How to Achieve More by Doing Less: A Conversation with Tiffany Dufu


This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen had the good fortune to talk with Tiffany Dufu, author of the new memoir/manifesto Drop the Ball: Achieve More by Doing Less. Listen to the their conversation using the red player on this page. You'll hear Tiffany's remarkable story, including:

  • How a hilarious encounter with a pile of three months' worth of mail growing on her kitchen counter taught a powerful lesson about trusting your partner and truly letting go
  • How to challenge myths and assumptions about men's capabilities and women's roles, and how to "rewrite the job descriptions" for the better
  • Why an unglamorous Excel spreadsheet of household tasks turned gender norms on its head and turned Tiffany and her husband into a true, all-in team and fueled an ecosystem of helpful, committed neighbors and friends
  • How Tiffany traded an attractive kitchen faucet for the bandwidth to raise millions of dollars for non-profits, write a book, and much more

Savvy Psychologist: In your book, you challenge the notion that in order to have it all, women have to do it alltherefore, the title of your book is Drop the Ball: Achieve More by Doing Less. Under normal circumstances, dropping the ball is a bad thing, screwing up because of our own negligence. But you have a different definition.

Tiffany Dufu: I used to be someone who was terrified of dropping the ball, which is why I was the person who needed to write a book called Drop the Ball. And in all transparency, I didn’t just decide I was going to drop the ball; what happened was that I felt that I was performing flawlessly at home and at work, and then this life-changing event happened —the birth of my first child—and my first day back from maternity leave was a disaster. I started to get very overwhelmed and stressed, and I didn’t know how to get the help that I needed, and eventually I did the one thing that I was most terrified of doing: dropping the ball.

I stopped being able to respond to phone calls and emails and parking tickets and birthday invitations in the way that I felt was so important in order for me to be a decent human being. And what I discovered is that the world doesn’t fall apart. No one came to read me my Miranda rights because I hadn’t paid the parking ticket, no one called me to say they weren’t going to be my friend anymore. So for me, dropping the ball is less about making a mistake or failing to take timely action; for me, dropping the ball is about releasing unrealistic expectations that you were supposed to do it all in the first place.

SP: Here at Savvy Psych, we’re all about giving our readers and listeners concrete tips to make their lives happier and healthier. I loved that in your book, you didn’t just tell us what the problems were, you told us how you and your husband and this entire village of people who love you fixed them. Can we walk through one of those stories?

TD: Yes! I used to think it was very important for me to retrieve the mail from the mailbox every day and to sort the mail so that it didn’t pile up. But I reached a point in my evolution where I decided to delegate with joy this task to my husband. It occurred to me that he could actually check the mail, he has a key to the mailbox, and so I did. And like a very wonderful husband he gave me a kiss on the forehead and agreed. The next day, he went to the mailbox, he retrieved the mail, and he set it on the kitchen counter, but he didn’t open an envelope. This happened the next day as well, and I, in this process of trying to drop the ball, decided not to say anything. Well unfortunately, a lot of other things were happening in our lives—my husband had to leave, I was trying to manage a toddler while finding out I was pregnant, working full time—and the mail piled up to such a degree that I swear it started talking to me. It was three months of unopened mail that eventually was sitting on top of our kitchen counter.

In the beginning, the voice that I heard would try to make me feel terrible about not managing the mail. But over time, my anxiety about the mail started to wane as all the consequences I feared regarding the mail just didn’t happen. The irony was that when my husband came home and saw three month’s worth of unopened mail literally spilling over our kitchen counter, for the first time in our relationship, he seemed stressed about the mail, and he spent the next 48 hours shredding paper and being on the phone dealing with the implications of that action. So what it taught me is that everyone has a threshold, and I had never tested my husband’s threshold before; but when I did, he showed me that he could handle it. And the other big lesson is that the ball doesn’t actually pass to someone else just because it’s delegated; it has to actually drop in order for someone else to pick it up.

Listen to the whole interview with Tiffany by subscribing to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or listen in the top right hand player of this page. Or get the episode delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the newsletter.

Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu

For more, check out this week's full podcast, and pick up a copy of her new book Drop the Ball, available for purchase at Amazon, Booksamillion, and Barnes & Noble.