Thursday, October 17, 2013

Knowing when to duck

Essay by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

It was totally unexpected. There was no warning and no way to predict it. Saundra Hybels, the former co-author of my college textbook, Communicating Effectively 10e (McGraw-Hill, 2012)—she died unexpectedly in 1999—called me one day in 1972 and asked if I would be interested in writing a textbook with her. In retrospect, saying "yes" to her question was one of the most important responses I made in my professional life.

There were a number of reasons for saying "yes": 1) I thought it would be fun. 2) A successful textbook would help my career. 3) Writing a textbook capitalized on my interests and background. 4) A textbook was another form of teaching, which I had a deep passion about. 5) I thought it would significantly contribute to my credibility, 6) It could add to my meager financial situation. Clearly, this was not a time to duck!

But, notice that knowing when or when not to duck was based on solid reasons. It was not a flippant nor frivolous response. I took the time, considered the possibilities, and I responded in the most appropriate and responsible way I knew at the time.

What the decision to say "yes" to writing a college textbook meant, however, and unknown at the time the decision was made, was being able to duck a number of other situations. For example, I was asked by one university to become a department chairman. That was an easy request to duck.

There were a number of reasons for saying "no": 1) First, and most important, taking on such a job is an enormous time consumer. 2) Being a chairman is, what a number of chairmen told me, a "thankless" job. 3) I wasn’t certain I was even qualified to become a chairman. Others thought I was qualified. I was not sure. 4) I much prefer the atmosphere of being a teacher and writer, not the public atmosphere of a chairmanship. 5) Having said "yes" to taking on the burden of writing a textbook, I knew that the additional time of a chairmanship would keep me from my family—and I had four young children at the time.

Ducking the request to be a chairman was not a simple, straightforward, easy decision. There is no doubt a chairmanship adds prestige. It is a significant addition to one’s resume. It can substantially add to one’s paycheck. And, probably most important, by being a chairman you can create change. You are in a position of influence, and if you believe in your subject, and you have faith in your department personnel, and you really want to make a difference, a chairmanship makes sense. Although it wasn’t of concern, it should be noted that being a chair can be a stepping stone to higher leadership positions—deanships or even presidents.

Sometimes, knowing when to duck requires listing the pros and cons and giving a great deal of consideration to that list, not just simply looking at the items but considering your own goals and mission, how the items on the list affect you personally—your family and friends—as well as how this may affect your future. Notice, once again, that knowing when to duck, is not a spur-of-the-moment, impulsive, spontaneous response. It is based on good reasons.

One of the things that helps when it comes to knowing when to duck, is to decide what is important to you. If you have well-defined goals—ideas that you want to accomplish—it makes it easier to know whether or not to duck.

The success of the Hybels/Weaver college textbook has actually made it easier to duck a raft of other requests. For example, at various times I was asked to take on department tasks. I have been asked for my opinion on a variety of books—mostly fiction. I do not have the time to read fiction, because of having a successful textbook, my time must be spent in reading books or other material that will contribute to my writing. I have been asked to give speeches, write recommendations, attend a variety of functions, and serve in efforts that I know, in advance, will require more time than I have available or want to spend.

What I discovered is a simple fact: You cannot be productive if you take on too many commitments. Not only will you not accomplish very much, but the quality also goes down. So, knowing when to duck will make your life better. You will be able to focus, become more efficient, lessen your stress, add quality to what you do, and become more productive.

By learning when to duck, you will add value to your life. You will have more time. You will feel confident about your priorities. And you will become more assertive. These are positive attributes that often need reinforcement or encouragement—even on a daily basis.

One of the ways I have learned to duck a request is the same response many use in a relationship to duck commitment—or remove themselves from that relationship. That is, "it’s not you, it’s me." I will say, "I realize that your project is a good one, but it’s just not right for me right now, at least not at this time." I have often used this response to duck telephone surveys about my feelings about a recently purchased product, the service I received at a particular institution, or how I stand politically on a wide variety of issues.

I have often said, "This isn’t the right fit for me," "It’s not what I’m looking for at this time," or "I just don’t feel right about this, but thank you for asking me"

One area where knowing when to duck is important is all the solicitors who come to your front door. We have people who want to mow our lawn, shovel our driveway, put new windows in, add a new roof, fertilize our lawn, construct a new room, contribute to their cause, or buy their products. It happens over and over. But, look at it in a different way. Think of these occurrences as opportunities to practice ducking. Be polite, of course, but be firm. Don’t apologize. Don’t allow unwanted front-door solicitors to take your time. Dispense with them as quickly and efficiently as you can.

One of the things I found, and you may have, too, that the more you accomplish, the more your accomplishments become known, the more likely it is that you will be asked to do more. The old cliche, "If you want something done, ask a busy person," applies here. Rather than shy away from being active, or trying to avoid having your accomplishments become known, the simple solution is to know when to duck—and duck effectively!

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At Pick Your Brain: Grow Yourself, the essay, "5 Ways to Escape Overwhelm," by Kat Eden suggests that you take a day off for evaluation, cut back your wish list, control your daily list, and accept failure as a good thing. Eden says, "Don’t forget that stress is supposed to be a positive thing—it challenges us, drives us to achieve and conquer."

At zenhabits, the essay, "The Essential Time-Saving Guide for Busy People," offers ten excellent "Tips for Work," six "Time-saving Computer Tips," and fourteen "Tips for Home."

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Copyright October, 2013, by And Then Some Publishing LLC

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