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Accomplish More Each Day: Four Steps to Easy Delegation

You could spend two hours every evening reading tips on efficient working. You could then implement every last one of them so that you’re working as efficiently as possible, every minute of your working day.

And, all too often, you’d find that you’ve become very good at Getting Things Done. But the “things” you’re doing could be done by pretty much anyone and you’ve not made yourself any more effective. You’ll be racing through work, but, like Alice, you’ll be running hard and going nowhere.

Once you’re past the most junior level in your company, you can vastly improve your effectiveness by being willing to delegate. Even if you’re a freelancer working solely for yourself, there are tasks you can pass on to someone else (what about using a Virtual Assistant?)

So why do so many bosses end up trying to micromanage? Why do so many managers waste their time on work that a kid fresh out of high school could do? It’s often because they’re not willing to delegate – or not confident enough about it.

Delegating typically brings up some tricky issues that you might rather not face, like:

Here are some of my tips on getting through these problem patches.

For example, if your job involves hosting websites for a number of clients, there are probably some simple steps you go through for each one:

..and so on. Do you really want to spend ten minutes figuring out what you did last time, in what order (and looking for account names and passwords) every single time? If you’ve got a straightforward document which lists, step by step, what you need to do, you can run through it without room for error and without much need for thought.

Most of us have a number of routine tasks that we “bodge” our way through; things which we do on a semi-regular basis but can’t be bothered to sit down and work out a system for. When you next come across one of these in your own work, create a simple set of instructions there and then. It’ll take you a few minutes now, but it’ll save you time from now on. (Think of it like insulating your home: you pay up-front, but then you save on heating and air conditioning bills for years to come.)

Of course, this is a poor way to approach things. A one-off expenditure of an hour today could save you thirty minutes every week for the next five years.

When you pass on a routine task to a colleague, make sure that:

In some cases, you’ll be passing on a one-off task. The best way to do this is to give clear written instructions (probably in an email) and to ensure that you’re available to answer questions if necessary. Don’t just dump work on someone and tell them to “figure it out”: you’ll cause them stress, and you’ll probably be unsatisfied with the results.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’re the only person who’ll check things properly, or that you’ve got a good eye for detail whereas others haven’t. If you find that work isn’t being completed to a satisfactory standard, it’s probably because either the procedure isn’t clear, or you haven’t clearly explained what needs doing.

For some people, this is particularly important in their personal life. Don’t get hung up on being the only person in your household who can do laundry, clean the bathroom or iron clothes “properly”. If you take the time to teach a partner or child how to carry out simple household chores, you might find that you’ve freed up a lot of time for yourself. You might also consider hiring someone to clean once or twice a week – or even paying someone else to cook your meals. (It could be far cheaper than you’d think.)

If you’ve had experience of delegating work to others, whether in a professional or personal context, what tips do you have for our readers?

Written on 2/23/2009 by Ali Hale. Ali runs Alpha Student, a blog packed with academic, financial and practical tips to help students get the most out of their time at university. Photo Credit: Or Hiltch
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