How to stop doing everyone else’s work

Busyness is the new pandemic, one spread by women who take on too much work. Too much of other people’s work, that is. We wind up overloaded for many reasons (‘no’ can be the hardest word), but this particular trap is our failure to delegate. 

“I had to work late last night doing something INSERT NAME was meant to do”. Sound familiar? We often hear this complaint when women are tasked to lead people and projects yet find themselves doing most of the work.

The transition from doer to leader is hard. The skills that make you very good at delivery can make you very bad at enabling others to do the same. And you’re not the only one suffering. While you’re running yourself ragged, you’re probably driving coworkers crazy with micromanagement and passive aggressive behaviour. In the meantime? Leaders around you are focused on high-priority (and visible) work that gets them the recognition you deserve. 

We love and support you, so take this feedback as a gift to help you improve: If you’re still doing other people’s work, you’re not nailing that promotion.

How to do less and lead more

Excellent co-CEO (and Powrsuiter) Jenny Busing has coached many high-performing leaders into good habits. This week, she shares five delegation tips you can action right now to inspire low touch, high quality work.

1. Plan to not do

Planning. We often underestimate the time we should spend on it. Planning is a critical part of leadership, so you probably need to do more of it. 

We’re women of action. We want to dive in and start doing, but planning can take up to fifty percent of the total delivery time. You’ve experienced what happens when you skip it – people run in different directions while you run back to your desk to deliver what’s needed. Planning doesn’t always mean Gantt charts and spreadsheets; Jenny says it starts with getting on the same page:

“What does a slam dunk feel like? If we agree that it’s people being brought to applause over deliverables, then we agree to ask this question during delivery: ‘Is this at a hell yeah applause level?’ If it’s not? Keep going.”

2. What does ‘done’ look like?

Your goal is to establish a track record of success together: 

“Define what ‘done’ looks like together. Agree on the objectives, jobs to be done, and detailed deliverables. Don’t forget to also define what’s out of scope or not important for success – this will help everyone avoid time-consuming rabbit holes.”

Upfront expectations limit future pain. Ahh, there’s that word: expectations. Women tend to find it hard to set them. Establishing an expected standard of work can feel uncomfortable at first, but practice makes perfect. Try something we often rely on – a checkbox exercise. Create an expectation checklist together, so contributors can refer to it during delivery. Some helpful questions to get you started:

  • Goal: What is the organisational benefit of this piece of work? How will success be measured
  • Timeframe: What is a reasonable timeframe for delivery?
  • Audience: Who is this for, and what do they need
  • Scope: What tasks are required (and what aren’t required?)
  • Participants: Who needs to collaborate on this, and to what extent?

3. Your way is not always the only way

Many leaders get there by being technical experts. You’ve honed your skills and are so effective that you can usually deliver better results in less time. You’ve developed specific processes, communication styles, and frameworks that made you very good at doing. 

That’s no longer your role. 

You’re now the orchestrator; your job is to enable other people to deliver to your same high standard. That doesn’t mean doing it your way. No one likes to spend time and energy producing a piece of work they’re proud of, only to see it reworked because you would have done it differently. Rework their work a couple of times, and they’ll start doing less while you continue to do more. 

For Jenny, it’s about making a conscious decision to back others’ ability to execute. “Get that Ted Lasso BELIEVE poster out and tell them why you know they can do it and ask why they think they can do it.”

Others won’t write like you, plan like you, or even match your past deliverables. Before you take that red pen to paper (and motivation levels), ask yourself, “Does this meet the standard we agreed to?”. If it does? Give them a whopping great congratulations for a job well done, and give yourself the night off.

4. Good things take time

According to Jenny, the main reason we do others’ work is for speed. As an expert doer, you might take 30 minutes to whip out an email, white paper or budget. That’s why you’re no longer doing it. Everyone else will need more time (you used to, remember?).

If you build in time (and the expectation) for an iterative process, you’ll see quality improvements. Encourage peer reviews before work gets to you – after all, everyone knows what’s expected #checklist. Jenny’s simple tips for efficient reviews?

“Set up show-and-tell check-ins in your calendars. Ask them to be sent via screen recordings to help everyone stay on track while supporting asynchronous work. We don’t need 30-minute status check-ins every three days when a screen recording on 3x speed will do the trick.”

5. Think twice before stepping in

At first, expect lots of questions and requests during delivery. You’ll have to use your leadership judgement to know when to step in and when to delegate back. 

We learn through observation. If you step in to help when you’re not needed, you’re exhibiting doing, not leading (remember, you’ve already mastered doing!). Take the time to clearly and kindly repeat your expectations and remind everyone that you back them to figure it out. 

Don’t hand out answers or respond to impromptu distractions – you have brilliant people working on exceptional things, and often, the best thing you can do is stay out of their way.

30 second action:

The next time you’re asked for help, change your response. Rather than offering a solution straight away, ask your coworkers to come back with recommendations.

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