In a time when productivity apps and multitasking are the new normal, people are often inquiring what my “secret sauce” is for getting so much done. While endless hours of hard work can build toughness, it can also lead to burnout—the world’s most productive workers are not those who work 18-hour days and brag about it on Friday night.
If you want to become a highly productive person, in work or in life, I can only recommend one thing: Learn to delegate. The power is not just in offloading tasks, but gaining the power to choose what is—and isn’t—worth your time.
This epiphany came to me while in college, where the use of virtual assistants allowed me to outsource aspects of my small online company while simultaneously attending to the parts of the business that I really enjoyed. I made a list of all of the things I liked working on, or knew I needed to do myself, and assigned the rest. I was hooked!
In fact, I believe in it so much that I’m the founder and CEO of Zirtual, a company that connects busy people with virtual assistants. My hope is that—even if delegating seems scary or unfamiliar—you will soon discover that it’s a fast track to getting back to doing what you love most!
1. Make Things Tangible
Outline your objectives, goals, and expected outcomes per day, week, month, and quarter. This will give you an idea of the challenges you and your team are facing, and ultimately, the overall organization's goals.
Offloading your to-do list is more than just lightening your load. Delegation is about empowerment, as it gives your team an opportunity to develop as individual leaders—the same way it allows you to be a more impactful manager.
Much like in school, business has its formalities: Certain projects must be completed in specific ways. As a strong leader you can keep this same formality without being considered a micromanager. One option is to schedule one-on-one weekly private meetings to discuss the week’s agenda, goals, and progress. Another one is to create guidelines for what you expect the finished project to look like. While you can definitely include suggested steps, let your employees find their own methods to getting it done.
For managers who fear delegation, this will provide an opportunity for you to closely oversee projects while still giving your team the space to manage their own tasks.
2. Remember That Delegation Without Trust Is Babysitting
When you assign a task to an employee, it’s important to put the time into setting him or her up for success so as to avoid micromanaging down the line. People will rise to the demands of the task if you give them the opportunity to do so. If handing off an important assignment scares you (and it will if it’s one you’ve personally worked on), start slowly. Assign a portion of the task first, or start with a smaller responsibility. Once you see that your employee’s capable—and he or she surely is!—you’ll feel more comfortable handing over more.
Let go of the idea that you can do it all—you can’t. Take this as a test of humility and accept the fact that you cannot successfully manage a team without offloading. Management is often times referred to as office babysitting, but that’s absolutely in your control, and the first step to transforming into a true leader is to assign responsibilities.
3. Conquer Your Fear
Fear of delegating shows itself in many ways. Debilitating thoughts like, “I can do it better myself,” or “I can’t fail,” or “I don’t want to depend on anyone else,” or “I can’t trust them,” will hinder your ability to do it correctly. Acceptance will empower you, give you peace of mind, allow you to be free to see the bigger picture, and prepare you to master it.
The quickest way to overcome such fears is to evaluate the return. It’s not whether or not you can complete the task on your own (if you really wanted to, you could). But, ask yourself: What’s the return on investment by doing so? Remember, there’s a difference between you doing it better and you doing it differently. Often times, the finished product isn’t what you would’ve produced, but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as good or effective.
Focus your personal energy and attention on high-return tasks: strategy, new hires, partnerships, or organizational structure. You’ve gotten to this level by trusting yourself and others trusting you. Free up your schedule to attend to these high-level issues by believing that your employees will get the low-return tasks done for you just as well as you would have. Delegation from a manager can often times be a bridge to building stronger relationships on the team, as well as become an opportunity for mentorship.
4. Make Delegating a Habit
Successful delegators plan their tasks out with an eye on the items they can assign to others. If offloading feels unnatural to you, picking up a few new habits will make it easier to identify tasks you can share. As a result, you’ll be a better manager to your team and a more efficient and focused leader.
For starters, if you have people in support roles below you, allow them to do their jobs! If you have an assistant, let him handle administrative tasks by giving him access to your calendar—and empowering him to help manage it. Or, if you don’t have a human to help you with administrative tasks, check out all of the apps specifically designed to manage your day and keep things organized. Even the process of storing different goals in different apps helps you practice compartmentalization and letting someone (or in this case, something) help you.
Offloading administrative tasks helps you stay focused on the larger goals ahead. Delegators are successful because they have a clear line of sight and know how to best allocate their time.
As a good manager, it’s your job to lead change and motivate people in a variety of ways. Part of doing that efficiently is offering your employees new opportunities to learn and take on bigger challenges. Your team will be happy because of the additional opportunities to grow. At the same time, you’ll have freed up more of your time to focus on the larger picture of leading your team to a greater level of productivity.
So no, delegation isn’t simply the ability to unload work onto someone else. It’s an opportunity to maximize the productivity of an entire group or system. It’s the ability to spread crucial tasks among a set of hands, picking and choosing the most appropriate places.