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Emily Wilska
Professional Organizer
San Francisco, California

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How to Delegate without Losing Your Mind

Are you delegating in a way that's making you--and your delegatees--crazy? Here are four guidelines on how to hand off tasks and projects more effectively and with much less stress.
Written Jul 28, 2010, read 880 times since then.
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OK: take a look at your current To Do list. (Don’t have a current To Do list? Go on ahead and make one; I’ll wait.)

Chances are you’ve got some tasks and projects hanging out there that need to be done, but don’t necessarily need to be done by you—or perhaps flatly shouldn’t be done by you, either because you’ve got a billion more important things to handle or because they’re, um, not exactly your specialty. (Step away from the tax forms, and from the toner cartridge.)

I don’t have to tell you that delegating the stuff you don’t want to, don’t have time to, or don’t have the skills to do will make it much easier to focus on the tasks that actually require your attention and brainpower. But because it’s entirely possible to delegate in a sucky way—and to wind up regretting it—I offer you these guidelines on how to hand stuff off smartly so that it not only gets done, but gets done right.

To wit:

  • Choose the right delegatees. Often “delegate” is used synonymously with “offload,” and it can be tempting to pass off any- and everything to one person. But while your assistant may have great organizational chops and be able to power through administrative tasks, he may not have the skills to review a client presentation or double-check the figures on financial reports. By the same token, using your CPA to organize receipts can be a colossal waste of cash. Before you pass along a task, get clear on what skills it requires and who among the potential delegatees in your world has them.
  • Clarify your expectations. One of the quickest ways to drive yourself and the person you’re delegating to completely nuts is to hand over tasks and projects without being super clear about (at the very least) how and when you’d like them done. I have a client who asked an assistant to get a dead watch battery replaced for her. He came back with a bill for $25 and a sheet of paper entitling her to a lifetime of new batteries at a local jeweler when she’d been expecting to drop about 6 bucks on a one-shot deal. Oops. In the wake of that little snafu, I worked with her to create a project overview sheet that she can use to communicate exactly what it is she wants done—along with how, by when, and for how much. (Want a free copy of that project overview form? Drop me a line.)
  • Don’t dump and run. Yes, delegating something means it’s out of your hands (and hair), at least for a little while. But it’s so well worth checking in with your delegatee at least once to see how things are shaking out, especially if what you’ve passed along is a multi-part project (which is to say, pretty much any project). I'm definitely not advocating micromanagement, unless you happen to enjoy daggers of hatred being stared into you every time you turn your back. I'm just saying that it’s smart to take a minute to make sure that things are happening as you’d like them to, and that whoever’s handling your project has the info she needs to do it as right as possible the first time.
  • Do a mini post-mortem. Finally, once your delegated task is signed, sealed, delivered, and once again yours, do at least a minuscule review of how the delegation process went.
    • Did the task/project get done on time?
    • On budget?
    • According to plan?
    • Per your specifications?
    • Is there anything your delegatee totally bombed that you’ll need to help iron out before you pass along more tasks?
    • Anything she did super freaking awesomely well (and should be sure to do again next time)?
    • Any additional info or guidance you wish you’d shared in the thick of things?

This doesn’t need to be a formal process (or a written one, unless you like getting stuff like this in writing): reviewing how a delegatee handled a quick, basic task can be a 30-second affair, and 10 minutes will buy you a decent discussion of how a larger project went. The point is to give—and get—some feedback.

Because it can take a lot to even get to the point at which you’re ready, willing, and able to admit that you alone don’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) try to do everything on your To Do list, it’s critical to be able to delegate in a smart, effective, non-sucky way from the start. Keep the four guidelines above in mind the next time you pass along a task and I'm willing to bet stuff will get done in a shinier, happier, much more efficient way.

Learn more about the author, Emily Wilska.

Comment on this article

  • Internet Marketing Consultant 
Monroe, Washington 
Linda Baldridge
    Posted by Linda Baldridge, Monroe, Washington | Aug 06, 2010

    Delegating is an interesting topic, I use a team effort type of strategy, bring everyone in, have a gripe session then ask who wants what position, cuz some people are better at certain projects than others. That way you bring all expertise to the table, and their all happy about doing the job at hand.

    Linda - Small Business Guide | http://bizusaonline.com

  • Professional Organizer 
San Francisco, California 
Emily Wilska
    Posted by Emily Wilska, San Francisco, California | Aug 06, 2010

    That's a great way to approach delegation in team settings, Linda, because you're absolutely right: a task that would be pure drudgery to one person is quite likely right up someone else's alley. It's also a really good way of encouraging collaboration.