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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

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.

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 April 19, 2021

What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

On August 6, 1991, the world changed forever when the internet became publicly available. Less than 30 years later, our lives have been irrevocably transformed. We can now learn, explore, and communicate 24/7, which is both amazing and, as we all know, hazardous to our productivity[1]. This is why the question, “What is block scheduling?” has become important.

To be clear, the internet isn’t life’s only distraction, and while productivity has become a huge buzzword in recent years, it’s simply a measure of progress: Are you doing what matters most? Actively moving toward your goals?

Author Neil Pasricha writes in Harvard Business Review[2]:

“As our world gets busier and our phones get beepier, the scarcest resource for all of us is becoming attention and creative output. And if you’re not taking time to put something new and beautiful out in the world, then your value is diminishing fast.”

Most entrepreneurs relate deeply to this sentiment. Pasricha solved his own productivity challenges by instituting “untouchable days” that shield him from texts, phone calls, meetings, alerts, or appointments of any kind. He says these focused sessions have enabled him to produce his most creative and rewarding work.

I love Pasricha’s approach, but it’s not always realistic for me. As the founder and CEO of JotForm, I need to weigh in on a variety of daily decisions, from hiring to product roadmaps to financial planning. I suspect other founders feel the same way. Yet, I do believe in the power of focused work, which is also why I recommend block scheduling.

What Is Block Scheduling?

Entrepreneurs often flaunt their multitasking as a badge of honor. After all, starting a business is a tug-of-war between competing priorities.

However, while multitasking might feel efficient, research shows that shifting between tasks can slash productivity by up to 40%. Task-switching leaves what Dr. Sophie Leroy calls “attention residue,”[3] which means we’re still thinking about a previous activity while we start the next one[4].

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Here’s where block scheduling can shine. What is block scheduling, exactly?

We usually become familiar with the concept of block scheduling in high school. You likely received a schedule with a certain number of classes per day, all blocked according to class time, each school year. This is basic block scheduling.

Also called time blocking, block scheduling is the practice of allocating large chunks of time to related tasks. For example, you might designate Mondays for meetings and Tuesdays for strategy. Teachers often use block scheduling when creating lesson plans. There are many different approaches, which we’ll get to shortly.

First, here’s why it matters. Business is essentially problem-solving. Creating strategies, writing code, developing products, and all the myriad activities that entrepreneurs tackle demand focus and minimal distractions. They’re also inherently human tasks that won’t easily be replaced by AI, which means your business depends on your ability to go deep.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, said in a 2017 interview:

“Focus is now the lifeblood of this economy.”

Entrepreneurs use their minds to launch ideas and create value, so the ability to concentrate is “almost like a superpower”[5].

Block scheduling can also help you to produce higher quality work in less time. Parkinson’s Law holds that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,”[6], which is why setting time limits can deflate a ballooning task.

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How to Use Time Blocking to Boost Productivity

We all have different rhythms and responsibilities. Personalization is the key to successful time blocking, and it will require some trial and error. Here’s how to get started.

What is time blocking?

    1. Assess Your Calendar

    Evaluating your current schedule can be surprisingly difficult because few of us can accurately estimate how much time a task requires. If it feels easier, track how you actually spend your time for a full week. Note each activity—even 10 minutes of email and 15 minutes of social media scrolling between meetings.

    Once you know how you’ve been spending your time, it’ll be easier to know what to keep and what to throw out when you begin to make your new schedule.

    2. Look for Patterns

    After you’ve documented a full week, group tasks into categories. For example, you can include the following categories:

    • Administrative
    • Meetings
    • Creative work
    • Email
    • Personal time.

    You can also label tasks based on how you feel while doing them, or how they influence your energy levels on a scale from 1-10. Do whatever makes sense for you.

    3. Arrange Your Time Blocks

    Experiment with different block scheduling patterns. For example, one morning may look like this:

    • 8-9am: Respond to emails
    • 9-10am: Write up marketing proposal
    • 10-11am: Brainstorm and plan for Client A’s project
    • 11am-12pm: Meet with Client A to discuss ideas

    However, you may find that you’re more creative immediately after waking up. In that case, you’d want to move “brainstorming and planning” to an earlier slot. If responding to emails is best for when you’re feeling a little lethargic after lunch, put it there.

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    Read your emotions and abilities throughout the day to tap into what is going to work best for you.

    Ultimately, the goal is to avoid switching mental gears throughout the day, week, and maybe even the month. I realize this isn’t easy, especially for entrepreneurs, but it can be incredibly valuable.

    Spending a full day on projects you dislike, such as administrative work or meetings, might feel daunting, but blocking them into a single day can make the rest of your week infinitely more productive and more enjoyable. You’re free to tackle all the entrepreneurial challenges that get your blood flowing.

    4. Create Day Themes

    If you’re someone who has to focus on many things during a single day or week, you may find it more beneficial to create themes for each day instead of blocking up your day into individual tasks. For example, you can set Mondays as Brainstorming/Planning days, Tuesdays as Administrative days, etc.

    If you take this route, I suggest always scheduling in at least one Family day. It will ensure you make time for the important people in your life and give your brain time to rest.

    Benefits of Block Scheduling

    Once you’ve answered “What is block scheduling?” and know how to use it correctly, you’ll find that you receive many benefits. Here are just a few.

    Battle Procrastination

    If you have your schedule set and know you only have an hour to get a particular task done, it will be significantly easier to avoid procrastinating.

    For more on how to stop procrastinating, check out this article.

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    Create Realistic Time Estimates

    Once you’ve been working with time blocking for a while, you’ll learn which activities take the most/least time. You may have to adjust your schedule during the first month or so to get it right, but be patient. You’ll continue to learn to realistically estimate how much time a particular task will take.

    Develop More Focus and Attention

    When your schedule doesn’t leave much room for scrolling through social media or chatting with coworkers, you’ll find your brain is more devoted to paying attention to the task at hand. You’ll respond to the limits you set for yourself and will focus to get things done.

    Final Thoughts

    Most founders crave freedom. Yet, school schedules, jobs, and social norms condition us to work with a traditional schedule and reactive mindset. Before we know it, we’ve re-created a working schedule that traces back to the 19th century, even in our own companies. Block scheduling is not only a tool to maximize productivity; it’s a way to reclaim your time[7].

    In my 14 years at JotForm, I’ve realized that business growth means doing more of what makes the biggest impact. I don’t always succeed, but I try to focus my time and energy where it matters, and I know that busyness is not synonymous with productivity.

    If you feel the same way, give time blocking a try. Share your experiments in scheduling with colleagues and family members so they understand the changes and can support you.

    Finally, don’t worry about getting it right immediately. You may need to get under the hood of your calendar and tinker around a bit. Find what works for you, then protect your new schedule at all costs.

    More Tips on Time Management

    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

    Reference

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