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How to Decide Which Tasks to Delegate

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Ping! Something needs your attention. Is it an email? A tweet? A text? A reminder on your phone? A calendar invite? Ping! Another one. Ping!There’s that sound again. Or maybe it’s a visual cue, an ever-ascending ticker count on your app icons or inbox.

Quick, why don’t you just respond right now? Says the devil on your digital shoulder — your sender will be instantly satisfied and you’ll be rewarded with a hit of dopamine. But wait! The angel on the other side pipes up, imploring you to aim for focus, strategy, meaning, and impact instead. A bit dazed, you return to center: What were you working on again? What was more important than whatever just came in? It’s hard to remember.

When I reach Peak Ping — a sense that I don’t have room for yet another request without sacrificing my sanity or my strategic projects — I take a moment to focus on what matters most, and remind myself that I don’t have to fly solo in my day-to-day work.

Our “angel” of favorite tasks and projects is someone else’s devil, and vice versa. That means there is someone out there who can delight in the devil of your details. The skill is learning how to delegate. Even better than you do right now. Even if you think you already delegate effectively to an extent, I bet you have room for even greater efficiency and resulting peace of mind, whether on the home or work front. We all have a Peak PingAchilles heel, whether it’s something as mundane as the laundry or as important as monthly bookkeeping.

Many of us know the vague benefits and aim of delegation — to build teams who can share the workload so that you do the highest expression work that only you can do. But in practice, we hoard and bottleneck out of a variety of fears: the work won’t be done up to spec, it will take me longer to assign than quickly do myself, this is work no one wants to do, it will cost too much, what if this person can’t be trusted, and so on.

I used to believe all these little white lies that I told myself. It was my inner perfectionist talking, rearing her head and leading me straight back down the path to burnout, where I had been too many times before. Even I am not immune to falling into the “But I can’t delegate this!” trap and treading water again. But all of these fears are a myth.

Delegation is what resuscitated my business from the brink of collapse in 2013. Delegation is what helped me triple my income in 2014 from the three years prior, and delegation is what has helped me earn more so far this year, as I write this in May, than the previous three years combined.

Hiring more help, while it does make a dent in the budget, has helped me far out-earn the cost of creating a team that I know I can rely on.

At a certain point, everything that can be delegated should be; with rare exception. Conduct an audit using the six T’s to determine what tasks make the most sense to offload:

Tiny: Tasks that are so small they seem inconsequential to tackle but they add up. They are never important or urgent, and even if they only take a few minutes they end up taking you out of the flow of more strategic work. For example, registering for a conference or event, adding it to your calendar, and booking the hotel and flight — on their own each of these things may not take much time, but taken together, they all add up.

Tedious: Tasks that are relatively simple probably are not  the best use of your time. Very straightforward tasks can (and should) be handled by anyone but you. For example, manually inputting a 100-item list into a spreadsheet and color-coding it, or updating the KPIs in your presentation deck.

Time-Consuming: Tasks that, although they may be important and even somewhat complex, are time-consuming and do not require you to do the initial 80% of research. You can easily step in when the task is 80% complete and give approval, oversight and/or direction on next steps.

Teachable: Tasks that, although complicated-seeming at first and possibly comprising several smaller subtasks, can be translated into a system and passed along, with you still providing quality checks and final approval. For example, teaching one of your direct reports how to draft the presentation deck for the monthly all-hands meeting, and even how to be the one to deliver those updates to the team.

Terrible At: Tasks that not only do not fall into your strengths, but an area where you feel unequipped. You take far longer than people skilled in this area, and still produce a subpar result.  For example, the visual design of those PowerPoint slides for the team meeting, or even hiring a professional designer for an upcoming presentation outside of your organization such as an upcoming TEDx talk.

Time Sensitive: Tasks that are time-sensitive but compete with other priorities; there isn’t enough time to do them all at once, so you delegate an important and time-sensitive task so that it can be done in parallel to your other project-based deadlines. For example,  leaving your iPad on the plan after a flight (as regretfully I recently did); working to recover it before it goes completely missing into the airport lost and found abyss by calling customer service daily (with long hold times). Calling an airline to change seat assignments for the following day while you are in all-day meetings.

One of the central differentiators for determining what to delegate is checking in frequently (if not daily) to examine what’s on your plate and ask: What can you and only you do? How can you delegate the rest?

Your assignment: Over the course of the next two weeks, make a note of tasks that fall under the 6 T’s above (either do this on a sheet of paper, or in a tracking template like this one with columns for different categories at home and work). For more ideas on what to delegate, check out this list of 75+ tasks I’ve delegated in the last year.

Even if you’re not sure yet who to delegate to, or even how, start by capturing the what. Then watch as your mind (and the angel on your work shoulder) magically start creating solutions for next steps from that new vantage point of space and self-awareness.

Jenny Blake is a career and business strategist and speaker who helps people build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. She is the author of PIVOT: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One (Portfolio/Penguin Random House). Her latest course is Delegation Ninja: Turn Frantic into Freedom. Learn more at PivotMethod.com/toolkit, and check out her Pivot Podcast.

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/07/how-to-decide-which-tasks-to-delegate?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=dailyalert&referral=00563&spMailingID=17735899&spUserID=OTA1Njk1ODMwMAS2&spJobID=1061956478&spReportId=MTA2MTk1NjQ3OAS2

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The Busier You Are, the More You Need Quiet Time

In a recent interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein, journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates argued that serious thinkers and writers should get off Twitter.

It wasn’t a critique of the 140-character medium or even the quality of the social media discourse in the age of fake news.

It was a call to get beyond the noise.

For Coates, generating good ideas and quality work products requires something all too rare in modern life: quiet.

He’s in good company.  Author JK Rowling, biographer Walter Isaacson, and psychiatrist Carl Jung have all had disciplined practices for managing the information flow and cultivating periods of deep silence. Ray DalioBill George, California Governor Jerry Brown, and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryanhave also described structured periods of silence as important factors in their success.

Recent studies are showing that taking time for silence restores the nervous system, helps sustain energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive to the complex environments in which so many of us now live, work, and lead. Duke Medical School’s Imke Kirste recently foundthat silence is associated with the development of new cells in the hippocampus, the key brain region associated with learning and memory. Physician Luciano Bernardi found that two-minutes of silence inserted between musical pieces proved more stabilizing to cardiovascular and respiratory systems than even the music categorized as “relaxing.” And a 2013 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, based on a survey of 43,000 workers, concluded that the disadvantages of noise and distraction associated with open office plans outweighed anticipated, but still unproven, benefits like increasing morale and productivity boosts from unplanned interactions.

But cultivating silence isn’t just about getting respite from the distractions of office chatter or tweets.  Real sustained silence, the kind that facilitates clear and creative thinking, quiets inner chatter as well as outer.

This kind of silence is about resting the mental reflexes that habitually protect a reputation or promote a point of view. It’s about taking a temporary break from one of life’s most basic responsibilities: Having to think of what to say.

Cultivating silence, as Hal Gregersen writes in a recent HBR article, “increase[s] your chances of encountering novel ideas and information and discerning weak signals.” When we’re constantly fixated on the verbal agenda—what to say next, what to write next, what to tweet next—it’s tough to make room for truly different perspectives or radically new ideas. It’s hard to drop into deeper modes of listening and attention. And it’s in those deeper modes of attention that truly novel ideas are found.

Even incredibly busy people can cultivate periods of sustained quiet time. Here are four practical ideas:

1) Punctuate meetings with five minutes of quiet time. If you’re able to close the office door, retreat to a park bench, or find another quiet hideaway, it’s possible to hit reset by engaging in a silent practice of meditation or reflection.

2) Take a silent afternoon in nature. You need not be a rugged outdoors type to ditch the phone and go for a simple two-or-three-hour jaunt in nature. In our own experience and those of many of our clients, immersion in nature can be the clearest option for improving creative thinking capacities. Henry David Thoreau went to the woods for a reason.

3) Go on a media fast. Turn off your email for several hours or even a full day, or try “fasting” from news and entertainment. While there may still be plenty of noise around—family, conversation, city sounds—you can enjoy real benefits by resting the parts of your mind associated with unending work obligations and tracking social media or current events.

4) Take the plunge and try a meditation retreat:  Even a short retreat is arguably the most straightforward way to turn toward deeper listening and awaken intuition. The journalist Andrew Sullivan recently described his experience at a silent retreat as “the ultimate detox.” As he put it: “My breathing slowed. My brain settled…It was if my brain were moving away from the abstract and the distant toward the tangible and the near.”

The world is getting louder.  But silence is still accessible—it just takes commitment and creativity to cultivate it.

Justin Talbot-Zorn is a Truman National Security Fellow and public policy consultant.  He has been a regular meditation teacher on Capitol Hill, where he also served as Legislative Director for three Members of Congress.

Leigh Marz is an organizational consultant, coach, and former executive director of a national non-profit.  As founder of Marz Consulting, she has advised and facilitated retreats for leading universities and federal agencies.

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/03/the-busier-you-are-the-more-you-need-quiet-time?%20utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=mtod&referral=00203&spMailingID=17735613&spUserID=OTA1Njk1ODMwMAS2&spJobID=1061954453&spReportId=MTA2MTk1NDQ1MwS2

 

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