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The control freak's six rules to delegation

Lisa Messenger

Lisa Messenger is the CEO of The Messenger Group and founder and editor-in-chief of The Collective. She has authored and co-authored over a dozen books and become an authority in the start-up scene

Lisa Messenger

Lisa Messenger is the CEO of The Messenger Group and founder and editor-in-chief of The Collective. She has authored and co-authored over a dozen books and become an authority in the start-up scene

Most business owners know what they want, but few can do it all. Lisa Messenger explores how you can learn to let it go.

How many items are on your to-do list right now? Or – if you’re anything like me – how many to-do lists do you have on the go? Whether your tasks are jotted down in a notepad, on the back of a napkin or neatly typed onto a Trello board, I think I speak for everyone when I say, “Where does it all end?”

If you run a small business, your to-do list probably goes into double digits, and that’s not counting all the tasks that you haven’t even had time to write down because you’re too busy. But, what if I said your to-do list could be halved in the next fifteen minutes – would you be interested?

It’s time to stop, delegate and listen, because self-sufficiency is overrated. 

Two coloured pencils sit on a notebook

1. Silence your ego

I have a personal trainer who puts me through my paces three times a week. What does this have to do with business? Well, for years I tried to work out on my own but not only would it take me twice as long (10 minutes fiddling with my shoelaces, 10 minutes adjusting my top…) but it was also far less effective, as I had absolutely no idea if I should be squatting, lifting or tucking.

Once I admitted that I needed to pay an expert to help me (see Rule 2), I instantly saw the benefits. The same applies to business: if you don’t have an accountancy qualification, hire someone who does.

2. Outsource outside your inner circle

Even if you’re a solo-preneur with no employees, you don’t have to go it alone. Thanks to virtual assistants and outsourcing sites like Airtasker and Taskrabbit you can now cast aside tasks for as little as $5 a job.

At The Collective magazine I have a task force of over 70 freelancers around the world, who I call on for different projects. But if delegating outside your contracted employees, don’t forget to cover your back against security breaches by marking all important documents as private and asking freelancers to sign a confidentiality agreement, even if only performing admin tasks.  

3. Stop being stingy

As a small business owner working on a shoestring, it can be tempting to save money by having a ‘DIY’ attitude. But is this really the most profitable way to spend your time? I could spend a morning organising travel plans for my upcoming speaking gigs, or I could spend that time meeting two advertising clients and potentially strike deals upwards of $50,000.

If you really can’t budge on your budget, think about other ways you can barter for tasks to be outsourced. Do you know a tech whiz willing to help design your website in exchange for a banner advert on it, or do you have a skill set they could benefit from? Think about it this way: the expert you require probably has a to-do list as long as yours that you could potentially help shorten.

4. Use your words wisely

The secret to successful delegation is clear, precise instructions. If you have a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude and you know you’ll only be happy if a project is completed to your exact specifications, then it’s your responsibility to communicate this eloquently. Over email is always best so there’s a paper trail for later.

But be warned: this is not the same as micro-managing! You should be able to brief someone once – well – and then leave them to do their thing without hovering. 

5. Don’t aim for zero

Notice that, at the start of this article, I said you could halve your to-do list rather than finish it. I don’t adhere to the ‘inbox zero’ school of thought, where the end goal is having every piece of correspondence read and filed.

Instead I love the attitude of Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, who celebrates her never-ending to-do list. At the start of every day, Melissa writes a to-do list with the important items at the top and unimportant items at the bottom. She’s quoted as saying that "If I did [get to the bottom of the list] it would be a real bummer. Because think about all those things at the very bottom of your to-do list that really shouldn't take time out of your day.” 

6. Don’t give away your joy

Even when you do become an expert at releasing power, don’t forget to savour the tasks you do enjoy – even if they are a time zap. Personally, I will always take time to write my own editor’s letter every month for the magazine, even though it sometimes means other more financially-viable meetings have to be pushed to one side.

I’ll also always take time out to reply to readers’ emails, even thought it could be argued that one of my team could do it for me. If you have an odd love for filing, transcribing or cleaning the office kitchen, then do it. Just do it because you want to – not because there’s no other option.

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