Productivity and GTD

GTD: Delegating tasks

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
"We accomplish all that we do through delegation, either to time or to other people" ~ Stephen R. Covey

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Both in your work and your life, there are often tasks or actions that you shouldn’t do personally. For several reasons: you don’t have the necessary knowledge or skills, you don’t have enough time or, simply, handing it to another person it’s more profitable—due to quality, speed or cost—.

Delegating actions, tasks or projects to others is almost an art. The topic is very broad and there is lots of literature on the subject, explaining what tasks must be delegated, whom, why, how and when.

I’ll write more posts on this topic, but in this one I’ll focus only on how delegated tasks should be managed using GTD, from a practical standpoint.

The basics

In GTD, delegated tasks management is extremely easy, since once a task has been handed off, it’s no longer in your field. So you only need a list, folder, or bucket in which you can put the tasks you’ve delegated to other people or entities. It’s called the waiting for list and you’ll need to review it periodically to keep track of these tasks.

The process

  1. When you delegate something, you must add an action to your waiting for list. It’s highly recommended to note down the date on which the action is delegated and the person or entity who receives it.
  2. Ask to be notified when the task is completed. Anyway, you should review regularly your waiting for list (as often as needed, at least once a week) to ensure everything is progressing properly. If necessary, add reminders to track specific tasks at a specific time.
  3. When a task is done, just remove it from the list. If it’s part of a project, trigger the following action steps to advance the project.

The tools

If you’re using a specific GTD or project management software, you should implement this process with no problems, since it’s a basic feature of such applications.

If not, many people at work prefer to manage delegated tasks through the email client application, as it’s often the most used communication mechanism. This way, everything is electronically recorded.

In this case, you can create a @waiting folder in your email program and then move the mails involving tasks delegation to it. That will be your waiting for list. Therefore, you must periodically review the mails in that list, set alerts if necessary—your own email client application or a calendar one can help you do this—, remove them when they’re done and generate the following step actions, if any.

This is not the best method, but if you delegate a task through a conversation, personal or by telephone, try to record it as soon as possible in your GTD system, in your corporate software or in an email. Otherwise, you won’t be able to track it properly and the other person can forget it.

Additional tips

  • Notice that there are tasks that, strictly speaking, are not delegated, but they’re out of your control and you need to track them (e.g. “receive the payment from my customer”). You should put these actions on your waiting for list and treat them the same way as the delegated ones.
  • If you have to delegate a task verbally, choose the right time and try not to interrupt your workflow nor the receiver’s.
  • Don’t forget that transfering a task to someone doesn’t relieve you of accountability. You’re still fully accountable, therefore, you should make a good track of its progress.

Recommending read: Stewardship Delegation – The Power of Trust and Commitment

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