How to Achieve More By Doing Less

Better Dufu opening image
We're all taking on too much these days. C.J. Burton/Getty

Each week Dorie Clark, noted strategy consultant, communication coach and professor of business at Duke and Columbia universities, hosts Newsweek's LinkedIn Live interview series Better. She talks to business leaders, authors and founders about the latest innovative ideas and trends and takes questions from viewers of the livestream.

Recently she spoke to entrepreneur Tiffany Dufu, founder and CEO of The Cru, a peer coaching service for women, and author of Drop the Ball: Achieve More By Doing Less. That's an especially timely message now. In a world turned upside down by the pandemic, almost everyone is trying to juggle more than they're used to.

Some highlights from their conversation follow, edited for space and clarity. You can watch the full episode on Newsweek's YouTube channel or tune in to the live show every Thursday at noon ET/9 a.m. PT on LinkedIn Live.

You were ahead of the curve. How did that happen?

I wrote a book called Drop the Ball, because I'm a person who used to be terrified of ever dropping a ball. It basically meant that you were failing to take timely action, that you were disappointing yourself, your family, your community, your boss. In my case, as dramatic as this sounds, I was disappointing the entire Black race.

What happened was that I had a life changing event that caused the person who had always kept all of the balls perfectly in the air have all of them come crashing down. It was the birth of my first child. What happened when I started dropping balls was that all of the things that I always thought would happen, that I was terrified of happening, none of those happened. Armageddon didn't hit. No one called to tell me that they didn't love me anymore. I didn't get fired from my job.

I started to question, "Tiffany, why is it that for so long in your life, you felt all of this pressure to have all of these balls in the air?" That took me on a journey of reappropriating the term. So for me now dropping the ball means that I've let go of my own unrealistic expectations about how I need to keep them all in the air to begin with. I figured out what matters most to me, I figured out what my highest and best use is in achieving what matters most to me. And most importantly, I figured out how to get help from the people who are around me.

How do you begin to draw that line between the balls that are okay to drop and the balls that definitely should not be dropped?

The first part is creating some kind of filter for yourself. And the first part of the filter is getting clear about what matters most to you. And when I say that, I mean in your life overall.

One of the questions I often get is what if I have no idea what matters most to me? I love Stephen Covey's funeral visualization exercise [Covey wrote the best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People], where he asks us to think about what we would want people to say about us at the end of our life.

You're then going to have to figure out in order to determine what balls you're going to drop, what your highest and best use is. Your highest and best use is usually a combination of what you do really well, usually with not a lot of effort, and the things that only you can do,

One of the things that I do very well with very little effort is helping other people to achieve clarity through guidance and encouragement. One of the things that I think only I can do is instill values in my kids. My highest and best use in raising conscious global citizens is having a meaningful conversation with my kids each and every day. I'm confident that I'm applying my highest and best use to achieve what matters most to me. That means that I can drop the ball on knowing exactly what the schedule is for my daughter's middle school.

Dorie Clark, Tiffany Dufu
Dorie Clark (left), author of "Entrepreneurial You" and host of Newsweek's LinkedIn Live series "Better," with recent guest Tiffany Dufu, author of "Drop the Ball" and CEO of the The Cru

I want to ask you about your startup, The Cru. Can you tell us a little bit what the vision is? I think it is on point for the COVID era.

Part of my drop-the-ball journey was learning how to get the help that I needed, learning how to ask for help. I needed to be more intentional about curating a group of people who would hold me accountable and help me to advance my personal and professional success. I call those people my crew. I've been working with my personal crew for years now, and it's a group of nine other really incredible women. We share our ambitions. We help one another create plans in order to execute on those ambitions.

In January, 2018 I was at this beautiful female-focused collaborative space, meeting with this woman. I was telling her about how she needed to find her crew. I don't know if you've ever had a time in your life where you were talking to someone and you could tell that they were not feeling what you were saying, but I was having one of those moments. And thankfully this woman was honest with me. She basically said, "I don't think you appreciate the amount of work that goes into finding that group. I came to you because you wrote this book called Drop the Ball. I thought you were going to make it easier, not give me more to do."

I realized, "Oh my goodness, if your life's work is advancing women and girls, you should probably stop preaching about how you need to find your crew and you should just find the damn crew." So that's what The Cru literally does. You just give us 20 minutes of your time to fill out an application, and we match you with nine other individuals. The 10 of you become a crew and you collaborate to meet your goals together.

Here's a question from a viewer who asks, "What is the most important thing that you want women and girls to know during their journey of self discovery and growth?"

The first thing that I want everyone to know is that if you want something that you've never had before, you're going to have to do something that you've never done before in order to get it. It's like my mother-in-law, who is from Ghana, always says, "If things are getting easier, it's probably because you're headed downhill." So I want us to embrace the conflict, embrace the challenge, which is the process that we're all going through right now, because it's on the other side of that, that we get to the breakthrough.

Another viewer asks, "If we know that soaking up life's simple pleasures and cultivating meaningful relationships is a core value and we also want to build a thriving business, how do you honor dancing between those things?"

My answer to that question has been to make them one and the same thing. My life's work is advancing women and girls. That's pretty much why I'm on the planet. So all of the pitching venture capitalists, planning meetings, hiring people, is all in the interest of helping the women that I want to serve. I also have found a way to monetize that. Not everyone is at a place in their career or their life where they can do that. But I think that moving toward that place is a really beautiful thing.

Dorie Clark, author of Entrepreneurial You and Duke University Fuqua School of Business professor, hosts Newsweek's weekly interview series, Better, on Thursdays at 12 p.m. ET/9 a.m. PT. Learn more and download her free Stand Out self-assessment.

Better graphic: Dufu