Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Stop Doing It All Yourself: How to Delegate When You're Overwhelmed

You’ve tried every productivity hack in the book and have reached your max capacity in terms of output. You know that you need outside help to bring the work to the next level… but you hesitate. On the one hand, the idea of not having to do everything yourself really appeals to you. On the other, you wonder if you can handle the management responsibilities on top of your already heavy workload.

Your concerns are valid. In order for people to help you, they need to know what you need and to receive feedback and direction along the way. Your workflow that was uniquely yours will now have to account for another person. With the right systems and communication, this process can run relatively smoothly. But without them, the people who were supposed to help can end up creating more work.

To make sure that your investment in an intern, contractor, or employee pays off, follow these strategies.

Block Out Specific Tasks and Timelines Before You Hire

Prior to bringing someone on, clarify exactly what you want him or her to do. “Help with administrative tasks” isn’t specific enough. Think of specific job responsibilities and outcomes such as “write monthly newsletter,” “follow up with clients,” or “organize events.” Then estimate about how much time you think these activities will take. (Make sure to plan for more time than they would take you, since you’re the pro.)

Once you’ve define the specific activities, you should start to get a sense of how many hours a week you need someone to work for you or if you only need help around certain times, such as the holidays or a big conference. This clarity on what exactly you expect others to do for you will help you look for the right skill set and hourly commitment (and give you something to measure against after you hire).

For The First Few Weeks: You’re The Teacher

If you’ve found someone who is smart and eager to learn, you can expect that in time she will have the capacity to act on her own. But at the beginning, you need to slow down and explain the action steps required for each assignment. This means not making assumptions about what she knows or doesn’t know, providing both good and bad examples, and offering to review work when it’s still in the initial stages.

This keeps the person you manage from heading down a divergent path or producing work that you need to redo. Your new hire can be the most entrepreneurial self-starter in the world, but if you don’t take the time to teach her the ropes, you put her in a position to fail. Remember: delegate, but don’t abdicate.

Delegate, but don’t abdicate.

Establish a Communication Rhythm

Constant interruptions with questions throughout your day have a huge negative impact on productivity. Conversely, never knowing the status of projects can leave you on edge. From the beginning, set expectations for when you both should communicate with each other. It’s likely the work will determine the frequency of status updates. For example, weekly one-on-ones work with some individuals, while others will need check-ins daily or multiple times a day. Clarify how frequently you want communication and the mode that will work best, such as e-mail, instant message, phone, or in-person meetings. This puts your mind at ease and helps set expectations for your new hire.

Track the Tasks

It’s very easy for to-do items to get lost or forgotten in the swirl of activities. One of the best ways to ensure that what you delegate gets done is to set up a tracking system. This could look like a shared document, task list, or project management program. The tool isn’t as important as the purpose of both you and the person you hired having a clear understanding of what needs to get done and if it has been accomplished. 

Give Feedback, Early and Often

Not telling someone that something she’s doing or not doing is driving you crazy until you’re ready to fire her is not helpful to you or to her. Give feedback early and often about what’s going right and about areas where you would like to see improvement. Set up monthly lunches or quarterly meetings where you can each focus on the big picture of what is working and what isn’t. When you give ideas for growth, keep your focus on specific enhancements that can be made to the work instead of giving blanket judgments of the work, and even more confidence-busting, criticisms of the person’s character. 

How about you? 

What strategies have allowed you to work effectively with a new hire?

More insights on: Hiring

Elizabeth Grace Saunders

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Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at www.ScheduleMakeover.com.
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