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A perfectionist's guide to delegation

The stress caused by an ever growing to-do list, coupled with the fear of producing anything less than perfect often leads to procrastination. The result is an even bigger to-do list and more anxiety. The only way out? Delegation.

Some of the most frustrating articles for an already exhausted perfectionist failing at delegation are ones that try to make delegation sound effortless. It’s not. Worse is someone asking you to ‘get a grip over your perfectionism’ as if it is a disease that requires healing.

Effective delegation requires clearly defined objectives. It thrives on processes that are easy to understand and replicate. And that is not all. For novices, learning to delegate takes time, effort and courage. But this struggle is temporary. Trying to do everything yourself, alternatively, takes a toll on your health and relationships. It robs you of the time and energy to enjoy the mini milestones you have worked so hard for. It slows you down.

Be aware of your limiting beliefs

One of the things I found most effective when learning to delegate was to be constantly aware of three limiting beliefs that make delegation painfully difficult:

  1. The only perfect way is my way. Someone else will never be able to do it better than me. With that in mind, there was no way I could delegate a task to someone without micromanaging and making their life miserable.

  2. Now is the only perfect time. It made me live in a false sense of urgency making me believe that things needed to be done at their earliest and I just didn’t have enough time to teach someone how to do it or to do it all over again if they made a mistake.

  3. I’ll eventually have to redo it. This one gained strength after I had a few bad experiences with delegation (most of which were the result of my own inability to delegate well).

Once I was aware of these limiting beliefs, it was not difficult to push back the voices in my head telling me to ‘do it myself’. I was ready to dive into the delegation process itself.

The next five steps help gain the clarity that is essential to delegating tasks. I recommend you follow them through without assuming you have it all sorted.

Identify your objectives

List down your core objectives for the year (or month or quarter). Make sure these are specific, measurable, realistic and time-bound objectives so you know exactly when to measure performance and how to know if you have done well.

An example of a bad objective would be to ‘Increase subscriber base’. You can turn it into an effective objective by adding a measure of performance and time, ‘Add 5,000 new subscribers to our database by June 2017.’

Compile a task-and-idea bomb

Jot down all the tasks you have to perform and random ideas you want to implement. I use post-it notes but you can try using apps like Evernote or Trello, or just another word document. Don’t stop even for a moment to categorise or link them to the objectives you identified earlier. Just jot them all down; from the most significant (developing a curriculum for a training) to the most trivial (replying to XYZ’s e-mail) of tasks.

This step is more of a catharsis for me. It helps me clear my mind of all the clutter before I proceed.

Categorise the tasks in your task-and-idea bomb

Divide the tasks you’ve jotted down into broad categories. Don’t worry about the sequence of tasks under each category just yet. You can categorise according to department, project, location, or a combination of these depending on what feels right. Put in a little thought into this but don’t overdo it.

Create subdivisions under each category

In the Human Resource category, for example, subdivisions can be recruitment, induction, training, evaluation, etc. For the sales department, lead generation can be a major heading. In case you categorised tasks under projects, subdivisions could include planning, budgeting, resource allocation, etc.

Visualise the process or workflow

For each subdivision you have identified, try to design a process identifying the sequence of tasks to be performed. For instance, recruitment can be divided into the following steps:

Step 1: Conduct recruitment need assessment

Step 2: Prepare job descriptions

Step 3: Design vacancy ad

Step 4: Advertise job vacancy

Step 5: Collect and manage applications

Step 6: Shortlist applications

Step 7: Send out e-mails to shortlisted candidates

And so on. You can add as much detail to the workflow as possible. Add side-notes if required. Add multiple possibilities and so on.

Identify tasks that can be automated

Given you are not a fan of delegation (and unless your survival as a manager requires you to delegate), your first priority will be to try and automate tasks. Apps like Zapier help automate tasks such as saving certain Gmail e-mails to a Google spreadsheet, or send out an e-mail using Gmail every time a new entry was made in a Google spreadsheet.

Identify tasks that cannot or should not be delegated:

These are tasks that:

  1. You don’t have a lot of information about yet or are unsure how to do

  2. Involve a lot of uncertainty or frequent decision making that either only you have the authority or information to make

  3. Require sharing confidential information

You will also not want to delegate a task that uses your strongest expertise or is directly related to achieving your goals / objectives.

Identify tasks that can be delegated:

After excluding tasks that can be automated and those that you simply cannot or should not delegate, you are most likely to be left with tasks that can be or need to be delegated.

For each delegable task, draft very clear instructions


Remember to always tie a task to a deliverable. If you are delegating maintaining financial records, your deliverable can be a profit and loss statement. If you are delegating social media marketing, your deliverable can be a content calendar or an analytics report.


Give a reasonable deadline for the employee to submit a deliverable. If it is a recurring task, say so and define frequency. You will want to have very frequent reporting initially (a daily financial summary, for example) to avoid last minute issues. Once you are comfortable with the employee’s work, you can reduce reporting frequency. Ideally, during your initial days with an employee, factor in some time for revisions when setting deadlines. Be prepared to give new employees 2 - 3 months to get familiar with your ways of work and to streamline the delegation process.

Templates / samples:

For each task and deliverable, give your employees previously done work as a sample or templates, if possible. If you don’t have prior work available, see if you can find online templates close to what you are looking for (without letting the perfectionist in you force you to recreate those templates with your branding just to look perfect – that will only make you hate delegation more).

It will not only help them understand what you want but also keep you from being presented with

something completely different from what you expected.

Other guidelines:

Additional guidelines may sometimes be required (given you are a perfectionist who wants things a certain way). Even for something as simple as answering phone calls, your employee can benefit from basic instructions and guidelines such as a standard greeting you would prefer when answering the phone call, what information to ask for before forwarding a call to someone, whether they are allowed to give out mobile numbers to anyone who asks, etc.

Be very clear on what perfect deliverable would mean:

Every time I see a badly formatted document, I feel disappointed. If you are particular about certain things such as fonts, number formats, colors, use of words, placement or logos, etc., be clear to communicate them. This is the same as providing additional guidelines but I just couldn’t help stress it enough.

Identify key skills / strengths:

It would now be a good time to assess the skills you are looking for in people to be able to successfully perform the delegable tasks.

Now that you know what to delegate and what you are looking for in a person to be able to complete each delegable task, it is time to decide who to delegate it to.

Delegate to the right people:

For technical or hard skills such as graphic design, video-editing, content writing, etc., assessing a current or prospective team member’s skill is as easy as assigning them a small task for evaluation. For tasks that require an assessment of soft skills more than technical ones (customer service, for instance), you can either conduct guided self-assessment sessions with your team members or use any of the aptitude tests available online. Role-playing, mock-tasks (like mock calls by a friend or colleague before placing someone at the reception), etc. are other ways of assessing and developing skills.

If you don’t have people with the necessary skills, you will either have to train them to enable them to help you with the tasks, outsource the tasks to someone outside of your organisation, or hire better suited team members.

Follow-up and provide feedback:

It is very important to follow-up with team members you have assigned tasks to. If you lose track, chances are they will also start to question the value of the task they have been assigned. Make sure to provide timely feedback, identifying the good and the bad. Give suggestions on how to improve work and offer them help if required.

A little effort, time and patience at the start of your relationship with a team member will go a long way. Good luck!

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