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Learning To Delegate More Effectively

As Published In Professional Organizers Blog Carnival
Learning To Delegate More Effectively

Delegation can be a tricky business. You don’t want to simply “dump” distasteful work on someone else — but you need to make sure the job gets done, and it doesn’t need to be done by you. Delegating can become a particularly sensitive issues when it is lateral — asking a fellow colleague, freelance consultant, family member, or friend for help. But by approaching delegation in the right way, you can make the experience enjoyable for both parties.

Strengths And Weaknesses

When delegating a job, keep in mind the person’s talents, area of specialization, and schedule. And set yourself up for success by delegating to someone who can actually complete the task! Handing a job off to a person who is missing a key ingredient (time, skills, resources, experience, or willingness) will only frustrate you both. Also keep in mind that the quickest way to turn someone off to a delegated job is to give that person an assignment that is substantially below his or her skill level. Delegate a project to the most junior person who is capable of successfully completing the job — it’s silly to waste $30 an hour on an administrative assistant when a $10 an hour temp could complete the work.

When choosing which jobs to farm out, you need to remember that delegation can be used as a very effective training and educational tool. Delegate interesting projects in addition to drudgery — especially if you are trying to groom a new assistant, up-and-comer, or someone you want to be able to take on more and more challenging tasks as time goes by. Frankly, you will wear your team members out and dampen their enthusiasm for assisting you if you only give them the “dregs.” You want delegation to serve as an opportunity to help the other person grow and expand their skills, as well as a way for you to get menial chores done. If you challenge your delegees today, you’ll keep them interested in the work — and also be able to give them more difficult assignments in the future (without worrying that they will be overburdened!)

Delegating The Right Way

In order to delegate successfully, you need to follow a system — one that keeps both you and the delegee on track. Let’s start with your side of things, as the delegator. When you assign a project to a colleague or employee, how do you remember exactly what you asked of them? When you gave them the job? Your agreed upon deadline? There’s nothing more frustrating than handing a job over to someone and forgetting that you delegated it, or when you delegated it, or when it was due back to you. You can keep track of what projects you give to whom by keeping a simple delegation log, in which you record these important details. This is especially important when you’ve delegated multiple tasks to numerous different people. Simply review your log each week, see which items should have been completed, and follow up with your folks. You’ll find yourself facing fewer missed deadlines and experiencing a lot less stress. The last thing you want when you delegate a project is to wake up at 3 AM thinking, “Oh no — did I ask my web master to update my newsletter yet, or not?” We all suffer from mid-life Alzheimer’s at times, so write it down!

But you also need to create some structure for your delegee. Don’t ever hand a job off with the instructions, “I need this back when you finish.” Give your delegees a firm deadline along with the assignment. Although the ultimate responsibility for completion of the job lies with you, you don’t want to waste all of your time chasing after someone saying, “When will you be done?” Similarly, you shouldn’t have to guess what kind of a finished product your assistant will hand you when the final deadline comes around. Communicate the exact result you expect before you delegate the job and agree on a goal with your delegee. That might seem obvious, but few people do this really thoroughly — and they pay the price later. Give your helpers enough information to go on so they don’t have to keep coming back and asking you for more information every step of the way. The whole point behind delegation is to save you time — and that doesn’t happen if you’re always on the phone or in meetings clarifying requests.

Bite-Sized Is Better

It can also be overwhelming to a delegee for you to hand them a huge request and expect them to manage their time effectively without a little guidance. And you certainly don’t want to wait until two days before the deadline to see what kind of progress your assistant is making. It’s better to set milestones for completing each phase of the project. When you break a job up into smaller “bite-sized” pieces, it’s much easier for the delegee to handle, you have set up a series of natural follow-up points throughout the project,and you can check in with your team member at each sub-deadline for a status report.

A lot of people fail to follow up on delegated projects until the very end because they don’t want to seem pushy or overbearing. Of course, there is a fine line between checking in and micro-managing. Once you feel the person has a firm grasp on the expected result, allow your delegee enough freedom to decide how to accomplish the job. Delegation is about letting go of a task you didn’t need to do in the first place — and as long as it is completed in a satisfactory manner, who cares HOW it was accomplished? But on the other hand, you shouldn’t have to guess how far along a delegee is in a project, at any point in the process. Ask your people report their progress at regular intervals — these milestones are the perfect excuse for a meeting or written report. This allows you to discuss any problems the person has run into, any additional resources he/she might need, and make any adjustments to your project schedule.

Don’t Squash Their Enthusiasm

No one likes to work hard on a job for someone else and receive none of the glory. So be sure to give credit where credit is due! People often think that the only real motivator in this world is money, but that’s simply not true. It’s been proven that people are more likely to break their necks to do a good job in return for intangible rewards like praise than they would even for a raise or a promotion. Your delegees will work harder for you in the long run if you give them a pat on the back — don’t be stingy with the compliments when you feel that a job has been well-done. I promise that you won’t give your folks a swelled head, just a swelled sense of accomplishment and pride in their work (and an incentive to help you out again in the future!)

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and RamonaCreel.com.

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2 Responses

  1. Janet says:

    Since my livelihood as a virtual assistant depends on people delegating work to me, I thank you sincerely for writing this.

    My best clients are those who understand how to delegate and trust me to carry out the work they’ve assigned to me.

    People who say they’ve had no success working with VAs are often either too vague in their expectations or tend to micromanage. Neither approach is conducive to a productive working relationship.

  2. Ramona says:

    Isn’t it frustrating when people ask you to do something for them and then don’t give you the information you need? When I had VA’s working for me, I always tried to provide as detailed a set of instructions as possible (quite often too much!) but they appreciated it.

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