Good Is The Enemy Of The Best

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A guest post by @htcoaching

What’s The Opposite Of Good?

Workload is a huge issue. There are lots of different strategies you can employ to help you get through your workload more effectively, more quickly and with less stress.

Nothing is more effective, however, than not actually agreeing to work in the first place. Here’s one way to avoid taking on more than is good for you.

Most people who work in schools have an innate tendency to want to help. It is an inbuilt disposition that means you actively search out situations where you can provide assistance, advice or support. Or you are seemingly unable to refuse a request for help. Nod your head if you recognise yourself in that description.

But They Need Me!

The thing is they’re all good things that you’re being asked to do:

  • Your NQT asks you to have a look through their marking (even though you know it’s already fine!) – “I’d feel more confident if you went through it with me one more time.”
  • Your Head of Department asks for a volunteer to rewrite X policy – “It’s years out of date.”
  • The School Performance needs an extra set of hands – “It would only be for the one evening.”
  • Molly in 9X1 begs you to supervise her new lunchtime coding club – “I can’t run it without a teacher’s supervision. Please!”

These are all good things that you know would be good to do. I think they’re all good things too. And not only that, I think that if you did them then you would have done a good thing. You’re a good person after all.

And if these are good things to do, then it follows that saying ‘no’ to them, turning people down in their hour of need, will clearly be bad. Wouldn’t it?

But here’s the kicker . . .

The opposite of Good is not Bad. The opposite of Good is the Best!


Let Me Tell You A Story . . .

Back in the late 90s I was working at a school and my colleague, in the classroom next to me, was a good man. We were both looking forward to the half term break.

He was shattered from a particularly gruelling time and had not seen much of his family because of the heavy workload. This half term he was going to enjoy just kicking back with his family and spending some much deserved time together.

The week went by and soon I felt like a new person, rejuvenated and ready for the second half of term. Back at school I saw my colleague only briefly before the classrooms were full and buzzing.

It was day one but to be honest he didn’t look particularly refreshed. In fact he looked worse than he had on the last Friday of the half term.

At one point in the day, across a busy lunch hall, I caught his eye and raised a quizzical eyebrow. He just blew his cheeks and shook his head.

The Show Must Go On

After our department meeting that evening I caught up with him. He sighed and explained what had happened.

He was an active member of his local Amateur Dramatics Society and on the very first evening of the half term break he received a call. Although he wasn’t involved with the current production they had a crisis. The lead role had dropped out with just three days’ notice. There was no understudy. Would my colleague please step in and save the day?

“What could I do?” he asked me. “All the seats had been sold, everyone had worked for weeks on this, months in fact. I couldn’t say no to them, could I?”

My colleague did a good thing, a very good thing; he said ‘yes’.

Results Just In

He played Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, in ‘Measure For Measure’, performing whilst reading aloud from the text in his hand. Hamlet has the most lines in any single Shakespeare play but the Duke is not far off. Out of all the lines in ‘Measure For Measure’ the Duke speaks one third of them.

The outcome was as follows:

  • a below average performance
  • a terrible newspaper review (harsh!)
  • an underwhelmed audience
  • a grateful Am Dram Society
  • a completely knackered teacher
  • an upset and disappointed offspring
  • a disappointed and furious wife
  • a semi-permanent place in the doghouse

Saying yes was a good thing. A very good thing. But saying no would have been the best thing.

There were so many reasons why he said yes. And just a handful of reasons to say no. But those reasons to say no were better than the reasons for saying yes.

Make Good Your Enemy

Another way of saying this is ‘Good is the enemy of the Best’. However you feel it is best phrased, I want you to consider that by saying ‘no’ to yet another task, you are in fact saying ‘yes’ to the tasks you already have (and are probably already behind with).

By saying no you might also be saying yes to:

  • Getting home a little earlier for once to spend time with your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/dog/cat/son/daughter/self
  • a hot bath
  • clearing your email inbox
  • time to cook
  • The work you already have (and have prioritised!)
  • An evening off – watching TV, listening to music, eating at a restaurant . . .

Saying yes to good things creates additional workload. And when workloads are so large already, anything more is a bad thing.

It Is Not Easy

These decisions are difficult. Saying no doesn’t feel natural to you. But let’s face it, something has to give. And it should not be you.

Recognising that by saying no to some things you are actually saying yes to others. This is a perspective shift that might help you stop taking on extra work, and, crucially, feel alright about that.

You don’t get much choice in most of the work that you have to take on. So on those few occasions when you do get the autonomy of choice, consider your options carefully.

When the oxygen masks drop down in the airplane, you are advised to put yours on first, before helping anybody else. There’s a good reason for this.