If you’re looking to be challenged on the time you spend on the home front, look no further than Drop the Ball: Expect Less From Yourself and Flourish in Work and Life by Tiffany Dufu.
Dufu shares her personal story as an ambitious young woman weighed down by perfectionism. While striving for balanced responsibilities at home, she learns to question her ideals, see her own blind spots and the benefits of trusting others.
Here’s how you can action the hard-won strategies that took Dufu from exhausted and frustrated to contentedly imperfect.
1. Understand your role
Check for self-sabotage
Dufu’s first step was recognising that she had “Home Control Disease”. Despite scoffing at the concept of women’s traditional role at home, she would obsess over every aspect of home and family management, making delegation very difficult. Facing the extent of this was confronting, but ultimately empowering.
When considering your burden of domestic demands, check whether:
- You subscribe to the false efficiency of doing everything yourself
- Your requirements for what, when and how things should be done are truly justified; and/or
- The information or stuff required for tasks is accessible to others.
Find your why
Next, reflect on what matters most (consistent with Laura Vanderkam’s core competencies concept). Dufu completes a series of exercises to clarify the legacy she’d like to leave, the gifts she brings to the world, and how she wants to spend her time.
- Define what is your highest and best use
- Tasks that are not aligned to that purpose are delegatable
- Provide this context when asking for help, so your delegate understands how they’re supporting your success
“I had things backwards. I should be looking at my list with an eye to the obligations I couldn’t delegate.”
MY ACTION: There was a time when I vacuumed under the highchairs after every meal and bathed screaming kids every night (settling bedtime routine?!). I believed tasks like these made me a better wife and mum. The transition from full-time parent to time management coach forced me to question the requirements and standards I'd created for household and family management. I'm thankful for my perfectly-logical husband who always encouraged me to drop the ball – he's been pivotal to fast-tracking the shift. And while it's not always pleasant having someone point out the rod you've made for your own back, it's empowering to realise it's within your control.
2. Understand others’ roles
Ever drawn out a spreadsheet of who does what in your household? Dufu lists all the tasks she could think of, then chats with her husband about their assignment. The process is unexpectedly eye-opening.
Working through this with your household could reveal:
- There are tasks you rarely think about, because someone else is quietly getting them done
- Some tasks can be made easier (virtually, automated)
- Some tasks don’t need doing at all.
Dufu and her husband recruit a village of supporters, at first to help during a challenging period of overseas work. These were generally local, unpaid allies who had capacity and willingness to help out, in return for genuine gratitude and appreciation.
Consider your potential village:
- Kids’ friends’ families
- Mature community members
- Locals whose expertise matches your need
- Non-locals who could help virtually
- Paid household or childcare support (these were last-resort options for Dufu).
MY ACTION: I was thrilled at the news that some of our church friends, with similar-aged kids, were moving to our local area. While the social benefits were first to mind, it's been exciting to explore the possibilities for us to support each other practically too. There have already been opportunities for us to cover each other when someone's running late to pick up a child, and I'm looking forward to reciprocal date-night sitting and playdates as childcare substitutes.
3. Delegate with joy
A real breakthrough is Dufu’s step from “imaginary delegation” to “delegating with joy”. This is the recognition sometimes we act like we’re handing a task over, but fail to truly let go.
- Done is another person’s perfect
- New contributors bring new ideas (they may be better than yours!)
- Genuine gratitude, expressed on their terms, affirms your trust in them
This scene stayed with me:
“Our front door-buzzer rang…It was Martin from the dry cleaners. I must have looked confused.
“Your husband asked me to deliver.”
“Martin, I’ve been bringing my clothes to you for nearly two years now. How come you never told me you guys deliver?”
“You never asked.”
4. Look after yourself
Once you have lightened your own to do list, Dufu recommends reinvesting that time in your own success and happiness. Specifically, ‘The Four Go-Tos’:
- Going to exercise (building your stamina)
- Going to lunch (building your network)
- Going to events (building your visibility)
- Going to sleep (building your renewal)
“I arrived back in New York a better wife and mother, harnessing another level of appreciation about what it means to Drop the Ball.”
MY ACTION: Of The Four Go-Tos, my priority is sleep. I've experimented with my sleep consistency over the past 2 years to learn more about what body needs, and what I can get away with. I found the more consecutive nights with a fixed bedtime, the more forgiving my body is when I have an off-routine night (research supports this). A surprising bonus: I need fewer hours sleep when my bedtime is consistent. Time spent on my networks has also proven more valuable than I expected. I've found the start-up community generous with their support, contributing to my development as well as my business success. This generates a positive cycle that's ultimately good for us all.
Looking for support to define your ‘time well spent’, and make changes that last? Chat with Jenna about developing a time strategy, targeted to your time data, goals and lifestyle.