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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

More by this author

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 January 21, 2021

How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus

How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus

You sit at your desk, ready to finally get some work done. “Okay, lets do this,” you think to yourself. You scroll over to Word (or Excel, or Office, etc.) and open up a fresh document. You have some idea of what needs to be done, but what happens next?

You write a few words down but just can’t stay focused. Then you say “Maybe I should wake myself up with something fun.” You go to Facebook, 20 minutes gone. Then comes Youtube, 60 minutes gone. Before you know it, lunchtime has come and half the day is gone.

Does this seem familiar? Do you ever find yourself wasting your day?

Well it doesn’t have to be this way, all you need to do is focus on finishing this article to find out how to not get distracted easily.

But before we move on to the tips, here’re some important notes you need to know:

  • Avoiding distraction is tough. You’re not alone when it comes to distractions. It’s not easy staying on task when you need to work for hours at a time, but some people are able to do it. The question is: why them and not you?
  • You were never taught how to focus. It’s funny how all throughout our school days we were never taught HOW to learn and be focused, even though that’s all we did. It was just assumed, and ultimately it was hit or miss on whether or not you ended up knowing how to do those things at all.
  • The tools to help master your ability to focus. Since everyone’s left to their own devices, it’s up to you to find ways to master your focus ability. That’s what these tips are for, so you can finally stay focused and on track with what we want to accomplish for ourselves.

So without further ado, let’s get started. 

1. Keep Your Vision and Goals in Mind

First things first, why do you even need to focus? Do you want to become a skilled guitar player? Do you want to write a novel? Do you want to start working from home?

Think about it.

Knowing why we need to stay focused can help us push through the tough and tedious parts of accomplishing our goals. That’s when our ability to focus is really tested and when it’s most needed.

2. Reduce the Chaos of Your Day by Focusing on 2 to 3 Important Tasks

If you have 20 tasks you need done everyday how effective do you think your focus ability will be? Terrible, right?

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You can’t expect to do those things with sophistication if you’re too scatterbrained to focus. You need to break it down to the essentials.

Focus on only doing 2-3 important tasks a day (even one is okay), but no more than that. It’s all you need to take steps towards accomplishing your goals. Slower is much better than giving up early because you took on too much, too early.

3. Do Those Tasks as Soon as Possible

In order to make sure you get those 2 to 3 tasks done, you need to do them early. This means as soon as you wake up, you’re already plotting how to do them.

So get up, use the bathroom, eat breakfast, and do it (Yes, BEFORE work is the best time to do it).

It’s tough, but waiting to do them only invites distraction to take over. Those distractions WILL come, and they will drain your willpower. This makes working on your goals harder to do, so don’t wait do work on your goals, do them as early as possible.

4. Focus on Only the Smallest Part of Your Work at a Time

An easy way to kill your focus is to see a goal for the big giant accomplishment that it is. Most goals will at least take a few weeks to months to accomplish, and knowing that can make it feel like it’ll take FOREVER to do.

This will cause you to do one of two things:

  • You become discouraged because the goal is too big; or
  • You fantasize about what it’ll feel like to achieve the goal

Either way is terrible for your focus and always a potential problem when focusing on the big picture or using visualization.

So what should you do? Focus on doing a very small, minimum amount of work instead.

For example, which seems easier:

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Writing 200 words per day or writing a minimum of 2 sentences per day?

20 pushups per day or a minimum of 1 pushup per day?

The key here is to use minimums. Chances are you’ll push past them.

Eventually your minimum will increase, and you’ll slowly improve your ability to stay focused on the bigger tasks.

5. Visualize Yourself Working

I briefly mentioned in tip #4 that visualization techniques can hurt you more than help you sometimes. But there is a proper way of using visualization, and it’s by visualizing yourself actually WORKING (not as if you’ve succeeded already).

Champion runners use this technique to great effect, usually by working backwards. They imagine themselves winning at first, then they act out the whole process in reverse, feeling and visualizing each step all the way to the beginning.

A quicker and more relevant way to apply this would be to imagine yourself doing a small part of the task at hand.

For instance, if you need to practice your guitar but it’s all the way across the room (let’s assume maximum laziness for the sake of this example), what should you do?

First, imagine standing up (really, think of the sensation of getting up and then do it). If you really imagined it, visualized and felt the act of standing up, then acting on that feeling will be easy.

Then repeat the visualization process with each step till you have that guitar in hand and you’re playing it. The process of focusing so intently on each step distracts you from how much you don’t want to do something, and the visualizations “ready your body” for each step you need done.

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All you need to do is apply this process to whatever it is you need to focus on, just start with the smallest motion you need to do.

6. Control Your Internal Distractions

Internal distractions are one of those problems you can’t really run away from. You need to find ways to prepare your mind for work, and find simple ways to keep it from straying to non-essential thoughts as well.

A good way to prime your mind for work is to have a dedicated work station. If you always work in a specific area, then your mind will associate that area with work related thoughts.

Simple enough, right? When you take breaks make sure to leave your work station, that way you’ll know when you’re “allowed” to let your thoughts roam free as well.

Deadlines are useful here also (use Pomodoro method for example, see tip #9). This method helps keep your mind from wandering around since you’ve got that looming deadline coming along.

Ultimately though, silencing those unwanted thoughts is all about getting some traction going. So instead of focusing on what’s happening internally, focus getting something done (anything!). Once you do that, you’ll see that all your thoughts will be about finishing your task.

7. Remove External Distractions

This tip is straightforward, just get away from things that distract you.

Is the television a distraction? Work in another room. Are the kids distracting you? Get up earlier and work before they wake up. Is the Internet distracting? Turn off the modem.

It’s usually obvious what you should do, but you still shouldn’t overlook this piece of advice.

8. Skip What You Don’t Know

This is a tip I don’t see often enough, if you hit a snag in your work then come back to it later. Focus your attention on what you CAN do, keep working “mindlessly” at all costs. All this means is that you should focus on the easy parts first.

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Eventually you can come back to the more difficult parts, and hopefully by then it’ll have come to you or you’ll have built up enough momentum that it won’t break your focus if you work on it.

9. Improve Your Discipline With Focus Practice

There’s a few focus exercises you can do to improve your overall discipline.

The first one is meditation, which is basically the definition of focus in practice. Think about it, you’re literally just sitting there doing nothing. It’s a great method for building focus ability, de-stressing, and giving you greater control over your emotions. You should definitely give meditation a shot.

The second exercise is the Pomodoro method. These are basically “focus sprints,” and each one is followed by a solid break. Like real sprints, you’ll get better and better at doing them over time. Each interval improves your ability to stay focused when it matters, so it’s more than worth your time to try this out.

10. Manage Your Momentum

Momentum is like a discipline lubricant‒it helps ease the process of sticking with goals. That’s why I think it’s important that we never take true breaks from our goals; we end up losing momentum and relying on discipline to get back on track (not an easy thing to do).

This means each and everyday we need to do something significant to further our goals (yes, even weekends and holidays). And when I say “significant,” I don’t necessarily mean a big task‒but rather, any task that brings us closer to our goals.

For instance, if your goal is to be a freelance writer, then write one single pitch on a weekend. If your goal is get healthy, then go for a short 5 minute walk even on Christmas day.

Nothing big, nothing crazy, only stuff that is significant enough to contribute to the success of your overall goal.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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