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Published on December 21, 2020

9 Simple Ways to Delegate Tasks and Get More Done

9 Simple Ways to Delegate Tasks and Get More Done
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Rarely is any real accomplishment the work of just one person. If you can’t delegate tasks effectively, you’ll struggle to get done the things you care about.

Delegation comes in many colors. Putting together a chore chart for your kids is a form of delegation. So is asking your colleague to help you put a presentation together.

What’s important to realize is that, in the words of the former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, “You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility”[1]. In other words, you can ask someone else to complete a task for you, but you can’t claim innocence if it doesn’t get done.

Delegating tasks is easy. Doing so in a way that ensures they actually get done takes practice. Here’s how to delegate tasks effectively:

1. Ask First

You know what’s on your to-do list. Unless you ask, you can’t know what’s on someone else’s.

Asking someone whether they can take on a task doesn’t just ensure they have the time for it, either. Getting a read on someone’s capacity before making your request also shows respect. If your delegatees don’t feel respected, they won’t do their best work — assuming they do the work at all.

As is true of most things in life, the devil of delegation is in the details. Don’t just ask someone whether they can take on the task. Given enough time and resources, anyone is capable of accomplishing almost anything.

In your request, include:

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  • A deadline for project completion, as well as any nestled due dates.
  • A description of the project—any ambiguities may be interpreted the wrong way.
  • A list of expectations, such as how much time you’d like the person to spend on the project.
  • Relevant resources and points of contact. Remember, most projects will involve multiple people.

2. Make Trust a Must

How much confidence do you have in this person getting the task done? Unless you absolutely trust them to come through for you, then don’t delegate work to them.

Either find someone you do trust to take on the task, or split off a piece of the project that you know they’ll be able to tackle. If neither of those are good options, you may need to complete the task yourself.

3. Give Them the Resources They Need

What tools does your delegatee need to accomplish the task you’ve set out for them? If you don’t provide them the things they need, then you can’t blame them for not coming through for you.

Resources can be varied. Think about:

Financial Resources

Does the task you’re delegating require something to be purchased? If so, make sure you give your teammate the money they need to buy it.

Human Resources

Different people are good at different things. If the person to whom you’re delegating the task doesn’t possess every skill needed, do they have others they can lean on?

Realize that you, the person assigning them the task, also fall into this category. Will you be available for questions as they come up?

Informational Resources

Have you provided your delegatee all the details they’ll need to get the task done? In writing, put together a list of instructions, expectations, and other notes they might need.

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Practical and Physical Resources

Unless you’re expecting the person you’re working with to buy every single thing the project will entail, you’ll need to provide some supplies.

If you’re asking someone to sort a stack of paperwork, have you given them all the documents? If you want them to represent your company, do they have a uniform? Do they have a desk and an office space to work from?

4. Provide an Incentive

What motivation does your delegatee have to do a good job, let alone get the job done at all? In some cases, your respect and appreciation may be enough. In other cases, you’ll need to give them some sort of remuneration.

It’s important to align the task in question to the reward. You wouldn’t buy someone a brand new BMW because they did the dishes for you. By the same token, you can’t expect a developer to spend dozens of hours building your app for a measly $50.

When in doubt, ask. What sort of compensation does the person to whom you’re delegating the task expect?

If you don’t agree with their answer, that’s OK. But you’ll have to reach some sort of middle ground if you want to maintain a good working relationship with this person.

5. Leave the Details up to Them

Nothing kills motivation and trust like micromanagement. In a survey by staffing firm Accountemps, more than two-thirds of respondents said it hurt their morale[2].

If you expect something to be done a certain way, outline that in the project brief. If you can’t explain exactly what you have in mind, you might be better off doing it yourself.

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If you can explain what you’re looking for in writing, and your teammate says they understand, trust them to do that. Don’t be a backseat driver once the work begins.

6. Break Big Tasks Into Smaller Ones

Delegation isn’t about asking someone else to do everything for you; it’s about outsourcing the areas outside your expertise or time constraints.

To break up major projects, first think about the big picture: What’s your goal? What should the end product look like?

Then, get a piece of paper. Plot out the key steps you need to get there. Aim for 3-15 steps.

Consider the order in which those steps should be completed. Sometimes, this will be obvious: A blog post can’t be edited before it’s written, for instance. Other times, it won’t be: Should you get a quick-cook appetizer started first, or prioritize putting that casserole in the oven, knowing it’ll need to cook for at least an hour?

Think about the order and nature of each subtask when deciding what to delegate. You probably shouldn’t hand off a task that needs to be done ASAP. But if it’s outside your core competency, you might need to.

7. Make Consequences Clear

What happens if the person to whom you’ve delegated a task drops the ball? Will you just shrug your shoulders and compensate them anyway?

If you do, you’re communicating that you don’t care about their contribution. Not only does that show disrespect to the person you’re working with, but it sets low expectations for future projects.

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As with incentives, it’s important to align consequences with the nature of the problem. If you could have been more clear in your instructions, then don’t punish the other person. If you trusted your life savings to your business partner, and they spent it at a casino, then you may need to contact the authorities or sever ties altogether.

Most consequences will fall somewhere in between those poles. Give others the benefit of the doubt, and don’t be mean-spirited. One missed deadline at work deserves a stern warning, not a firing. Repeated deadline problems may warrant a cut in pay or responsibilities, however.

8. Be an Ally

Whether at work or at home, you’re on the same team as the person to whom you’re delegating work. Understand that snags happen, and do your best to help the person overcome them.

An “ally” approach means not hovering over their shoulder, but rather treating mistakes as learning experiences. It means welcoming their input, providing more resources if necessary, and providing thoughtful feedback when the task is complete.

9. Take Feedback Seriously

Speaking of feedback, remember that it cuts two ways. In addition to giving your delegatee pointers when the project is complete, encourage them to suggest ways you could have done a better job.

Realize that power dynamics may discourage your teammate from giving you the whole story. To show them that it’s OK to speak up, you can say:

  • “What could I have done better on that project?”
  • “Did I set you up for success?”
  • “How can I make your job easier next time?”
  • “What’s the biggest mistake I made here?”

Asking for feedback, however, is only half the battle. If you want your teammates to give you the good, bad, and the ugly with every project, you need to put their suggestions into practice. If you don’t, you’re telling them that you don’t value what they have to say.

The Bottom Line

Delegation is one of the most difficult management skills to get right. Just like your team members, you won’t get it right every time. Learn to collaborate more effectively, and you’ll become a better delegator in the process.

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More on How to Delegate

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] BrainyQuote: Byron Dorgan Quotes
[2] Harvard Business School: How to Stop Micromanaging

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John Hall

John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a leading scheduling and productivity app that will change how we manage and invest our time.

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Last Updated on August 4, 2021

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity
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We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

So how to focus better? How to concentrate and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

Here’re 4 essential ways to help you focus:

1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

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You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

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Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

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Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation, I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

4. Get up and Move

We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

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Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

The Bottom Line

It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

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Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

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