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  • Writer's pictureRich Haglund

If you can't delegate, you can't juggle.

And if you can't juggle, you'll fail as a manager. Or as anyone with continually increasing responsibilities.

This week, Wendii from Manager Tools wrote about "need" and delegation. She pointed out that most of the times we say we "need" to do something, we don't actually "need" to do that something. There is something that someone has committed to getting done such as a weekly newsletter delivered to subscribers, a packet to send to board members the week ahead of the meeting, or a repaired bathroom wall to be painted.

Even in those cases, where a commitment has been made, Wendii notes,

The [tasks] that really "need” to be done by us, in the way we think they “need” to be done, when we think they “need” to be done, are far fewer than we think.

Instead, chances are, someone else might be able to do the task or part of it, or the task could be done differently, or at a different time. (Wendii also points out that in some cases--like that report you regularly write that no one ever seems to read, for example--"delegating to the floor" or not doing the task is likely to be just fine.)

So, what about juggling? Particularly for people with ever growing responsibilities, it's important to think about your "container." Wendii reminds us that we don't have an ever expanding container of time to do all that we may be asked to do. Instead, we have a finite amount of time and capacity.

As Mark and Mike from Manager Tools explain in "The Juggling Koan" podcast, managers and others with increasing responsibility (at work, at home, or in volunteer activities) regularly face this problem: you have one finite bucket and keep being asked to juggle or fit more balls into that bucket. So, what do you do? Work 12 hours a day, seven days a week? Neglect your loved ones and the hobbies that give you energy to keep your commitments?

No, you start delegating.

Smaller balls first. These are things that are easier for you than they might be for someone else. So, it's important for you to set them up to handle what becomes a big ball for them. And you give them permission to delegate some of their balls--including ones that could be "delegated to the floor" (i.e., dropped completely).

Then you take some of the big balls in your bucket and make them smaller. Systematize them, learn how to do them more efficiently. Or ask your boss which big balls could be made smaller by making them lower priorities relative to others. And while you're at it, help those you work with do the same.

A reminder that this doesn't just apply to professional managers with lots of direct reports. Almost all of us do anything we do in partnership or collaboration with others. There are many opportunities to focus on what's most important, get great results, and--always--put people first. (For more great delegation guidance, listen to this podcast.)

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