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The Beginner’s Guide to Delegation

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In any given day there is only so much you can accomplish by yourself. You can always prioritize your to do list and ensure you get the most important things done but there comes a point in time where you need to get more done. In that case an extra pair of hands, or two or more, will come in useful so you can spread out the workload by delegating work to others. To successfully do this you need to learn the art of delegation.

At Asian Efficiency we love to do things faster and more efficiently. To achieve this you often need to work with other people as well, and skillfully master the art of delegation. What this comes down to is working with other people to achieve a certain outcome. You can get a lot more done (and faster) when you work together with others. It also frees up time for you so you can focus on more high value activities. The problem is that most people are uncomfortable with delegating work. That’s what we are going to address today so you can get started delegating work and get more things done.

One versus Many

A frictionless trajectory to an outcome is what everyone wants. The issue when you work alone is that YOU can be the bottleneck – you’re the limiting factor of how much can get done. If you want to step up your productivity game you need to start learning how to delegate work. Whether you’re running an one-man show or you work in a position where you have to manage team(s) – delegation is a crucial skill to have to get more things done and faster.

This beginner’s guide is written for people who really want to maximize their time, want to get more done and who have access to people to get things done. Especially as you become more successful, you will surround yourself with more people that will work with you so learning how to skillfully delegate is important.

Common Fears

One of the most common obstacles that hold people back from delegating work is fear. If you experience any of these below – you’re not alone. Oftentimes these fears aren’t justified and you have them because of lack of experience. Let’s get these addressed and handled.

That person can’t do what I can.
Don’t underestimate the capacity of others. You’ll be often surprised what other people can do when you give them the opportunity to do so (for both good and bad – but let’s focus on the positive). The other person might not be able to do it 100% like you can, but striving for perfection is not needed when someone can get it to 90% or 95%. You can always put the finishing touches so it does become 100% to your liking.

I’m afraid the other person will do it wrong and break things.
Give the other person a chance to prove yourself wrong. What do you have to lose? When you first start off delegating – delegate something that will not break the bank and is somewhat insignificant. As you become more comfortable with delegating and you notice the work completed is to your liking, you will slowly kill that fear.

It is too expensive to have someone else do it.
My question to you is: do you know what your hourly rate is? If you don’t know this, then you can’t justify that fear. We’ve written about this before in our personal outsourcing guide: calculate your hourly rate and then see if it’s worthwhile having someone else to do some of your tasks.

I’m afraid of giving someone else boring work.
What you might find boring, someone else might find it fun to do. The best delegators are the ones who can delegate work to people who enjoy the designated work. The exception to this fear is where you have authority over the other person. In that case you need to overcome this fear by realizing the authority you have over others. If you’re the CEO of a company, it’s completely fine to delegate tasks you dread to your secretary or team member – you are paying them.

I don’t know where to find good people.
Sometimes you’ve got to take a leap and see where things end up. Anyone who does business online has a gigantic pool of talent to recruit from and delegate to – there are plenty of freelancers and outsourcers at places like Odesk, Elance and Freelancer.

Another good mindset to go along with this is to delegate work to grow someone else’s skill set. No matter how tedious and boring accounting might be, delegating it to a fresh accounting graduate is a great way to empower someone else and grow his or her skill.

11 Actionable Delegation Tips

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Now that we have addressed some of the fears – let’s see how you can get started on this. We’ve gathered some of our ideas and practical tips that you can use for delegating work to others.

1. Start small.
If you have never delegated before – start with something small and insignificant. This allows you to practice delegating work and to get familiar with the process. As you become more comfortable delegating, you can delegate more significant work.

2. Define outcomes and results.
Let the other person or people know what you want to see as a result. Avoid telling others what procedures they need to do. Instead, let them figure out how to do it as long as they get the result you asked for. This allows others to take control of their work and do it as they see fit while you get the result you desire. There is more than one path that leads to Rome.

3. Set deadlines.
A sense of urgency is a good catalyst to get things done and that’s why you should, in most cases, set a deadline for tasks you delegate. Estimate how much time you think it will take, give it a margin of error (more on that later), and set a deadline accordingly.

4. Always clearly state the consequences.
Let your team know what the consequences are for missing deadlines. This will motivate and push them to finish in time. On the flip side, also let them know what rewards are ahead when they do their work accordingly.

5. Always follow up on deadlines.
When you delegate work you need to have strong boundaries and enforce them. When you let things slide and you become complacent it’s very easy for others to keep missing deadlines and work. Don’t let this happen. If there is a deadline, always enforce it. If others are pushing back then consider moving the deadline but your team should always notify you in advance about this.

6. Check in on a regular basis.
In a perfect world you would delegate work and expect the work to be done perfectly. In reality it doesn’t work that way. Check in on a regular basis to see how things are moving along. If there are any bottle necks or questions, that’s the time to address it and to resolve it.

7. Give yourself a (large) margin of error.
When you first start out with delegating and setting deadlines, give yourself a large margin of error. As people we are naturally bad at planning and estimating so protect yourself by giving yourself a cushion – especially if you first start out delegating. If you really need something done by Friday, have it planned to be done by Wednesday.

8. Be an open door.
You should make it very easy for people to contact you if they have any questions or issues with the delegated work. Nothing slows down a project more when the next action is waiting for someone. By being easily reached (text messages, phone calls, email) you ensure to keep the project moving forward.

9. Always be clear.
Leave no room for interpretation when you delegate work. Be very specific in what you want so the other side knows what to do. Ambiguity leads to bad work which in turn leads into inefficient work.

10. Lead by example.
When you work in a team the best form of leadership is to be a good example. Inspire and motivate others by showing that you continue to work as well. Nothing kills productivity of the other person more when you dump work on someone else and then just do nothing at all. Lead by example.

11. Make it easy to get started.
As soon as you have delegated – make it very easy for others to get started. You will have to do some advance planning to gather all the necessary tools and resources for your team. For example, if you need someone to make changes to your blog then provide the FTP and CMS details as you delegate the work.

Tasks you can delegate today!

To round it up, here are some of our suggestions to get you started on delegating some of your work:

  • Training material.
  • Documentation of processes.
  • Online research.
  • Website maintenance.
  • Accounting.
  • Anything you’re not good at.

Next Actions

  1. Pick something small and insignificant to delegate – then delegate it!
  2. Here are some places to start delegating work: Fiverr, Odesk, Elance and Freelancer.

Photos by pasukaru76 and USACEpublicaffairs

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Posted by Rachel Schmitz  | August 4, 2017 at 11:25PM | Reply

Great article Thanh! I wouldn’t be able to maintain all of my areas of responsibility without delegation. From home life: training my children to help out with daily tasks around the house. To work: my assistant tackling the mundane tasks that drain on me but I’ve trained her to do. To volunteer teams: cast the visitor for our mission and goal – giving them the tools and buy in to take on much of the work as I oversee the project. Delegation is truly a process and takes more time at first, but produces exponential returns on the initial time investment.

Posted by Philippe Demoulin (@phdemoulin)  | December 20, 2014 at 4:58AM | Reply

Great article Thanh Pham .
“7. Give a large margin of error”; the most complicated point to setup in my GTD system when delegating is concerned.
Delegating is hard – and I daily face this in my job- because I have to:
* set a large margin (time, money, ..) of error for the delegated job because I do not how (how, how fast, ..) the targetted people will handle the job
* set specific task for following (email, meeting, ..) the job
* set specific ad-hoc entries in my calendar to answer questions.

When I delegate a task to a colleague, I always add an extra 25% of time/money on this task in my Gantt timeline.

But you are NOT a superhero… even if you known that you probably do the task faster, you HAD to delegate:
* because you are not alone in the company
* some colleagues need to be fed by some delegated tasks .. to be avoid to be fired (sometimes, that’s the only purpose of the delegation)
* because your working calendar only contains 10h per day.

Posted by William  | May 1, 2012 at 4:30AM | Reply

9. Always be clear.
Leave no room for interpretation when you delegate work. Be very specific in what you want so the other side knows what to do. Ambiguity leads to bad work which in turn leads into inefficient work.

I think this is key, and it also shows why people are reluctant to start delegating: because a lot of the time we aren’t very good at being clear to ourselves about the exact task. If you’re doing the work yourself, you’re able to discover the outcome while you’re doing the work. It’s bad practice, but it’s easy. If you don’t have practice being clear, then specifying a project clearly enough to delegate it is daunting. Working on clarity is the key delegation skill.

Posted by ErgoOrgo  | February 1, 2012 at 6:14AM | Reply

Great article. Delegation is definitely super important, both professionally but also personally. It does take practice, and your tips above are an excellent way to get into it. I definitely was more of a micro-manager and worrier about delegating when I first started formally managing staff a number of years ago, than I am now. I think two main realisations helped me switch:
1. In the long run, delegating saves me time and stress – it may take longer for the other person to do a task first time round, but they then quickly learn
2. I may think I am amazing, but I am not indispensable, indeed it is my duty to delegate and help others learn and grow. But for people doing the same for me, I would not be where I am today.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | February 1, 2012 at 12:23PM

These are great points you bring up. I’m a big fan of the mindset “to grow someone else’s skill” as it comes from a good place. 

Posted by Timo Kiander  | January 29, 2012 at 9:53AM | Reply

Great stuff!

What I find the most annoying about delegating is that when the other party is not responding – even when sending mails or calling.

You are not kept up to date how the delegated task is moving forward (or is it at all). I know that it is the delegator’s responsibility to check things but even when those checks do not bring back any results, that’s to most frustrating thing ever.

Any ideas for that kind of situation? 


Posted by Thanh Pham  | January 29, 2012 at 10:46AM

That’s a tricky situation. If it is a case where the person is very unresponsive, I would get rid of that person and find someone else. 

In the end you still have to take full responsibility for it. That’s why it’s important to check in on a regular basis to ensure everything is on track. But if the other party is not responding you’re better off finding someone else. It’s not worth delegating to that person then.

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