Friday, February 10, 2006

Doing a good job v. doing the right job

Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005) was a very influential management consultant. In addition to consulting, he wrote books and taught at a couple universities. One of the mailing lists I'm on lead me to a recent article about him. The article had these statements by Peter Drucker:

"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."
"In knowledge work, the first question is, 'What should you be doing?' Not how."
"Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things."

These thoughts were written for business managers, but they apply just as strongly to parents and homeschoolers. Paul Graham talked about some of the same ideas in his recent essay about intelligent procrastination. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says it doesn't matter how far up the ladder you are if the ladder is on the wrong wall.

As parents it is easy to get caught up being busy with things that don't need to be done, or don't need to be done well. There is something satisfying with getting a task done. But if it is not an important task, we may be wasting our time. For example it is important to have breakfast, but we don't need to spend three hours preparing the food every day.

A big part of the problem of being parents is there is a multitude of important things we need to be doing, and lessons we want to teach our children. Many of these things are worth doing. It is a constant balancing act. We want to teach our children academics like reading, writing and arithmetic. We also want to help our children develop good character, to be kind, hard working, responsible, and honest. Many of us want to help our children have a relationship with God. But we shouldn't focus on just one thing. A child who is honest but doesn't work hard or know how to read will not be as happy or complete as a child who has developed in many important areas.

One of the best ways to make sure you are doing the right things is to take time to ponder what is important. Some kind of planner can provide a framework to step back on a daily basis and help us to focus on the things that are truly important. Stephen Covey said it was also worthwhile to step back in week and evaluate the slightly bigger picture.

One of the most important things we do as parents is to teach our children to ask themselves if they are doing the right thing. If our children learn to think about the things they could be doing, and then select the more important activities, they will be more effective.

As we go through the day it is helpful to ask ourselves now and then, “Am I doing a good job?" But, more importantly, we should often ask ourselves, "Am I doing the right job?”

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