Monday, 18 July 2016

Delegation - how to do it right

Life - at work or at home - can be a bit like one of those plate spinning acts in the circus. You may be good at time management and you may have cut your jobs down to the essentials but sometimes it’s still impossible to get to everything.

Sound familiar? What you need is delegation.

I can already hear the cries of dismay and rejection, but think about it this way. If you were spinning a dozen plates, and someone took responsibility for just one of them, it would make a difference. What about if two people took responsibility for one each?
Sounding good?  The trick to delegation is to do it properly, and I'm going to tell you how.

How to delegate effectively

  • Accept that
    - you have to ask, if anyone was going to volunteer, or intuitively realise you need help, they
      would already have done so
    - it’s not shirking or lazy to ask for help when you need it
    - it's not 'quicker/easier to do it yourself'; investing time to teach someone how to do
      something now will save you time and stress later
    - you are not the only person who can do the job, and doing it differently doesn't mean doing it
  • Communicate clearly
    - give very specific instructions if it’s important to you that a job is done in a particular way
    - otherwise give people the end result you want and let them find their own way of achieving it
    - give a deadline by which the task must be done
    - make sure the person you're delegating to understands the task before they start it
  • Ask politely, and give the reason you need help if you want to (not an excuse)
  • Don’t take refusals personally, ask someone else or delegate a different task and do the first one yourself
  • Always say please and thank you so people know you appreciate their efforts

Delegating at home

At work it may be your job to delegate and other people's job to do as you ask. It's not so clear cut at home and may take some special thought.
  • Try offering options, such as 'I really need your help today. Would you prefer to clean the bathroom or weed the garden?'
  • Another Mum once said to me 'why do children always want to help, until they can?' There's some truth in this but it’s usually easier to get a younger child interested. Suddenly introducing the idea of housework when they are teens may cause resentment
  • Offer deals: 'this cleaning needs to be done today but if we all muck in this morning we can go to the cinema this afternoon'
  • Experiment with language: my kids ignored me if I said 'please do this'. If I said 'I need you to do this please' it worked
  • Give them tasks they can relate to - it’s more logical to clean their own room than someone else's
  • If they don't do things perfectly (and they won’t), praise the effort they’ve put in and live with it. Next time they take on the same task do it with them so they can learn from you, or offer tactful and constructive suggestions for a different approach
  • Mary Poppins was right, if you can find a way to make things fun, they'll join in more willingly. Sometimes competition works as well; whoever gets their bedroom cleaned first gets a treat. And if you do this one regularly it pays to keep your bedroom reasonably tidy!

What to do if delegation fails

  • DON'T throw your hands up in the air and assume delegation will never work!
  • DON'T automatically blame the person who took on the task
  • DON'T - definitely don't - say 'I knew I should have done it myself!'
  • DO look at who you delegated to - with hindsight, were they the right person?
  • DO look at the time, tools and knowledge they had - were they enough?
  • DO look at the way you communicated the task - were you clear?
Learning to delegate is like learning anything, we get better at it with practice. If you're one of those people who usually avoids it, give it a go. Start small with routine or less important tasks and work up. You'll be glad you did.
Author: is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.Debbie is has also written about helping people with IBS in the Hypnotherapy Handbook which is available from
Find out more about Debbie's services on  or phone 01977 678593


  1. You have some really good ideas in this article. I am glad I read this. I agree with much of what you state in this article. Your information is thought-provoking, interesting and well-written. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Leslie, happy to hear you found it useful.