A lot of us accidental bosses – those of us who found ourselves leading a team because we’re good at doing the work ourselves – are terrible at delegating. One version of that resistance sounds like this:

“I just feel like it’ll take more energy to delegate it than to do it myself.”

There’s also this variation:

“I could do it myself in the time it’ll take to explain it to someone else.”

I know that tune. I used to think I wrote that tune. But I eventually learned that it is, not to mince words, bullshit.

Yes, the first time you delegate it, it will cost you more time and energy than if you did it yourself. The next time, the ratio of effort required from you vs effort required from the person you delegated it to will begin to shift. And before long, all it takes is the effort to forward the email, stop at their desk, shoot them an instant message. “Could you take care of this?” “Sure.” Done.

And from a cost-benefit analysis standpoint… don’t get me started. This is not about five minutes here and five minutes there. It’s about the cumulative opportunity cost vs the benefits of you being able to focus on the highest-impact, most important stuff that’s available to you to work on. Think for a moment of the benefit to your business – and to you personally – if you could quit doing the little tasks you know could be done by someone else, and get your head above water now and then.

Now tell me again how not delegating is the most efficient way forward.

I know – believe me, I know – how tempting it is to say you’re just going to do it this once, just because you’re really slammed today and it just needs to get done and your colleague is busy anyway. And because it comes easily to you, and it’ll only take five minutes.

But here’s my tough love for you:

  • When you refuse to delegate things, you are actively contributing to a bottleneck in your business. If it can’t be done without you, then the business is overly dependent on you. Repeat your new mantra after me: My company can thrive without me. I will systematize.
  • It is (just maybe) possible that you are being a control freak. I’m not judging; we’ve all been there. And your teammates may not do things exactly the way you would. Allow for the possibility that their way may be better. Invite the possibility that you may be standing in the way of someone else doing the thing they were born to do. Imagine delegating as an act of generosity.
  • You are in a rut. Until you break out of it, you can’t move forward. What are the odds that if you do it just this one more time, that you will have a change of heart next time and finally get around to delegating it? It’s time. Now.

Here is the best advice I ever got about how to delegate. (We can talk about how to figure out what to delegate another day.) Picture this:

  1. You are ready to do the damned thing yourself and be done with it. Step one: Pause for just a second.
  2. Ask the person to whom you would like to delegate the task to come and join you. (Psst… Got a virtual team/office? Check the comments for workarounds.)
  3. Say, “I want to start delegating this to you. This first time, I just want you to watch what I do and take notes on how I do it. Like, write the instruction manual. Ask me as many questions as you want. Next time, it’s your turn & I’ll watch.”
  4. Now, do it yourself. Explain what you’re doing as you do it. Answer your colleague’s questions.
  5. Ask them to send you their notes via email.
  6. Review the notes. Fill in any gaps.
  7. Next time it comes up, ask them to take a run at it while you observe. Refer to the instructions. Make note of any further gaps you notice.
  8. Ask your colleague to fill in the additional gaps.
  9. You’re done. And now you never have to do that thing again.

This changed my life. Seriously. Instead of you having to figure out how to teach someone how to do it, just do it & trust their intelligence. Take it from me: It works, and you will feel amazing.

Now, what are you going to do with all the time and energy that you’ve freed up?

Edited at 9:19 am to add a note for those who work with virtual teams.