No matter how focused you are and how many hours you put into your job, you can’t do it all alone.
No lawyer can, because you are all human beings and multitasking can only get you so far. That’s why every lawyer needs to learn the art of delegation.
The most compelling reasons to delegate are to increase productivity and lessen stress. Now, we know that lawyers are often loathe to hand things over to others, prone to an “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself” attitude. But that impulse must quickly become tamed if everything is to get done properly, and on time. There are simply too many time-consuming steps in every practice area.
Delegating will free up your time so you can focus on the more important and/or complex aspects of a task or case, while allowing others to use their particular skills in ways that make sense. This strategy will allow you to serve your clients better.
How to Delegate
How you delegate is just as important as what you delegate. Effective delegation happens when you plan for you it, not when you frantically throw a stack of papers and garbled instructions at an associate as you slouch back to your own office.
It’s important to assess the skills of the person you’re assigning tasks to. Delegation makes no sense if you’re demanding something of a person that is not in their wheelhouse. Be specific about what needs to be done, and whether it needs to be done a particular way. Be especially clear about deadlines—it goes without saying that the deadline should be realistic. Be available for questions or assistance if something should come up.
Start small. You’ll feel more comfortable than if you suddenly hand off half of your workload to a bunch of different people—and by “feel more comfortable,” we mean “feel less anxious and doubtful.” Then trust that if you’ve planned properly and chosen wisely, all will be well.
When the Task is Done
One step in task delegation that is tempting to skip but should not be ignored is follow-up. Feedback is the key to ensuring that future projects continue to be done correctly or are in better shape next time if something was amiss this time. Be sure not to neglect positive feedback—a quick email to say “Thanks, this looks great” doesn’t take long—and to be specific with criticism. Don’t just rail about how something was done incorrectly or sloppily; be clear about what is missing or ask a question about why certain information was included instead of the information you expected. You may sometimes find that the problem lies in your initial instructions, and not with the person performing the work. Regardless, you’ll both learn from going over the details and future work product will improve.
In the next week, delegate two simple but time-consuming tasks you would usually handle yourself. Remember to give clear instructions, a firm deadline, and feedback. Start thinking about what else you can delegate in the next week, and how you will make use of the extra time you’ll be giving yourself.