Drop the Ball: Women, Partnership and Achieving More by Doing Less

By Gloria Steinem

2,641 ratings - 3.85* vote

"A bold and inspiring memoir and manifesto ""from a renowned voice in the women's leadership movement who shows women how to cultivate the single skill they really need in order to thrive: the ability to let go."Once the poster girl for doing it all, after she had her first child, Tiffany Dufu struggled to accomplish everything she thought she needed to in order to succeed "A bold and inspiring memoir and manifesto ""from a renowned voice in the women's leadership

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Book details

ebook, 0 pages
February 14th 2017 by Flatiron Books

(first published 2017)

1250071755 (ISBN13: 9781250071750)

Community Reviews


I found this book disappointing, probably due to the marketing as much as anything else. I had seen this advertised as a measured response to Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In," but it merely turned out to be Tiffany Dufu's version of the same story. The endorsement by "Quiet" author Susan Cain had me hopeful - but while Dufu does spend a great deal of time discussing household communication, the tales of her networking activities were more than enough to make an introvert's head spin. It's an amazing feat that she gets any work done at home or at the office between all the cocktail parties and coffee dates, even if many of these activities are part of her job description (and that of her husband).

Many readers of "Lean In" complained that it was out of touch with non-executive women. In this regard, Dufu deserves credit for featuring a few stories of more "average," lower-income women (a bus driver, for instance) navigating the demands of unforgiving work schedules, child care, and household management. But I wish she would have given them more attention.

Dufu may not be a Google executive, but her personal story had much the same thrust as Sandberg's, with the drive for a trophy career at its root (even if that wasn't one of her explicit personal goals, her story read this way to me). While Dufu pushes the unrealistic dream of "having it all" to the side, when it comes to "dropping the ball," there is only one arena in which that attitude is ever entertained - the home. It is always mail piling up, home projects that settle for "good enough" - but I didn't recall Dufu ever describing how she passed off organizing a big event to a colleague so she had a more manageable load. Perhaps this was merely the boundaries the book drew for itself. Ironically, while Dufu is hyper-focused on helping her readers break free of the stifling pressure of the invisible homemakers' meritocracy, she merely advocates prioritizing one meritocracy (the workplace) over another (the home). I guess I was bound to be disappointed by a book that presumed all of its readers had their priorities in the same order (but not without some obligatory lip-service to diversity in families and social circumstances).

The main problem with this narrative is that it dismisses the many motivations mothers have for working - more often than we'd like to admit, it is not primarily for personal development (though that is always a nice bonus), but in order to pay the bills and support their family (and perhaps because they are terrified that taking a few years off will forever eliminate their ability to gain and sustain a professional job in perpetuity, which again, is depressingly realistic. Western society may have accepted that pregnancy doesn't merit a compulsory resignation, but it has not yet accepted that a few years of raising children full-time does not reduce all of a woman's education and skill to a worthless heap). Most working mothers already do most of the things Dufu recommends - such as abandoning perfectionism and control, going to bed on time, and "delegating with joy." When there's very little room to "drop the ball" at home, it makes one wonder why it always seems out of the question to consider dropping it anywhere else. The subtle message is that if women don't want high-powered careers, they don't belong in the workplace at all. Where are the options for women who want to support their families, but don't have their heart set on making it to the top? Why are our only choices "go for the C-suite" or nothing? Why is the trendy solution to the work-life balance "have your husband do more around the house," rather than "negotiate a flexible schedule" than prioritizes the health of a working mom and her family? Why is it working parents that have to drop the ball, rather than their employers? I wish that Dufu would have asked some tougher questions that would have set her story apart from "Lean In."


Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less by activist Tiffany Dufu had me very enthused and motivated at the beginning, as it seemed to be well on its way to delivering on the promise of its book description. But one by one, misgivings started to crop up, grow, and multiply, so that by the end of the book I was unsettled by Dufu's most basic assumptions and motivations.

To begin with, while this book appears to hold up Dufu's marriage as a bastion of ideal communication and harmony, I began getting flummoxed and finally became fairly exasperated at how bad she really was at communicating, at least to begin with. She held in her frustrations and annoyances with her husband Kojo to the point of physical stress, even occasionally flinging out passive-aggressive barbs, if not outright verbal attacks. She did eventually find a way to talk to Kojo, but only after she had hemmed, hawed, and obsessed about developing just the right phrasing and presentation with which to express herself, emphasizing the correct way of wording what she wants to say, rather than improving her genuine assertiveness.

That's because she did not see communication as a valuable end unto itself but rather the means to a goal – "expressing" her "feelings" was actually pitching a well-rehearsed argument meant to manipulate her husband into taking the actions she had already decided in advance that she wanted him to take. She had already unilaterally formulated the solution; his only role was to come to her conclusion while thinking it was his own idea. (To her credit, on the occasions when her husband surprised her by veering from her preset agenda, she did listen and seemed genuinely open to what he was saying, but the fact that she went in to every marital discussion as if it were a tactical military operation just really rubbed me the wrong way.) And while I get that "because it helps me achieve my goals" might work from a reverse psychology point of view, it doesn't help advance the more germane point – that a husband doing his fair share in the physical labor of a marriage is simply fair, and if he doesn't, he's kind of a jerk.

Similarly, Dufu sure makes it sound like you should drop the ball on anything that you don't feel is the "highest and best use of your time" and simply expect your husband to do it. Well, I doubt he really feels like scrubbing the toilet is the highest and best use of his time either, but if you can't afford a housekeeper, then someone's got to do those kinds of jobs eventually. Dufu gives women a pass to just declare we're not doing the chores we deem beneath us and expect and require our husband to pick them up, without advocating any negotiation and compromise for sharing of the crappy work. She seems to operate in this strange middle ground, between clinging to a very antiquated, patriarchal model of he's-the-boss marriage, and wanting something better for her own relationship. But rather than assuming her husband would also want a fairer and more equitable division of roles, she appears to repeatedly underestimate his motivations – for example, she assumes that fathers only contribute to childcare to make their wives happy. Really? Not because they feel any investment in their children's upbringing and want to be involved for the sheer joy of it?

Dufu's entire motivation for "dropping the ball" (and straight into her husband's lap) is so that she has more time to devote to her career, which, because she works in the non-profit field of education and empowerment of women and girls, she seems to place a much higher value on than most of her household- and family-related activities. But she never talks about dropping the ball at work; for instance, what do you do when a manager or coworker is taking unfair advantage, weaseling you into doing work well outside your job description? What if, like most jobs, it comes with boring or administrative busywork that keeps the cogs of the valuable work you do greased? Apparently, craptastic tasks still have to get done at work, where there is nobody to guilt or cajole into taking them off your plate.

And finally, while Tiffany does seem a lovely person and was willing to do some self-examination of her record of home life failures, she has not been quite so forthright here with her work life, where clearly balls that nobody ever picked up have sometimes gotten dropped. The White House Project that she was rightfully proud of got shuttered. Levo, her next project, started up under some sketchy and controversial circumstances. If Drop The Ball was really about "achieving more by doing less" and not just "achieving more at work by doing less at home", where were the counter examples about how to juggle the work-life balance from the work side of the equation? What was sacrificed in the context of her career, and what lessons were learned? Unfortunately, those questions were never even addressed, let alone answered.

I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book at no cost courtesy of its publisher, Flatiron Books, via Goodreads Giveaways. My review of this or any other book has not been influenced by its mode of acquisition.


This was an eye-opener about some of my own habits in my marriage and I'm glad I read this. At heart, it's a book about how women "wanting it all" put unnecessary stress on themselves and others to do so because that's what they've been shown needs to be done. Men, on the other hand, have been shown that they don't need to pick up the pieces or the slack. Social conditioning. So, when a woman finally says that some of the things that don't take her to her highest and best self -- remembering to pick up the dry cleaning and tightening screws in the closet -- she can delegate those tasks and accept the fact that her partner will do them they want he knows how to best do them. That doesn't mean they make best use of his highest and best self, but it does in the sense it gives him ownership of household maintenance, too. The takeaway for me on this one was accepting that the way my husband does things I ask of him is okay. I don't need to micromanage since it's not done the way I would do it. It got done; that's good enough. By praising the work getting done, that positive reinforcement ensures more happens in the future. By not micromanaging, I'm not nagging and I'm also accepting the fact that my husband might be teaching me something about a task or himself.

The breaking down of gender stuff was interesting; I'd be really fascinated to see this looked at from a same-sex couple perspective, too. I suspect tactics and suggestions are the same, but the science and research behind it would be interesting.

I'll let the dishes sit in the sink now and instead, read another book.


I picked up this book because a colleague of mine said most career books for women didn't have useful information for her as a person of color. So, I went actively looking for a book by an author of color that had high ratings and, sadly, it took some doing to find one. However, I'm not sure that this book will meet my colleague's need as it ended up primarily about giving up on being a perfectionist homemaker/mother and learning to focus on what's most important with your limited time for career, marriage, motherhood, and home.

With that said, I do think you can take some of the principles of the book and apply them to work. Especially as stereotypically, women can be assigned/volunteer for so many projects that are not seen as career advancing but that benefit the company. See https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/27/why-w...

As someone who does juggle two teenage boys/home with a full-time career and long commute, this book made me even more grateful for my husband and also made me recognize so many traps that I had fallen into in the past. For example, thinking that you're the only one who can be the key contact for all things to do with the kids. We've now happily divided up our areas when it comes to the boys. And my husband is also currently the owner of our social calendar for our family and we've 'trained' our friends to contact him with dinner and trip invites. (In previous years and a different role, that my was in my area.)

Some of the things I ended up talking about with my husband:

- The differences in how men and women think. Men are described as having brains that are full of boxes. For example, one box for the car, one box for work, one box for kids. "The male brain's unofficial rule is that none of the boxes ever touch." Women have "brains full of connected wires." The topics intertwine so it's really hard for a woman to switch off from all the things that need to be done, and often a conversation will veer quickly from one topic to another. While I'm not at all convinced at this being very scientific, it was funny how true both of us found this.

- Expressing gratitude. What Dufu thought was meaningful was very different from what her husband liked.

Finally, Dufu has established four practices that allow her to flourish:

1) Going to exercise (builds your stamina)
2) Going to lunch (can also be coffee, breakfast, etc.; builds your network with sponsors, "sage mentors," peer mentors, promoters, and mentees)
3) Going to events (building your visibility - this also includes volunteering to make presentations, and serve on panels)
4) Going to sleep (she did an eight hours/night for eight weeks experiment and was astounded at the difference)

It's a chatty, share-my-experience kind of book, but also a quick read. I laughed out loud at some of Dufu's misguided attempts to get her husband to do more (and her astonishment to learn about all the other tasks he did and she took for granted). Worth reading if you feel like you are taking on too much at home and want to figure out how to change things up.


I really wanted this book to be a life changer much like The Japanese Art of Tidying Up was to me. Alas, this book was 90% straight up disconnect and 10% tantalizing and thought provoking. In some ways, I adopted many of the tactics the author recommends from the very start when I had my first child because I had no desire to be the perfect mother, I just wanted to retain some semblance of myself while being a mother. This meant dropping a lot of expectations that I didn't fully believe in to start.

The disconnect showed up in various ways. I was astounded that the author who meticulously plans meal preparation for a week, didn't plan on how to take pumping breaks at work. Five minutes of Googling will provide copious amounts of information on how to do this. Even more incredulous, though, was that she actually let the mail pile up for four months and let bills go to collections because she delegated with joy to her husband and was not going to undermine her own decision. Of all of the hills to die on, this one affects your credit rating. I'm still dumbfounded by it.

The tantalizing portions were few and far between, but usually consisted of holding up a mirror to our society and reflecting back how it portrays mothers and fathers and neatly sorts them into gender roles.

Things I wish she had added: more practical tips on how to delegate. I would pay real money for someone to explain to me how to delegate with joy the full-on management of the household - not just individual chores - so that reminders and prompts are no longer required. I know she had MEL, the spreadsheet extraordinaire, but what happens when in the division of labor, the husband takes the male-gendered tasks anyway? How do you navigate the division of labor when one spouse significantly out-earns the other? These would have been a lot more helpful than hearing about her work in the glittery non-profit world of New York and all of the famous people she gets to meet.


I received this ARC through a Goodreads giveaway.

I think this is a book that will help a lot of people. I realize that there is nothing wrong with asking for help, or delegating. I never really entertained the idea that allowing or asking other to do things for me will help me succeed. Yes, I know, that sounds so obvious, but just like the author (in the past), I am always afraid that if I other people won't "do it right" (or I feel guilty for not doing something myself.
There is so much potential in have a "true" domestic partnership.
I would recommended this to anyone who wants to learn how they can have it all without doing it all.

Sadaf Matinkhoo

Let go of perfection. Make your partner a true partner. Use your time on things that matter. Delegate. Drop the ball and let your partner pick it up.

There you go. I just saved you 300 pages and a bunch of time.
Why do people insist on filling up pages when they don't have anything worthwhile to say?!


"Drop the Ball" is a how-to guide on 'having it all' based on Tiffany Dufu's experience with her husband. I found myself, as a modern/youngish woman, nodding along with so many of her perspectives and experiences. She explores how, despite how far we have come as a gender, many of the household responsibilities still fall to women. Even if men help out, their contribution (statistically) is not 50%- and this is not always their fault; sometimes women take on more than they need to and/or don't ask for help. The applications of this book are really just towards working women in a committed relationship with a man (she acknowledges that the dynamics are different in same-sex couples), where both partners work outside the home. One of the biggest issues facing the couple is the ingrained sexism we inherit from watching our parents' generation and media- which harms both men and women.

She suggests that not everything must be done perfectly (as this is sometimes why women would rather do the tasks themselves), that we should trust our partners to do housework and do it well, and that we can "drop the ball" by giving up some of these responsibilities to our partners (or sometimes to noone if it doesn't help with your and/or your partner's missions in life). She uses many anecdotes from her own life and those of people she knows to explain these situations and show how they might be aided by a different approach.

I am not usually a lover of self-help books, but this was really incredible. It flows so beautifully and with such clarity/relatableness that I felt like it could have come from my own life experiences. Although this book may not resonate with everyone's situations, I found it to be really poignant and highly applicable to my own life. I see a lot of myself in the situations Dufu describes, and I have been trying to get better about this (especially regarding standards of perfection at home)- it really made me feel less alone with my own struggles and offers up some great strategies for how to allow yourself to let things go, as well as how to approach your partner for help (if this is an issue).

For me, I found the passages about letting perfection go most critical- Dufu tells us to ask for our massive to-do lists and see what actually needs to be done, what can be done in an easier way, and what can be done by someone else. If we prioritize based on our and our family's goals, there are many things we think we need to do that we really do not. I am not saying this as well as she does, but it's a really fantastic book, and I would highly suggest this for women who are struggling to 'have it all'- and who have a male partner (as this is where most of the advice would be applicable; less so for single parents or same-sex couples). There are a few examples of these other situations, but by and large this book is for a fairly specific demographic- but for people in this situation, I think it would be incredibly useful!

Please note that I received this book through a goodreads giveaway. All opinions are my own.


Thank you Call Your Girlfriend for getting this book into my life. A lot of this book centers around helping working moms find balance between home and work, and I wish this book had existed for me to read before coming back from maternity leave. I was already recommending this book to people before I'd even finished it.

I related to a lot of the challenges she describes, and I liked that her answers went deeper than "just hire a housekeeper", providing exercises to identify what's really meaningful to you and how to align your day-to-day activities more with your values. I found some of those exercises very enlightening, and would have even before having a kid.

I also appreciated hearing the perspective of a high-achieving woman of color on work-life balance, and the personal stories the author shared of the extra pressures that come into play for people from underrepresented backgrounds. I also appreciated that she talked about her attempts to achieve balance throughout her career, including when she was building her career and didn't have as many financial resources. Too many books on achieving balance assume a reader of privilege and this book made fewer assumptions along those lines (with the exception of one big one -- having a partner, although she does make some recommendations on how to achieve the same support system through shared living arrangements, etc.)


I guess I either didn't read the reviews well or took the title at face value-- what I didn't want was a woman telling me her story and her thoughts/feelings/discovery about the concept of "having it all" that women fall down the rabbit hole over.

I didn't get far enough into it before I started skimming and therefore did not actually finish this book whose voice (not literally, I didn't listen to an audio) drove me insane and I was already rolling my eyes after several pages.

It is a concept to be aware of, the very nature that women must be all and do all and when they're not doing it, they're still thinking about it. But I couldn't connect and found it irritating. If there were practical applications aside from her personal manifesto more akin to steps, actions, and organization, I would have been happier. I wanted science and recommendations, not a memoir.