Delegating Effectively

Learning to delegate effectively benefits you, those folks you get involved in your projects, and the greater good that you’re working toward. Here are ten tips to consider as you think about getting better as a delegator.
  1. Know the definition of delegation. A simple one to consider is: “Accomplishing your purpose(s) through the proper deployment of others.”
  2. Be clear on why you need to delegate. If you are spending all of your time and energy doing what only you can do — and what you feel that you were put on the earth to do — then you are apparently one of the very few who don’t need to delegate. For all the rest of us though, we need to strategically and thoughtfully deploy others in the service of our purpose, which includes being able to dedicate time, energy, and attention to the highest purpose tasks, projects, and commitments possible.
  3. Write down the crises that have occurred because you did not delegate. This article will be here when you come back; it may take a few minutes or a few hours for you to list all those crises…
  4. Generate a list of people to whom you can delegate. Don’t forget teenage neighbors, anyone who needs to earn extra money, people who are “looking for something to do,” and family members, while also thinking about people you work with and those you could find through various services (e.g., virtual assistant companies, Upwork, etc.)
  5. Have a method for tracking delegated tasks. You can use analog methods (notebooks, index cards, Post-it® notes, whiteboards) or digital methods from specific software programs (e.g., Excel) to sophisticated project management software (Asana, Basecamp, Trello, Wrike).
  6. Delegate selectively. Be selective both in terms of what you delegate and to whom you delegate. See this as an experiment and you can keep getting better and better at it.
  7. Check in as often as necessary, but not more often. Early in a delegating relationship, let the person know you’ll check in more often than you will in the future but you want to make sure the task is done successfully and the person who is doing the task feels successful.
  8. Remember that you own the responsibility even when you have delegated the task. It is a much higher level of delegation than this article is talking about when you delegate the responsibility, too. For now, focus on delegating tasks with the knowledge that ultimately you are still responsible for the outcome. Over time, you can build up a level of trust such that you can also delegate some of all of the responsibility, but that is further down the road.
  9. Delegate progressively; avoid delegating too much too fast. I’ve made every mistake possible with delegation (because no one taught me how to delegate effectively and I didn’t even know where to go to learn). One of the mistakes I made and learned from (quickly) was delegating too much too fast. I assumed (which, as my dad used to say — one time even from the pulpit — “to assume is to make an ass of you and me”) that this smart, capable person I had hired to help me could take on a big portion of a project as their first action. Ruh-roh. Didn’t work. I learned fast from that one although I apparently needed to test the Universe a few times after that. However, now I know. Tasks (or as I call them, “bites”) are the right size to start with. My definition of a bite is something that “one person can do in 5–55 minutes.”
  10. Delegate, don’t abdicate. Even when you are delegating to a machine, you still aren’t abdicate, it seems. For example, you “delegate” washing your clothes to your washing machine, BUT you still listen to see if it’s gotten off-center (darned big towels). However, what I want you to think about is that in this article, we’re thinking about delegating effectively to humans. You’re building a relationship with the people, whether these folks are in your family, your work setting, your community, or anywhere else, and abdicating is not a way to build a relationship.

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