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Published on December 21, 2020

9 Simple Ways to Delegate Tasks and Get More Done

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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.

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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 December 2, 2021

10 Reasons Why You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

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10 Reasons Why You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

What were you doing when this article caught your eye? Chances are, you were having trouble concentrating on another project.

Even before COVID-19, balancing your work, family, and social life made concentrating a challenge. These days, it can seem downright impossible.

Don’t let a little bad news—or good fun—break your focus. Here is a simple guide and tips to help you concentrate better.

Signs of Trouble Concentrating

Signs and symptoms of not concentrating vary from person to person. However, what we can experience are:

  • Have a struggling working memory. You don’t know what occurred not that long ago;
  • Trouble sitting still;
  • Not being able to think clearly;
  • You frequently lose things or can’t remember where things were placed;
  • Have an inability to make decisions or perform complicated tasks;
  • Unable to focus
  • Lacking physical or mental energy
  • Constantly and consistently making mistakes even if you don’t mean to.

When it comes to difficulty concentrating, you may notice these symptoms occur at various points for people. Some people need to be in certain settings for these symptoms to happen. For others, it can be during a certain time of day.

10 Most Common Causes of Trouble Concentrating

Here’re 12 most common reasons why you have trouble concentration, and the fixes for each of them.

1. Digital Distractions

Right now, do a little experiment. Pull up your browser history, hit Ctrl+H, and see where you’ve been all day. Frightening, right?

You jumped in and out of email. You bounced from social media to digital publication and back again. Oh, and look at those half-dozen retail sites you scrolled through looking for a new pair of shoes.

Then, there’s your smartphone. Every few seconds, you get a new notification from Twitter, Instagram, or CNN. Each time, your eyes dart from your computer screen to your phone. You’d hate to miss something, right?

The Fix: Schedule Your Day

While a little flexibility is important, you should set aside a period of time for tasks you know you’ll need to complete.

Schedule time to:

  • Read and respond to work emails
  • Make headway on your top two or three work projects
  • Engage in professional development
  • Do household chores
  • Help the kids with homework
  • Run that Zoom tutorial with your partner again

Leave short gaps in between as buffer times in case something goes over the intended time. Everyone needs to unwind with a good distraction now and again.

The key is controlling when you do so, rather than letting it control you.

2. Daydreams and Memories

Remember that little café where your spouse proposed to you 15 years ago? Wouldn’t your dining room look great with the same little tables and subway tile on the floor?

Everyone loses themselves in daydreams and memories sometimes. Your mind wanders to the future or the past because those places are more pleasant than what you’re handling at that time. This causes you to have trouble concentrating on what you need to focus on.

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Nonetheless, you have a deadline to meet, so how can you keep yourself focused when you have trouble concentrating?

The Fix: Stay in the Present

Daydreaming isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Imagination can provide a spark of creative genius or visualization of what you want in life. You just need to do it when it makes sense, not when you should be focusing on work.

Stay in the present by keeping your daily to-do list on your desk. When your mind starts to drift, pull yourself back to what’s right in front of you. Ground yourself by focusing on something real, like your breath, before turning your attention back to the task at hand.

With that said, make time to let your mind wander on occasion. Allow yourself the luxury of dreaming when it’s not pulling you away from something you need to get done.

3. Headaches

While you might be able to power through mild ones, a splitting migraine can destroy any hope you have of concentrating for a period of time.

Headaches and migraines are caused by a wide range of issues, including stress, sleep deprivation, diet, eyestrain, and medications[1]. Throw a global pandemic on top, and it’s no wonder your head is pounding.

The Fix: Use Your Head

Like that bottle of hand sanitizer, keep your headache and migraine medications on hand at all times. If getting to the pharmacy is a challenge these days, migraine services like Nurx can diagnose you and deliver medication to your door.

If your headache isn’t severe, try a medication-free approach. Some people find relief simply from drinking water, applying a cold compress, or inhaling essential oils.

4. Racing Thoughts

When is that project due? I’ve got to get something for Jane’s baby shower. I’m almost out of shampoo. I need those audit figures. What do I make for dinner tonight?

Does that scenario sound familiar? When you get busy, you suddenly remember five other items that you need to do or think about.

All of this can be so distracting that you’re unable to keep up and have difficulty concentrating.

The Fix: Meditate and Be Mindful

If you’re like most people, your mind is lost in thought 47% of the time, causing concentration problems. [2]

Meditation is a great way to clear the clutter, restore cognitive functioning, and focus on the present.

The good news is that meditating is easy.

Simply sit somewhere comfortable, take off your shoes, and set a timer for ten minutes. Then, just focus on your breathing.

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Don’t try to control it; simply notice your inhales and exhales, and let thoughts pass unjudged.

Mindfulness meditation, described above, is just one type. Mantra and movement meditations are also popular. Figure out what works for you, and keep those racing thoughts at bay.

5. Unresolved Issues and Arguments

Life is messy, and if you’re like me, one of the greatest concentration killers is unresolved disputes and arguments.

Maybe you argued with your partner last night. Perhaps you both went to bed angry, and it’s been bothering you all morning.

Or maybe you’re fed up with a co-worker who always talks louder than is necessary because they want everyone to hear about their latest date.

Your anger and annoyance might be well placed, but it doesn’t help to linger on these things. Your brain cells are better used for something else.

The Fix: Get Some Closure

Instead of leaving an argument up in the air, try to solve it. Stick to the point, stay calm, listen, and bring the disagreement to some sort of resolution.

If a co-worker does something to irritate you enough to interfere with your ability to concentrate, pull them aside and tell them. Be rational—not angry—and try to understand what might motivate their actions.

Otherwise, nothing is going to change, including the fact that you’re having difficulty concentrating.

6. Lack of Sleep

Sleep deprivation isn’t just a health issue. It also hinders your ability to concentrate during waking hours.

There are medical reasons for poor sleep too. Diabetes, sleep apnea, respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, generalized anxiety disorder and neurological disorders.

For those, you need to seek medical advice and treatment.

But for most people, poor sleep is the result of mental health struggles and anxiety about all kinds of things. Finances, kids, parents, or maybe that job change you’ve been considering.

You have a lot on your mind, and this causes you to have trouble concentrating.

The Fix: Have Some Sweet Dreams

Losing as few as 16 minutes of sleep can throw you off your game the next day. Getting to sleep might be as easy as changing your mattress or your pillow, but the bigger culprit is your routine. Key steps include to help restore cognitive functioning are:

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  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on weekends.
  • Control your exposure to light at night, including smartphones and computer screens. Use that time to confront those weighty things on your mind by making a list of concerns or updating your to-do list.
  • Avoid overeating. Large meals close to bed can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine. Both substances interrupt your natural sleep cycle.
  • When you do lie down, turn off the lights and close your eyes. Take some deep breaths, and drift into dreamland.

7. Lack of Exercise

Exercise lands at the bottom of the to-do list for many people. When they run out of time, they skip it. But they pay the price later in the form of their concentration.

Even moderate, regular physical activity benefits your physical health, improves your sleep, lessens anxiety, and increases mental acuity.

If you aren’t making time for exercise during the day, you’re hurting your ability to stay focused.

The Fix: Get Moving

Not everyone is an athlete, and not everyone wants to work out under the scrutiny of their fellow gym-goers. And that’s okay.

At the end of the day, what matters is sustainability.

Rather than launch into that soon-to-fail New Year’s resolution approach to exercise, start with literal small steps, like walking the dog or taking the stairs.

If it only takes you five minutes to eat that protein bar at your desk, use the rest of your lunch break to take a walk. Even if it’s around the block, you’ll come back feeling refreshed.

8. Boredom

If you’re bored with a work project, it’s easy to fall victim to even the smallest distraction. The same can happen when not enjoying what you’re doing too.

Boredom is the starting point that can spiral out of control easily. It leads to a lack of motivation, which leads to fatigue, which leads to scrolling through your Facebook feed for hours, killing your ability to focus.

Depression and boredom are tightly linked too so boredom could be a sign of something deeper.

The Fix: Get a Fresh Perspective

The pandemic has put a stranglehold on our social lives. Despite the restrictions on seeing other people and going out in public, you need to find a way to put the “social” back in your life.

Work-life balance is important, especially under these circumstances.

Even if you’re not comfortable with eating at a restaurant or visiting Grandma, there are things you can do. Zoom and Facetime are good options, but you might also think about having a couple of friends over on your patio while maintaining social distance.

Keep it short so no one even has to use your bathroom.

And about that boring work project? Tweak your attitude by thinking about how it will benefit your client.

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Find a way to make it fun, perhaps by discussing it with colleagues who make you laugh. You can check out more ways to make boring work interesting in the following video:

If all else fails, just muscle through it. Mark it off your list, and move on to something more engaging.

9. Excess Stress

The pandemic, politics, the economy, what’s happening in the news, your work, and more can be big points of stress. In some cases they are manageable.

But there are some days where you can’t help but worry and get stressed out about these things.

I understand that, however, it’s also a lifestyle choice for you to be getting stressed out about those things.

The Fix: Destressing

Stressing out over those things will not only cause a decrease in cognitive functioning and concentration but is also the starting point for other problems listed in this post.

To solve this, learning to destress in various ways will help out a lot. These methods include:

  • Making it a rule to stress out about things you can control rather than worry about what you can’t control.
  • Practice mindfulness or meditation
  • Give yourself a break
  • Talk to other people about your worries
  • Avoid using drugs and alcohol and instead, find some other way to unwind

10. Lack Of Nutrients Or Hunger

Finally, the last reason you can’t concentrate is maybe you’re not getting the right nutrients or not eating enough, to begin with.

Lack of nutrition is very common since people can get distracted by other things that they forget to eat. That or they only grab small snacks and aren’t getting the nutrients they need.

The Fix: Eat Better And Healthier

It’s vital that you’re eating properly and that you’re getting the right nutrients in your body. Vitamins like D3 and B12 help out a lot and can be taken as supplements.

In terms of actual foods, blueberries, green tea, avocadoes, fish, water, dark chocolate, flax seeds, and nuts are all proven to help with focus and concentration.

Beyond that, ensure you are eating enough at each meal and that you are eating consistently over the course of the day.

Though it’s not very common, you may also have trouble concentrating due to chronic conditions. Difficulty concentrating is a side effect of:

When Should You Seek Help?

Looking for help should be a priority if you:

  • Haven’t been diagnosed with any of the cognitive functioning disorders mentioned above and you’ve tried several of those methods mentioned above to fix difficulty concentrating;
  • Experienced loss of consciousness, severe chest pains, severe headaches, sudden and unexplained working memory loss;
  • Unusual feelings of tiredness;
  • Trouble sleeping;
  • Or seeing a decline in performance in work or school.

The Bottom Line

Concentration requires a lot of energy, motivation, and focus. That’s why most people have trouble concentrating. When there are all sorts of sounds, lights, and people competing for your attention, that combination can be elusive.

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Do your best to remove distractions, clear your mind, and take care of yourself. Those work projects will practically check themselves off once you get into a groove.

More to Help You Concentrate

Featured photo credit: Rabie Madaci via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Headache: When to worry, what to do
[2] Columbia University: How Meditation Can Help You Focus
[3] Mayo Clinic: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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