Have you ever caught yourself saying “if only there were two of me?” or “if only there were more hours in the day”?
If so, you need need to think deeply about delegating your tasks.
And if you're not sure how to delegate, or what to delegate, you can use the process I outline below.
We can all apply the skill of delegation as a long-term strategy to ultimately:
Double, triple, quadruple yourself (or more) so that you can scale what you (or your business) are/is able to get done in a day
Take the load off your plate so that you have more time for your relationships, health, or working on your highest value tasks.
Delegation has the added benefit of providing others an opportunity to learn, grow or make money.
I am in no way a delegation master. But I do know how to research and practice what I’ve learned. I’m inviting you to join me on this practice of learning how to delegate better.
My research points to 12 fundamental steps that, if applied, will significantly improve our ability to delegate. Thinking back to where delegation has gone wrong for me, my team, or business owners I’m close with, I can see where one or several of these principles were ignored.
Let me know if you agree/disagree.
Ready? Let's go.
Cultivating a Mindset for Delegation
Right off the bat, one of our biggest mistakes when it comes to delegation is the way we’re thinking about a) the process of delegating itself, and b) the person we’re delegating to.
When you think about delegating your work to others, you might be thinking some version of:
If I want to get it done right, I have to do it myself
This isn’t going to work
It’s too complex/time-consuming
These thoughts are short-sighted and will not allow you to off load things on your plate over the long-term.
Yes, over the short-term it might be bumpy, it might be time consuming, and they might not get it right.
But this is not a short-term fix. It’s a long-term one.
You have to believe that delegation will help you solve a time management problem over the long-term.
You have to believe that it IS going to work, and you’re going to make it work.
You have to believe that it doesn’t have to be complex, and the time invested in it is worth it.
Similarly, when it comes to the person you’re delegating to, you might be thinking some version of:
This is too complex for them
They don’t care
They’re getting bored
It’s not that hard, they better pick it up
If we start off delegating thinking this way, we’re going to feel frustrated, rushed, or annoyed right from the start and, either go way too fast and gloss over important details, or be impatient when they don’t get it right away.
We want to have some kind of filter for finding people that have a track record for being dedicated, determined and kind, and once we see evidence of that, we have to assume:
They want to get it right
They DO care
They WILL get it with the right guidance,
Another thought that stops our ability to delegate in it’s track is “I don’t know what to delegate”.
The reason you might have this thought isn’t because you don’t have things you can delegate. Rather it’s just your brain doing what it knows best: staying in it’s comfort zone, avoiding discomfort or change.
If you answered yes to my initial question about wishing there were two of you, or wishing there were more hours in the day so you could get more done, then you DO have things you can delegate, you just need a process to figure out what those things are.
2. Making Time for Delegation
When starting this process, we want to schedule time each week to sit down and inventory everything we do in our personal and professional lives, and then circle anything we think could be delegated, if not now, in the near future.
And don’t be stingy. Don’t hoard the work. Really think deeply about this. If I challenged you to take 50% of your week off your plate, what would you delegate? How would that impact you? What would you do with your new time?
The other thing we need to schedule time for is more time for the actual delegation of the work itself. We need time to create the process for what we want to delegate, explain the process, let the person go through it once, provide feedback, allow them to do it again, additional feedback, etc. What so many of us do is just try to rush it all in one sloppy explanation, and then throw up our hands when it doesn’t work.
3. Get Clear on What You're Delegating Before You Assign It
When we’ve identified things we want to delegate, we have to create a process for that thing. Starting with the end in mind, work backwards and create a step-by-step process, almost like a check-list, for what would need to get done in order to get to that end result. The other benefit of this is that it forces you to start standardizing some of the things you’re currently doing in a random or haphazard way.
4. Find the Right Person for the Job
We need to make sure the person we’re delegating to is willing, able, and ready to do the work.
They want to do the job.
They have the capacity to do the job.
They are ready to do the job (i.e., you’re not going to ask a 7 year old to clean the gutters and you’re not going to ask a junior staff member to go to a remote site by themselves with no supervision for a week)
5. Delegate the Task
This is where we communicate the clear instructions we created. We can do this in writing, in addition to a meeting with someone in person or over the phone. Often doing it in person or over the phone can eliminate a lot of confusion and miscommunication, and a follow up email solidifies the instructions you discussed verbally.
6. Build Time for (Multiple) Questions and (Multiple) Reviews
This is where I personally have made my biggest mistakes. I have been known to delegate and then ghost, leaving the person to do the best they can. Ironically, this is how I was taught as a junior, and at the time I thought this is what delegation was supposed to look like.
But this is a missed opportunity, because when someone comes to us with questions, we can start to see the way their brain is thinking about the task.
And then we can show them how we think about it, and gently guide them towards that way of thinking. Ultimately that is what we want, someone to think similarly to us so that the jobs we do can be replicated.
Expecting and even forcing questions and reviews will make the delegation process more effective in the long-term. And it will leave you less annoyed when they come to you with multiple questions because you’ll be viewing those questions as a positive.
Reviews are essentially providing constructive feedback. If you don’t have a great track record with providing feedback, a simple model looks something like:
What went well?
What was tricky?
What will you change or do differently next time?
For each of these, ask them these questions first and hear their answers, then provide your own feedback.
7. Communicate Feedback from a Clean Place
What I mean by this is to communicate feedback not from a place of judgement, annoyance or frustration.
If we're feeling those things, we need to go back to step 1. We're thinking something about them or the process of delegation that is causing us to feel that way.
If we try to provide feedback from that place, our team member is going to feel shame or stressed, and we will not be able to teach them (we can’t learn very well under stress).
Or they’re just not going to want to work with us.
And we’ll be stuck doing everything ourselves. For eternity.
Come back to the thoughts that this WILL work and you ARE BOTH capable.
8. Empower Your Team Members to Answer Their Own Questions
It's so tempting to answer the questions your team members have right away because it seems faster and easier, BUT, by getting them to answer their own questions first, you again get to see how their brain is thinking about something. It also forces them to put their own brain to work.
If you answer the question, your brain gets smarter.
If you force them to answer it, their brain gets smarter.
Eventually, they will answer more and more of their own questions correctly, and may need to stop coming to you as frequently.
It gives them confidence that the way they’re doing it is correct, or that they can problem solve it on their own.
9. Empower Team Members to Correct Their Own Work
Again, it’s going to be tempting to correct your team members work for them if you see errors. But this will not help them, or you, in the long-run. In order to reap the long-term benefits of delegating, you have to commit to following through on the individual assignments that you delegate, start to finish, allowing the person that you’re delegating the work to, to finish the task rather than you finishing it.
Empower them to correct the work themselves with your feedback. If they are really not getting it, you can do it WITH them watching or along side them, but make sure they watch the process of creating the end product you want so that they can visualize what the process itself is supposed to look like and can replicate it in the future.
10. Commit to the Process
It’s going to be tempting to quit and just finish the job yourself. Be prepared, especially at first, to not get the work back the way you wanted it, or to find errors. Factor this into your time for delegation. Feel the impatience and frustration and then come back to the reason you’re doing this in the first place. Believe they are capable and you’re capable of teaching them. Remember the long-term goal and don’t give up half-way through.
11. Evaluate Your Delegation Results
Similar to how you evaluate and provide feedback on the work your team member completed for you, you can evaluate your own results of delegation.
What went well?
What was tricky?
What will you do differently?
If you can do this enough times you’ll start to see patterns and where small improvements could really help the process significantly.
12. Stay Curious and Problem-Solve
If underlying problems keep coming up, like missed deadlines, not following directions, not coming to talk to you when they’re stuck, a lack of attention to detail, lots of errors in the work product, instead of making assumptions about why that is, get curious.
You can ask them “What’s going on? What happened here? Why did this happen?”
Identify the underlying problems.
You want to really understand your team. Why did they do what they do?
Remember, we are still assuming they WANT and are CAPABLE of doing the job. So what are the underlying reasons the problems are there? It could be something WE are doing or not doing, or some fundamental flaw in our (or our company’s) process (or lack of process) itself. It could be a major clue for an opportunity of growth.
Maybe it’s because they feel rushed because the budget was too small, or someone was putting pressure on them.
Maybe it’s because they had a sick kid at home, and we thought they had capacity to do the work, but they didn’t, and they were afraid to speak up because the company culture doesn’t seem to accept family issues.
You’ll never get to these deeper fundamental issues unless you stay curious.
Then you can really start cooking with gas and coming up with solutions.
We can even have them help to come up with a solution together and get their buy-in. When we get someone’s buy in, when they start to contribute to the solution, they start to develop the intrinsic motivation that burns deep. You can them implement the solutions, and continue to follow up and track progress.
Ultimately, if we attempt to remedy the situation and our efforts are ineffective, we can create a policy ahead of time about what we’ll do, and follow it.
These are the steps I’ll be following over the next three to six months with my own team.
Are you going to be implementing any, all, or some of them?
Do you feel I missed a key step?
Did any of them jump out at you as mistakes you make or have seen others make in the past?
Does it make you think differently about how you were taught to delegate or how others have delegated to you?
Will you apply these steps at work or at home?
Feel free to fire me back an email with any takeaways!
Have a wonderful night and a great start to your week,
Certified Life & Health Coach | Professional Geoscientist
Helping female geoscientists and engineers take control of their time and create a life they love through coaching.