Drucker’s 10 Best Work-Life Tips

Peter Drucker—“the father of modern management”—was perhaps the greatest management teacher of all time. Yet, few professionals know that Drucker’s teachings on self-management are equally profound.

In Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life (Berrett-Koehler, 2009, $19.95), author and Drucker scholar Bruce Rosenstein presents Drucker’s prescription for designing a “total life”—a multifaceted life and career with diverse interests, relationships, and pursuits. Rosenstein reveals Drucker’s secrets to success—shared over years of personal interviews—and shows how to make your own life more satisfying, meaningful, and multidimensional.

Ten tips for getting started:

1.   Focus on achievement—not money

Drucker drew an important distinction between achievement and money. He suggested focusing on achievement and paying attention to how your successes, on and off the job, benefit both you and others. That doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t make money, Drucker explained, but that the pursuit of money ought to play a subordinate role.

2.   Make time for thinking

Thinking is hard work, and in our fast-paced society, said Drucker, it is sorely devalued. The point, he urged, is to break from the daily grind and think about where you are and where you’re going. You might not have the desire or means for Drucker’s suggested “week in the wilderness,” but surely you can carve out an hour now and then for self-reflection. Take a walk, practice yoga or meditation, or sit in nature. At work, even preparing for a performance review offers an opportunity to stop and reflect.

3.   Practice “systematic abandonment”

“People are effective because they say no…because they say this isn’t for me,” declared Drucker. Practice what he called “systematic abandonment”—stepping back, at regular intervals, to determine which of your present activities can be scaled back or eliminated. Only then can you make way for something more fruitful, such as teaching, learning, or volunteering.

4.   Learn the art of leisure

Drucker observed that “loafing” is easy, but “leisure” is difficult. As important as work is, avoid allowing it to be your only source of fulfillment. Find an outside interest or two, focusing on things that may bring you pleasure, satisfaction, and a heightened sense of self-worth.

5.   Develop a parallel career

In Drucker’s estimation, a parallel career can give you a window into other worlds and provide leadership opportunities that may not be available in your primary job. Even if your work is going perfectly, that won’t always be the case. So, start thinking now about a parallel career such as teaching, writing, or working in the nonprofit world. One day, it may even morph into your second or post-retirement career.

6.   Volunteer your time and talent

Drucker saw volunteerism as essential to the smooth functioning of society, as well as a satisfying way of ensuring that work doesn’t consume your life. Today, there are hundreds of volunteering opportunities to choose from. Drucker’s recommendation was simple: Find an organization and cause you believe in—and get to work!

7.   Become a mentor

Mentorship may be broader than just showing someone the ropes in a group or organization. It can include wide-ranging career and life advice, and as Drucker said, provide big benefits not only to the “mentee,” but also to the mentor. If you’ve been guided by mentors of your own, pay it forward by mentoring others. If not, look for opportunities to both mentor and be mentored.

8.   Start teaching

Another Drucker maxim: No one learns as much as the person who must teach his subject. Whether you become a volunteer, an adjunct professor, or a guest lecturer or presenter, you can find gratification in teaching others. Consider the kinds of opportunities that may be open to you at work, schools, churches, and professional associations. Also, if you know people who teach, ask for their advice and insights.

9.   Learn how to learn

For Drucker, learning was built into the fabric of his being. He also felt strongly that learning how to learn is key to self-development. Some people, he said, are readers, while others like to talk and listen, whether in casual conversation or more formal instruction. When it’s really crucial to learn something, think about how you learn best and seek out those types of opportunities.

10.   Be the CEO of your own life

Drucker saw self-management as an ongoing discipline, requiring self-knowledge, introspection, and personal responsibility. “In effect,” he said, “managing oneself demands that each knowledge worker think and behave like a chief executive officer.” Start now to think of yourself as the CEO of your own life and career, and take accountability for your decisions and actions. Know who you are, what is important to you, and how you will contribute at work and in the world.

Finally, take a deep breath and don’t expect everything to happen at once. Start where you are and move towards your total life one step at a time.

Bruce Rosenstein is a veteran journalist and librarian and a leading expert on the life and work of management icon Peter Drucker. He’s the author of Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life (Berrett-Koehler, 2009).