 6:9). 

Jonathan’s concept is so simple- and so deeply good- that I actually use it at a men’s weekend workshop that I help lead twice a year (see for more info).

Here's the graphic from a slide we use where men actually take 5-minutes during the session to create a working list.




Further definition on what it might mean to stop; postpone the "yes"

As I’ve ruminated on the concept over and over, twisting and tweaking it to match my needs at specific times in life, I’ve added more to the START-STOP-CONTINUE exercise (which, by the way, I do a few times a year). 

Let me give you the back story on this one…

A few years ago I was driving to Atlanta, Georgia for a meeting with a church leader. I don’t suppose the road I was on is important, but the pre-recorded talk I was listening to on my mp3 player is. Somewhere about 2/3 of the way to my destination, I listened to Andy Stanley discuss the “No-for-now-but-not-for-later” idea on his leadership podcast. 

He said something like this, “There are often great things we want to do, but they’re things we can’t take on right now. Our schedule is simply too full and life is too busy. If we take them on, we won’t be able to enjoy those things, and the priorities currently in play will suffer…”

He described how, for some things, we say “Yes” to them, but we postpone that “Yes” for a future time…

In other words, there are certainly some things you need to “quit forever.” That is, things you’ll never do again (i.e., a few years ago when I looked in the mirror, saw I was 35-pounds-plus-overweight and decided to drop it, I gave up Venti Starbucks White Chocolate Mochas with added Caramel forever. Sleeping in late became another “stop forever” for me, so that I could focus on exercising to get back in shape!).

There are also things you should quit… but just for a season… just long enough to free up time to focus on your dream or whatever priority is at hand (i.e., one seasons we gave up soccer and a few other scheduled activities so we could keep our nights and weekends flexible for a new business Cristy had just launched).

These No-for-now-not-for-later items are things you stop temporarily, due to your current priorities, dreams, and circumstances. In other words, you simply postpone the experience of the yes to a better time and place!

Here’s an easy example that will help you understand this. If you were a teen in a Southern Baptist Church in the late 80s or early 90s (like me), you likely remember the “True Love Waits” campaign. The three word battle cry of chastity encouraged teenagers to save sex until marriage. Basically, though they didn’t use our phrase, sex was a “No-for-now-but-not-for-later” experience. 

See how it works?


A time-tested concept about managing your time

We even see this concept in the Bible. For instance, when soldiers were married, they were encouraged to stop fighting- for a year. War became a No-for-now-not-for-later for them, so that they might spend 365 days with their new bride, getting their home in order (see Deuteronomy 24:5).

Last Fall, my family found ourselves in a tough season emotionally. We found ourselves in the middle of several issues- all at once- that we never thought we’d face. Some were things that were in our control; others were things over which we had no control. 

I felt like we simply needed to put a pause button a lot of the extracurricular activities we had scheduled, so that we could just hunker down and rally together rather than running in fifteen different directions each week. 

I remember taking Ivey, our second oldest daughter, to the coffee shop to talk to her about gymnastics. She’d been taking classes for a few years and was good. Moreover, she was hitting her stride, that moment where things start clicking and you begin growing in skill exponentially. 

In words that she could understand, I explained that gymnastics needed to be a “No-for-now-but-not-for-later.” That is, it was still a “Yes,” but it was something we needed to postpone. We didn’t need to drive around town a few nights each week, shuttling to and from lessons. We didn’t need two weekends each month filled with tournaments.

“This is just for a few months,” I told her. Then, “We can start taking lessons again in January, if you’d like.”

Right now, there are writing projects I want to explore. There are skills I want to acquire. There are classes and courses I want to create. There's a podcast I would love to host once again. But, due to where we are in life, those things don’t get time and space. 

They all receive a “Yes,” but it’s a “Yes” with a footnote. An asterisk. Additional explanation and planning needed. Those things are all “No-for-now-but-not-for-later.”

Understanding that a “No” doesn’t have to be permanent is actually freeing. You see, it enables me to focus on the tasks at hand- at what’s on my plate right now. And, it simultaneously encourages me to know that I’m not missing out on something. I’ve simply chosen to postpone the enjoyment of that thing until I can more fully experience it with greater freedom in the future. 

How does this with with the aforementioned START-STOP-CONTINUE exercise? Well, here's the graphic we use at the men's Advance where we teach this in a full session...

A few minutes ago I told you about Jonathan's START-STOP- CONTINUE exercise. Let's just look at the "STOP" portion.

First, there are items on your STOP list- and mine- that are ABSOLUTELY a STOP FOREVER. We drop them, deciding we'll never do them again. They may not be sin-issues (i.e., porn, flirting with the secretary, etc.), they may simply be unwise choices (like two white chocolate mochas a day).

Second, there are items on your STOP list- and mine- that aren’t a STOP-FOREVER, they’re simply STOP-FOR-NOW. That is, they’re “No-for-now-but-not-for-later” issues. List them. Keep them on the back burner. Pray them in even while you focus on the important matters at hand.

As well, we could also say that there are items that you WANT to be on the START list… that, well… they’re dreams placed inside of you by God Himself. But maybe you’re in a season of waiting on those things so that you can more fully experience other things NOW and  more readily enjoy those dreams later. Those might find their way onto the "No-for-now-not-for-later" list, too- even though we haven't developed that graphic :-)

One of my “No-for-now-but-not-for-later” dreams is to grab an RV, map a large portion of the U.S., and take my kids on a month-or-more-long tour to see some of the highlights of history. To achieve that, we’ve got to get our business in a place where we can afford to work from the road in the same way that we now work from home. 

We don’t do that dream now. We choose to focus on other things. Yet this dream is definitely a YES, WE ARE DOING THIS! It's just temporarily in the “No-for-now-but-not-for-later” portion of life. That means I don't spend time planning the trip, I don't read reviews about the kind of RV to take... the dream occupies no more mental space that simply being a dream at this point.  That said, I have full confidence that, one day, I’ll write, shoot video, and host a few online classes from the road- even as Cristy stops in several cities to teach classes with her health and wellness biz associates. 


The hardest part

Let me give you a quick heads up. “Stopping” some things may be the most difficult part of this entire process. 

In some sense, we carry a “sunk-cost” mentality with us that mitigates against quitting anything in which we’ve invested time, energy, and especially money. The more we’ve invested any of those three resources into something, the more likely we are to feel that we’ve got to “suck it up” and make it work. 

It’s why people stay in dysfunctional or dead-end relationships during the dating years. Even though you know it’s time to move on, it’s hard to when you’ve invested so much time and emotional energy.

It’s also why people are less likely to walk away from a TV series midway through the season- too much time invested already, even if the show is a time-drainer. We have to know what happens, right? That’s why series writers leave us with amazing cliff-hangers that reveal more questions than answers at the end of each season. Our emotional investment keeps us hooked, long after we should let go. 

That said, you should expect emotional kickback when you start setting activities on the chopping block. It’s a normal part of the process. 

Furthermore, don’t be surprised when other people push back, too- particularly when your decisions defy their norms. 

For instance…

* People are always shocked that we don’t watch network television. It’s not that it's bad, it’s just that we don't have time for something to dictate our weekly schedule.

* Others have been frustrated that we're not involved with a “small group” at our church. Again, it’s a scheduling issue. Right now, the priority is handling a few things the kids want to do. (Sound crazy? Remember- you get to dictate your priorities, not someone else.)

Some people will suggest you should do more with Instagram, Pinterest, or some other form of social media. Maybe you would, maybe you shouldn't. But, again, you get to decide. And it needs to fit around your Quadrant 4 activities (not theirs).

Remember the Quadrants?



The reality of tradeoffs is a real deal. If I’m here I can’t be there. If I’m reading a book I can’t be running a marathon. If I’m watching a television show I can’t be emotionally engaged in a conversation with my sons or daughters. If I’m in parenting mode I can’t be in husband mode (which is why my wife and I take a date night every single week).


My guess is that you’re schedule is full. Already. There’s more to do each day than there is “day” to to it. If we want to visualize it like the graphic above, you find yourself standing atop the box, madly trying to smash everything there is to do into that box just so you can get it shut. 

When life gets too full for me, stuff spills out of the box. 

* Sometimes it spills in the form of things that don’t get done, commitments that don’t get kept

* Sometimes it spews and sounds like a short temper, snippy words, an emotional edge

* Sometimes it steamrolls out… and I “power through” the day, plowing over the people most important to me

* Sometimes it stalls… I freeze up, become emotionally numb, and just “check out” due to the overwhelm of it all (i.e., back to iPhone video games, mind-numbing Internet surfing, binge watching Netflix, and actually ADDING things to the day that push me further behind)

That's when we have to make some tough decisions...  

We’ve learned that temporarily stopping some things is healthy. It gives us a chance to breathe, to rest, to experience Sabbath on a new level. 

And, I’ll be honest with you. There are some things that we really enjoyed, then temporarily stopped, and then decided never to start back. Ivey decided not to go back to gymnastics. Maybe she will in the future, maybe she won't. 

The pause button- coupled with the freedom to start anew whenever we wanted to- created a beautiful moment when we were able to assess life in that moment and consider, “Hmmm… that was fun for that season. Maybe we’ll do it again one day… but let’s not rush back into it right now. Let’s enjoy some other things…”

Time is a limited resource. And though we’re eternal creatures, the kind of time we experience now is in shorter and shorter supply.

Energy… well…it’s renewable… but it requires moments of rest. Breaks. Pauses. 

Focus… being present. Being fully engaged and connected. Being in the moment rather than leaning into the next prematurely…

Let’s just say agree that decluttering the schedule gives us moments when we can enjoy the present more fully and engage more completely. 



You might also like to review the following...

- The post on The Four Quadrants- it will help you determine which activities are the most important and which activities are the ones you can- or should- cut. 



Or the post on “Less is More”- which will show you that there are a few things in your life that give you the biggest bang for the buck. 



Or, The Ladder, the teaching workshop where we teach this material in full.

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