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The Art of Delegation

The Art of Delegation
April 5, 2010

It's always perplexing to me that new faculty who describe themselves as physically, emotionally, and intellectually exhausted are often so resistant to trying a little delegation. I was recently at a large conference where I met lots of new faculty, most of whom told me how tired and frazzled they felt each week. Every time I asked someone why they felt so fatigued, I heard lists of work a mile long! But when I gently suggested delegating some of that work, hiring help, or seeking assistance, these ideas were met with scoffs, gasps, glares, and defensiveness. That made me realize it's definitely time to discuss Common Mistake #12: Believing You Must Do EVERYTHING Yourself.

For a variety of reasons, new faculty members often believe they must do everything on their own. This may be because they did so as graduate students, are unaware of the support services available to them, don't trust others, feel uncomfortable asking for help, and/or simply have no experience delegating tasks. No matter what causes people to feel that they must do everything themselves, it results in the same problems: exhaustion, inefficiency, and lower productivity. You have only a finite number of hours in each workday and they need to be aligned with your promotion and tenure criteria in order for you to be successful. If nonessential tasks are keeping you from research and writing, it's time to rethink the do-everything-yourself strategy in order to focus your energy on the things that really matter.

EVALUATE YOUR TASKS AND DELEGATE

If you are feeling exhausted, stop for a moment and examine your workload. Then gently ask yourself the following question:

Which tasks must be done by ME and which tasks can be completed by SOMEONE ELSE?

Every aspect of your job is comprised of a series of tasks. Some of the tasks can only be done by you, so you should continue to invest your energy in them. But there are many tasks that do not require your personal attention in order to get done. In other words they can, and possibly should, be completed by someone else.

Where Can You Get Help?

Some of you are fortunate enough to have research, professional development, and/or start-up funds, access to motivated graduate and/or undergraduate students, and competent office staff. These supportive resources and people are in place to assist you in becoming successful and productive in your research so utilize them! Once you have identified what tasks can be done by someone other than you, imagine who else could complete them. Below I list some ways that the new faculty I work with have started to identify nonessential tasks and delegate them:

  • One person realized she was spending an hour printing and making copies before each class -- she decided to post half the material on her class’s Blackboard site and ask her department staff person to copy the remaining items.
  • Another person needed assistance grading exams -- she created a rubric and hired a grader on an hourly basis for the end of the semester.
  • Another needed to outsource motivation and accountability in order to develop a daily writing routine – she hired the Pro-Nagger to call her each morning, state her writing tasks, and report in at the end of the day.
  • Another couldn't find the time to get a manuscript that was 90% complete out the door -- he sent it to a professional editor
  • Another still had not unpacked the boxes in her office from last summer's move and was losing too much time each week searching for things -- she hired a highly organized undergraduate student on an hourly basis to read Organizing From The Inside Out, design a system for her office, and help unpack those boxes.
  • Another person assumed she would have to index her own book (after learning that the press publishing her manuscript would not pay for the indexing) – instead she asked her chair for ideas and found out that her college has a “book subvention fund” for new faculty and all she had to do was apply and hire an indexer recommended by the press.
  • Finally, one needed to fill in the holes of a bibliography -- she asked her RA to complete this task (it was the first task she had delegated to him all year because she “didn’t want to impose” on his time).

Once new faculty members realize that they don’t have to do everything themselves, the next layer of resistance to delegation is often some form of the following: “You don’t understand! I don’t have any money and my institution is broke!” Whenever I hear this, I know to ask: “Have you actually requested assistance or are you just assuming it doesn’t exist?” Nine out of ten times, the defensive and dismissive resister has been constantly hearing about budget cuts, shrinking endowments, and various predictions of institutional apocalypse. They then assumed that there were no funds available to support anything beyond basic necessities at their college. But when they actually ask for help, they are often surprised and delighted to find that people help them get their needs met.

Sometimes it’s through internal funding that the new faculty member may not have known existed (like that book subvention fund). Sometimes it’s through a creative use of existing resources that the new faculty member simply wasn’t utilizing properly (like asking departmental staff to make copies for you). My main point is simply this: You do NOT have to be rich or work for a well-funded private institution to delegate tasks on your to-do list. You DO have to understand that doing everything yourself can lower your overall productivity on the things that matter to your long-term success. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and not making progress on your research agenda, it makes sense to determine what tasks can be done by someone else and find innovative ways to delegate those nonessential tasks.

I don't know what your individual needs and/or resources are, but it's worth taking 15 minutes at this week’s Sunday Meeting to review your commitments for the remainder of the semester, consider what nonessential tasks are on your to-do list, decide how they can be delegated, and who (besides you) can get them done. In other words, if you have more work than hours in a day, it’s time to take a fresh look around and ask: How can I delegate? Get creative and do some brainstorming with mentors in your department, your professional network, or on my discussion forum.

THIS WEEK'S CHALLENGE

  • Analyze your to-do list for this week.
  • Determine what tasks must be done by you and what can be delegated to someone else.
  • Think creatively about how to use your existing resources to move some non-essential tasks off your plate.
  • If you are afraid to ask departmental staff members to do their job and/or “don’t want to impose” on graduate assistants, stop and ask yourself: What’s up with that?
  • If you don’t have funds under your control for supportive services, ask your department chair what resources exist on campus to support your professional development and productivity.
  • If you’re still resistant to delegation, gently ask yourself: why do I feel that I must do everything myself? What essential work isn’t getting done while I am doing nonessential busy work? Is this the best use of my work time?
  • (Re) commit yourself to 60 minutes of writing every day – that’s definitely something that only YOU can do!

I hope that this week brings each of you extraordinary clarity when analyzing your tasks, unlimited creativity as you delegate the nonessential ones, and the deep joy that comes from investing your best energy into your intellectual projects!

Peace & Productivity,
Kerry Ann Rockquemore

 

 

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