From a leadership perspective, most conversations on the topic of delegation will encourage you to prioritize your work, surround yourself with a team you can trust and devote the best available resource to each problem as they arise - even if that means letting go of some control. No problem, right? These are all great lessons to learn but it takes even the best of the best time to master them. On top of that, most entrepreneurs (especially new or young ones) have trouble with delegation because they do have a true entrepreneurial spirit; they're working on a business or a project that's their baby, their passion and their investment. No one else can really put themselves truly in their shoes.
The truth of it is that it's not always as easy as having someone else pick up the slack for you (maybe you're a team of one and it's just you!) or as simple as giving control over to a third party (a great idea if you can afford it!). If this is you right now, rest assured- I get you. I've been in the same place you are. I know what it means to have 14 hours of work to get done in 9 hours. I know what it means to have no one else to ask for help even if you wanted. Don't worry- you'll get there. In the meantime, here's the list of my ten best tried-and-true tips, tricks, #hacks, and resources to master delegation right where you are. (Secret: These are also great even if you’re not a novice!)
1. Master Your Inbox - If you do nothing else on this list, please do this. Despite all the ways that we have to get in touch with one another 24/7, email is still king when it comes to business communication. Sadly, it’s also where most people are screwing it up and it’s because they have no system. They are letting their inboxes control their lives. If you’re constantly feeling overwhelmed by emails, it’s because you’re not doing it right. (Sidenote: if you aren’t already, I recommend switching to Google Apps for Work ASAP.) Here are the tricks:
Turn Conversation View Off! I don’t know what they were thinking when they invented this option but it is the easiest way to miss pertinent information in a thread. It is the devil. Disable it now. You’ll see all your incoming messages in chronological order so that you can best handle them and not miss anything.
Develop a three-tier system for handling your messages using Priority Inbox. These settings are on the Inbox tab. Start by enabling Priority Inbox, then have your inbox sorted into three sections per my example below. I have a label I created (do this on Labels Tab) called “Tier 2” that is the critical step here. Now, when you have incoming mail everything will first hit the Unread section. Since you’ve disabled conversation view and things aren’t cluttered AF, you have the ability to choose whether you can respond to the message right away, delete it, mark it as read or do one of the following two actions with it.
Star the message to indicate that this is mega important but not something you can do in the here and now. It’s at the top of your list as soon as you can get to it. For me, these messages are typically emails from clients that require a response, proposal requests or other meeting notes. Respond to all starred messages by the end of the business day.
Mark messages that need follow up but aren’t as critical as Tier 2, or whatever fun name you’ve come up with to mark these types of messages. My Tier 2 messages are things like notes or to-dos from my accountant, anything that doesn’t pertain to a time-sensitive project or other miscellaneous messages that require some sort of action on my part.
You may be wondering what all of this has to do with delegation? It has EVERYTHING to do with delegation! Many people falsely assume that delegation is all about authorizing someone else to handle a task or tasks that you would have taken care of otherwise. I say, sometimes delegation is about having that someone else be your future self… you can handle most of what you need to - you just can’t do it all at once!
2. Boomerang for Gmail - This is my secret weapon on the never-ending quest for the elusive INBOX ZERO. Paired with my three-tier system above, using Boomerang allows me to look like a super organized badass. It’s awesome. You can schedule emails to send at a later time, set reminders to follow up if you haven’t heard back or just to bring something back to the top of the stack at a certain day and time. It’s like delegating to your very own virtual assistant and they even have a free basic plan that would work well for most people.
3. Buy a Whiteboard - Listen, I’ve harped about why you need a whiteboard before and I will go to my grave believing that it’s the secret to 99.9% of any successful project. Get yourself to Target or Amazon and get the biggest whiteboard you can reasonably fit in your space. Divide it up into columns for Monday thru Friday and then rows based on the type of work you do. Habitually spend time each day checking in with your board and updating things. Don’t try to replicate this digitally; nothing can replace the joy in being able to erase a task you toiled away on all day like a whiteboard. Deal with today and the next 4 days of your work life ONLY. The whiteboard doesn’t care what’s happening three weeks from Tuesday. That’s what a calendar is for. A whiteboard is for delegating tasks to certain days. It’s a way to give you permission to do stuff later and still be on top of it.
4. Understand When The Ball Isn't In Your Court - This is really a mindset more than a #hack but trust me when I say it’s a crucial thing to master, especially if you’re in a line of work like ours. Working on a branding project or designing a piece of marketing collateral doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires input and dialog with multiple parties: colleagues, vendors, the client, etc. If you need something from someone and they haven’t got back to you, if you’ve asked a question that hasn’t been answered or if you’re waiting for something from someone else in any way THE BALL IS NOT IN YOUR COURT. You’ve got to understand that you’ve essentially delegated responsibility to another party and that you’re not doing anyone any favors when you do anything except wait for them to contribute like responsible little adults. This is a hard one, especially if you’re the type that figures you could just jump in and do that work for them in half the time. RESIST THIS URGE. Delegation only works when you only play the balls in your court. The goal should be to get as many of them as possible back over the net ASAP.
5. Buffer - AKA your social media personal assistant. Listen, you know I love social media. It’s totally my jam. But I have things to do that aren’t social media and I don’t want it to run my life, you know? Enter: Buffer. With this nifty little tool, I’m able to schedule posts across platforms at optimum times for engagement. With Buffer, I can schedule posts out weeks (sometimes months, TBH) in advance, which is great for someone like me that does a ton of reading late at night and early in the morning but doesn’t want to share 5 articles in a row on Twitter at 11:42pm. The end result to my social media audience is that it looks like I’ve got a social media intern posting things at regular intervals throughout the day in between fetching coffee. #WINNING
6. Don't Be Ashamed of Your Monica Closet - I know I’m going to lose some of you Millenials on this one but back in the day there was this show called Friends and it was epic and we all watched it like it was religion. On this show, there was this character called Monica that was basically OCD and super organized and Type A to the max. EXCEPT FOR SHE WASN’T. She had a secret. A secret closet.
The delegation takeaway: shoving a bunch of crap into a junk drawer doesn’t make you disorganized, it just means you know that you can only deal with so much at a time and that is all stuff you can’t deal with right now. You are so organized, that this is all stuff that doesn’t fit into any other category and you have permission to deal with it at some other time. You’re welcome.
7. #Slack Reminders - If you use Slack at work, you probably know how awesome it can be for your team. That being said, sometimes your co-workers are on a different wavelength than you and share stuff that you really want to get to but just don’t have time to tackle at the moment. DON’T TRUST THAT YOU’LL REMEMBER TO READ/DO/RESPOND LATER. THIS NEVER HAPPENS. Just use the reminders tool to automagically have Slack ping you back at some predetermined future time. This is just another way to free up some of your mental energy to focus on whatever you’re working on in the present and worry about everything else later.
8. Keep a Clean Desktop (Real & Virtual) - Clean space, clean mind. Here’s what you need on your desk at any given moment: you computer and details for whatever project you are working on right now and right now only. Make your computer desktop match. Keep only files that you need to access for the project or projects you’re working on in the immediate future and nothing else. Again, this is about helping you work more efficiently on your current projects while clearing away the clutter of everything else.
9. vCita- Ever wish you had a personal assistant to schedule meetings for you and help do other administrative tasks like collect payments, get files or manage messages. Now you do. vCita is a great tool that has markedly increased the number of interactions we have through our own website and allows us to quickly schedule client meetings without the dreaded back-and-forth chain of emails that typically happens. Delegate all of those tasks to this smart tool and get back to your real work.
10. Value Your Own Time - This is the cornerstone piece in all of this talk about delegation. You must assign yourself a dollar value and then use that as the benchmark against which you gauge whether you are the appropriate person to do each task. When you start thinking of yourself in terms of the dollar value you’d need to pay yourself to do whatever it is that someone else is really better at, delegation starts to make a bunch more sense. Now, for all you haters who are going to insist that you have more time than money right now, I’m going to have to show you a little tough love. You’re not only wrong, but your belief that you’ll get things done “cheaper” if you do them yourself is also detrimental to your ability to grow and succeed. It is the number one indicator of failure. If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, just wait to see the type of mess you’ll have on your hands when you hire an amateur, even if that amateur is you.
I hope you've found one or two things to help you start delegating, even if it's virtually or on a small scale to start. The secret is that there's really no magic to mastering delegation. It's not just about hiring the right people or companies to work with and it doesn't have to be as tough as turning over complete control of your business. While learning to not be the bottleneck in your own process is a huge achievement, it's just as beneficial to learn how to get organized. The dictionary may define delegation as the act of empowering someone to act for another but sometimes I think it's just as important to learn how to use the tools and resources available to you as a way to empower yourself.