In his seminal book The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker introduced us to the notion of “Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.”

In today’s modern life full of too much “Busyness” and not enough Business this is more relevant than ever.

Effectiveness – Saying NO

One aspect of this is learning to say NO to things we either do not need in our life, or will detract from our ability to do the other things we need to do. Our egos and our need to please others often make us rationalise the decision to say yes by over-inflating the benefits and playing down negatives. Let’s take the example of being asked to be a governor of your daughter’s school, but let’s set the scene first, you already work very hard, sometimes well into the night and at weekends, you also already have one other unpaid role, play golf with your friends twice a week, and have been trying to write a book. You are also all over Social Media. Does that sound like you by any chance? So let’s look at how we should rationalise this decision;

  • Do we have time in our lives to give this role the attention it deserves without detracting from other important aspect on our life? (Probably not).
  • Is there anything else less important we want to give up in order to facilitate this change? If the answer is also No then, no further thought is required, you simply can not take the role.

The problem is this is what actually happens when our emotional brain gets involved in the decision;

Firstly the above two points don’t even get considered.

Then we say the following;

  • If I do not take it, the Head / Principal will be offended, that will make both my daughter and I look bad (Our emotional brain hates looking bad, as it dents its ego). Is there any evidence to support this?
  • I can actually make a lasting difference to my daughter’s education. Can you really? Your daughter will be at the school for 5 years or so maximum, what lasting changes can you really make that will directly affect her education? The exception might be that the school is failing financially and you are a great turnaround specialist or similar.
  • This will look great on my CV. This is possibly true but not if you fail in your day job in the meantime and that is then on your CV, you also already have another unpaid role that probably looks good on your CV already?
  • This won’t take that much time and I can find that time. This is the biggest lie, being a school governor is usually a major time commitment.

Now let me be clear here, I am not saying that being a school governor is not a worthy and worthwhile thing to do. It’s a very important role is society. I am just saying that maybe right now it might not be for you?

Effectiveness – Purposeful Abandonment

The problem is though, you are already a school governor, right? (Or something similar), and in reading this you have just realised you never should have accepted the role in the first place?

This is where what Drucker calls Purposeful Abandonment comes in. As the name suggests it’s about purposefully abandoning the things that are detracting from your life.

The emotional brain is again going to resist this, but logically it has to go. Here is some typical responses you will encounter and something to offer them as a reframe;

  • I will look really silly backing out now, they will think I’m just bored of it or not committed.
    • Reframe – Where is the evidence to say that you will look silly? How could you deliver the message in a way where they understand your reasons?
  • Things are up in the air at the school right now, it’s not the right time.
    • Reframe – When would be the right time? If this is a genuine one rather than your emotions playing up, you might consider announcing your intention to resign after certain conditions are met. For instance, the new building extension is complete.
  • My daughter will think I don’t care about her.
    • Reframe – Sit your daughter down first and explain how much you love her and whilst the governor role is important it is actually taking you away from spending quality time with her (if you do say this, make your you purposefully give her back this time).

The fabulous Dan Rockwell writes more about this in his blog Purposeful Abandonment, the art of letting go. He suggests the following questions you should ask yourself to decide what you should abandon;

  • What frustrates?
  • What drains energy?
  • What wastes time?
  • What produces small returns?
  • Which customers should be sent to competitors?
  • Is it time to stop petting a pet project?
  • What distracts from leveraging strengths?
  • What has low impact?
  • What can be stopped?

I am systematically abandoning things in my life right now and using the above checklist to decide. I’ve resigned from some things, and I’m now looking at Social Media and my friends!
I am actually finding it an empowering and very satisfying experience and because I handled it right, I have nothing but positive comments of supports from those I have abandoned.

Rockwell also goes onto to suggest as well as a “To Do List” we should write a “Not to Do List”.

We cover this subject in a lot more detail in our Finding Yourself Masterful Programme in the Session “Finding more Time”. Please do get in touch if you are interested.

Final Word

Think about saying No next time someone asks you to do something.

Think about using the above questions to purposefully abandon something in your life.

Ian Hacon

@ianhacon