Delegation 101: 8 tips to help you stop doing everything
Updated: Jun 2
Does this sound familiar? You had to push back your 11am meeting because you continued to write a report that you were supposed to write the day before that got put off because of expense reports you needed to double check before a deadline, which you would have gotten to earlier had you not promised to write a blog post for a colleague’s website.
We all know that delegation is a critical skill yet many of us constantly struggle with our ability to let go of, well, everything. We tell ourselves, “No one can do it as well as we can,” or “No one will care as much,” or, my favorite, “In the time it takes to show someone else how to do this, I will have it done.”
Sadly, all of these excuses for not delegating sound really good, but they will continue to get in the way of your ability to be truly productive. Think of it this way -- wouldn’t you rather concentrate on the things you enjoy and find other people to take on the stuff that is mentally and physically wearing you out? It’s likely that there are already people on your team or a contractor who would gladly take on the work you continue to grudgingly perform. Think of it as your chance to be the hamster that gets off the wheel from time to time to do something a little more stimulating.
Here is my step-by-step guide to easing outside your comfort zone into the scary world of delegation.
1. Accept that you can’t do everything. It may sound harsh, but it’s true. And it’s really the first step to delegating effectively. Close your eyes and imagine yourself standing before a crowd of people in cheap folding chairs drinking weak coffee as you announce, “My name is (insert name), and I am an Anti-Delegator” to which the crowd responds with thunderous applause. Next, open your eyes and make a list of all the things you are doing that could potentially be handed on to another person.
2. Give your employees and colleagues permission to be brutally honest with you. Ask them what they think you should be delegating, and you may be shocked by the response. Don’t punish underlings for their candor, and don’t take any of it personally. No one is good at everything, and remember that the work you do perform well is being compromised by the work you’re refusing to delegate.
3. Keep a diary of how you spend your time. For a week, write down how you spend your time in hour segments. It sounds tedious, but it will be an invaluable record for you to refer to in considering how best to outsource your work. You’ll also get a sense of what tasks are sucking your will to live.
4. Choose the right people. It sounds obvious, but this step is critical to successful delegation. Keep in mind that the people who work under you (or would like you to work for you) want to do good work and develop their own skill sets. Think of it as helping someone else enhance their careers, and you will actually start to enjoy the process of training and mentorship. Try to match people to the right tasks by first asking them what skill sets they would like to grow. They will appreciate your interest in their career and you will be more likely to actually get (and keep) work off your plate.
5. Give your employees clear instructions. Really take the time to clearly spell out how to do the tasks at hand. Yes, it will take you some time, but it will, I promise, pay off in spades over the long run. Effective project managers understand this -- time spent planning before a project will save much more time on the back end. Clear directions will also instill confidence in your employees and minimize your temptation to micromanage/sabotage your delegation efforts.
6. Learn from your mistakes and encourage your employees to do the same. Instill in yourself and your employees a belief that it is okay to get things wrong as long as you attend to gaffes and make strides to correct them. If you give employees the “freedom to fail,” you will actually build their self-confidence by allowing them to experiment and grow as capable individuals.
7. Integrate delegation into what you do. Once you’ve successfully begun to delegate, start documenting the steps of your projects before you delegate them and encourage your employees to do the same. Then, as their responsibilities expand, they’ll be better poised to hand off their burdensome tasks, and you will lead a strong, robust team.
8. Use Kanban tools to track the delegation projects. There is no shortage of apps and programs to manage projects. While Microsoft environments favor SharePoint, I prefer Kanban tools derived from the work management systems developed in Toyota manufacturing plants in the 1960s. Kanbans employ visual cues to minimize multitasking and streamline workflows. Kanban software tools typically provide virtual "cards" that you can sort on Kanban boards to track, assign and prioritize tasks, post deadlines, capture notes and outlines, and efficiently collaborate with team members. More sophisticated Kanban tools with let you upload photos and graphics and integrate with Google apps (Calendar, Google Drive, etc.). Trello is the most commonly known Kanban tool, but sharp competitors emerge every day -- monday.com, Clarizen Go, ProjectManager.com, and Kanbanize. Take a look at Cardsmith, too, which provides a smooth aesthetic that mimics the use of Post-It notes. (It's a woman-owned, local Portland company, too!) The Cardsmith blog offers this article about building Kanbans.