Tiffany Dufu is one of the world’s most accomplished advocates for women in the professional sphere.
As a Lean In launch team member, she helped build the most powerful women’s leadership movement of the 21st century. In her current role as Levo’s chief leadership officer, she’s giving millennials the education and connections they need to thrive in the modern workplace. On top of all that, she’s found time to write a book, “Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less,” and she’s raised nearly $20 million toward the cause of advancing women and girls.
But for all that Tiffany Dufu has accomplished, the secret to her success might just be all the things she hasn’t done over the past eight years. At the 2017 AppNexus Women’s Leadership Forum, Dufu told an audience of over 260 current and aspiring leaders how “dropping the ball” on certain tasks has enabled her to achieve real goals.
Here are three ways Dufu says women can get more out of life by letting some things slide.
1. Define Your Purpose
For many women, it can be a major challenge to balance their career aspirations with the various roles they hold outside the office. As Dufu puts it, an ambitious woman may strive to be a good mother, a good sister, a good wife, a good daughter, and a good worker — all at the same time.
After the birth of her first child, Dufu found that she simply did not have time to fulfill all of the obligations created by her various roles. But as she began to drop the ball on certain tasks – responding to every party invite, moving her car to avoid a parking ticket – she quickly learned that letting small things slip through the cracks wasn’t going to ruin her life.
Rather than maintaining the impossible expectations we all create for ourselves, Dufu says women should narrow their focus to the high-level goals that are most important to them.
“I had to move from a place where I was essentially living out these job descriptions to really getting clear about what mattered most to me,” Dufu said during her WLF presentation. “And at the end of my journey, I was really clear that what mattered most to me was advancing women and girls – surprise, surprise – raising conscious global citizens and nurturing a really healthy partnership.”
2. Allow Yourself To Drop Unnecessary Tasks
Once she’d honed in on her true purpose, Dufu began the process of forgoing tasks that weren’t vital to her high-level goals.
Prior, she had organized her life by keeping a series of detailed lists. Moving forward, she started asking herself whether each task was really worth doing.
“Like many of you, I’ve got tons of emails that haven’t been read,” Dufu told WLF attendees. “I’ve got text messages from my little sister. I’ve got Slack messages from all of my millennial colleagues at Levo. I’ve got meetings that I need to go to, and people that I need to respond to, and yes, another advertising billboard telling me that I need to be even skinnier and have longer hair and bigger boobs.”
In situations like these, Dufu recommends asking yourself what she calls the “drop the ball” question: Is the task you’re considering the highest and best use of your time toward fulfilling one of your core missions? If not, you can just move on.
3. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
Of course, you can’t just drop every task that comes your way. That’s when it’s time to ask the people in your life for help.
Dufu says that one of the biggest keys to her success has been her ability to delegate certain tasks to her husband, Kojo. Since Kojo is in charge of their children’s social calendars, Dufu no longer has to worry when someone sends her daughter an invitation to a birthday party. Even when Dufu’s husband neglects to respond to an invitation every now then, she can sleep soundly with the knowledge that the occasional missed birthday party is a small price to pay for the work she’s doing to create a better world for her daughter.
Indeed, Dufu feels strongly that men should become more involved in all the roles that have traditionally belonged to women. In a one-on-one interview following the Women’s Leadership Forum, she explained that while women have entered the workforce in droves over the past 50 years, men have not participated in their local Parent Teacher Associations at nearly the same rate. In order for women to drop the ball on some of their domestic duties, men must take proactive steps to engage with family life in a more meaningful fashion.
“I actually think that part of advancing women is allowing men to drop the ball around feeling pressure to be breadwinners at the expense of engaging meaningfully with their families, taking their paternity leaves and taking advantage of workplace flexibility arrangements,” Dufu said. “Unfortunately, what we have is a situation in which men are not able to be fully human in the way that women are.”
Since first learning to drop the ball, Dufu has led efforts to help thousands of women run for office and developed a networking organization that empowers millions of female professionals to build careers they’re truly passionate about.
Suffice to say, a few missed birthday parties have gone a long way toward furthering Dufu’s mission of advancing women and girls.
These tips are just a smattering of the wisdom Dufu shared during her time at the AppNexus offices November 9. To hear more, check out her full presentation below or watch her exclusive post-event interview.