By Jenny Blake // This article was originally posted on hbr.org.
Ping! Something needs your attention. Is it an email? A tweet? A text? A reminder on your phone? A calendar invite? Ping! Another one. Ping! There’s that sound again. Or maybe it’s a visual cue, an ever-ascending ticker count on your app icons or inbox.
Quick, why don’t you just respond right now? Says the devil on your digital shoulder — your sender will be instantly satisfied and you’ll be rewarded with a hit of dopamine. But wait! The angel on the other side pipes up, imploring you to aim for focus, strategy, meaning, and impact instead. A bit dazed, you return to center: What were you working on again? What was more important than whatever just came in? It’s hard to remember.
When I reach Peak Ping — a sense that I don’t have room for yet another request without sacrificing my sanity or my strategic projects — I take a moment to focus on what matters most, and remind myself that I don’t have to fly solo in my day-to-day work.
Our “angel” of favorite tasks and projects is someone else’s devil, and vice versa. That means there is someone out there who can delight in the devil of your details. The skill is learning how to delegate. Even better than you do right now. Even if you think you already delegate effectively to an extent, I bet you have room for even greater efficiency and resulting peace of mind, whether on the home or work front. We all have a Peak Ping Achilles heel, whether it’s something as mundane as the laundry or as important as monthly bookkeeping.
Many of us know the vague benefits and aim of delegation — to build teams who can share the workload so that you do the highest expression work that only you can do. But in practice, we hoard and bottleneck out of a variety of fears: the work won’t be done up to spec, it will take me longer to assign than quickly do myself, this is work no one wants to do, it will cost too much, what if this person can’t be trusted, and so on.
I used to believe all these little white lies that I told myself. It was my inner perfectionist talking, rearing her head and leading me straight back down the path to burnout, where I had been too many times before. Even I am not immune to falling into the “But I can’t delegate this!” trap and treading water again. But all of these fears are a myth.
Delegation is what resuscitated my business from the brink of collapse in 2013. Delegation is what helped me triple my income in 2014 from the three years prior, and delegation is what has helped me earn more so far this year, as I write this in May, than the previous three years combined.
Hiring more help, while it does make a dent in the budget, has helped me far out-earn the cost of creating a team that I know I can rely on.
At a certain point, everything that can be delegated should be; with rare exception. Conduct an audit using the six T’s to determine what tasks make the most sense to offload:
Tiny: Tasks that are so small they seem inconsequential to tackle but they add up. They are never important or urgent, and even if they only take a few minutes they end up taking you out of the flow of more strategic work. For example, registering for a conference or event, adding it to your calendar, and booking the hotel and flight — on their own each of these things may not take much time, but taken together, they all add up.
Tedious: Tasks that are relatively simple probably are not the best use of your time. Very straightforward tasks can (and should) be handled by anyone but you. For example, manually inputting a 100-item list into a spreadsheet and color-coding it, or updating the KPIs in your presentation deck.
Time-Consuming: Tasks that, although they may be important and even somewhat complex, are time-consuming and do not require you to do the initial 80% of research. You can easily step in when the task is 80% complete and give approval, oversight and/or direction on next steps.
Teachable: Tasks that, although complicated-seeming at first and possibly comprising several smaller subtasks, can be translated into a system and passed along, with you still providing quality checks and final approval. For example, teaching one of your direct reports how to draft the presentation deck for the monthly all-hands meeting, and even how to be the one to deliver those updates to the team.
Terrible At: Tasks that not only do not fall into your strengths, but an area where you feel unequipped. You take far longer than people skilled in this area, and still produce a subpar result. For example, the visual design of those PowerPoint slides for the team meeting, or even hiring a professional designer for an upcoming presentation outside of your organization such as an upcoming TEDx talk.
Time Sensitive: Tasks that are time-sensitive but compete with other priorities; there isn’t enough time to do them all at once, so you delegate an important and time-sensitive task so that it can be done in parallel to your other project-based deadlines. For example, leaving your iPad on the plan after a flight (as regretfully I recently did); working to recover it before it goes completely missing into the airport lost and found abyss by calling customer service daily (with long hold times). Calling an airline to change seat assignments for the following day while you are in all-day meetings.
One of the central differentiators for determining what to delegate is checking in frequently (if not daily) to examine what’s on your plate and ask: What can you and only you do? How can you delegate the rest?
Your assignment: Over the course of the next two weeks, make a note of tasks that fall under the 6 T’s above (either do this on a sheet of paper, or in a tracking template like this one with columns for different categories at home and work). For more ideas on what to delegate, check out this list of 75+ tasks I’ve delegated in the last year.
Even if you’re not sure yet who to delegate to, or even how, start by capturing the what. Then watch as your mind (and the angel on your work shoulder) magically start creating solutions for next steps from that new vantage point of space and self-awareness.
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