Many people strive to take “me time” in their personal lives. Doing so usually involves a relaxing, solitary activity such as a long, hot bath; a stroll on the beach or in the woods; or a weekend on the couch binge-watching a TV favorite.
But there’s such a thing as “me time” at work, too. In the office, it’s not so much about chilling out as it is focusing on the projects that really bring out one’s passions and strengths. Unfortunately, many of today’s leaders and key employees face major difficulties in finding “me time.”
In a popular 2013 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “Make Time for Work That Matters,” researchers found that knowledge workers spend an average of 41% of their time “on discretionary activities that offer little personal satisfaction and could be handled competently by others.” This means you might be spending anywhere from a third to almost half of your workday on stuff that doesn’t really matter and someone else could do.
The solution, at least in part, is delegation. The HBR article found that 47% of desk-based work can off-loaded with relative ease. Activities related to “managing across” departments may also often be moved to someone else without too much operational disruption.
5 steps to delightful delegation
Naturally, handing off work-related responsibilities to someone else must be handled carefully to avoid confusion and conflicts. Here are five steps to making delegation delightful:
1. Choose tasks wisely. Selecting the right tasks to delegate is critical. Prime candidates are tasks that frequently reoccur, such as document sorting or management, and relatively small project-related actions. (Yes, micromanaging is ill-advised.) Also look for tasks that require a specific skill in which you have no expertise, such as, say, reconciling bank accounts. Could an accounting staff member, temp or intern better handle it?
Think about how long the task in question takes to accomplish and then balance the value you bring to doing it yourself vs. how you might otherwise spend that time. Always try to devote your time to projects that provide the most value to your organization and can best benefit from your talents. You may be tempted to say, “This will take me longer to explain than to do myself.” But if it’s a task that you perform often, training someone else will free up your time today and in the future.
2. Pick the right person. Before you delegate a task, consider the person’s main job responsibilities and experience. How do those correlate with the project or operational activity in question? Also consider the staffer’s schedule. Does he or she realistically have the time to do the job well?
Keep in mind that, even if the employee doesn’t have direct experience with the task, it may represent a welcome opportunity to test his or her wings in a new area or take on greater responsibility. In fact, it’s here that delegation can become a useful training and professional development tool.
3. Perfect the handoff. When handing off a task, be extremely clear about the goals, expectations, deadlines and details. Explain why you chose the individual and what the project means to the organization as a whole.
Also let the employee know whether he or she has any latitude regarding the task’s methods and processes. A fresh pair of eyes might see a new — and better — way of doing it.
4. Keep in touch (to an extent). Delegation doesn’t mean dumping a task on someone and walking away. Ultimately, you’re still responsible for its completion — even if you’ve off-loaded the work. So provide strong initial training and then stay involved for a while by monitoring the employee’s progress and providing coaching and feedback as necessary.
Remember, however, there’s a fine line between remaining available for questions and micromanaging. Constantly peering over the staffer’s shoulder is a sure way to signal distrust and build resentment. If you’re going to delegate, delegate. Half-measures will likely only lead to lower productivity for everyone.
5. Acknowledge the help. A good delegator never takes credit for someone else’s work. Be sure you generously — and publicly — give credit where credit is due. This could mean verbal praise in a meeting, a note of thanks in a newsletter or an email to the person’s manager if he or she works outside of your department.
If the project’s size and scope warrant it, consider offering a bonus, extra time off or a special gift. Such a gesture will not only thrill the staff member in question, but also motivate others to accept delegated tasks.
To be clear, delegation isn’t necessarily simple; and it’s not a be-all, end-all solution to time management. In some cases, unduly laborious tasks should be simply eliminated through operational streamlining or organizational realignment. In other cases, you may want to outsource broader functions that are preventing leaders and key employees from reaching their potential.
Nonetheless, exploring the possibilities of delegation is typically time well spent. Need some help getting started? Please contact us here. Performance Dimensions Group specializes in employee engagement measurement and management training, which includes helping your best workers get more productivity and satisfaction from their valuable time.