A one-woman band learns how to delegate the small stuff.
Ellen owned a tiny public relations firm with a reputation for excellence and attention to detail. Success was breeding success and she wanted help designing systems to manage the booming business. When she glided out to her reception area to meet me, Ellen's very presence said, "I'm in charge." Her office told me another story.

Looking around, I didn't get the sense that Ellen was so on top of things. Her desk was awash in phone messages, old publicity materials, and overstuffed client folders. She did all her own filing and scheduling because she didn't think her assistant Nicole was capable. "Things just get done faster and better if I do them myself." Ellen later confessed to a paralyzing fear that the whole operation would fall apart if she let go of any individual task.

Why It's Hard to Let Go
Although delegation is one of the most powerful tools for effective time management, it's also the most psychologically loaded. Relying on others brings up deep-seated issues of dependency and trust. If you feel guilty asking for help, are wary of being expendable, have extremely high standards, or are generally mistrusting, sharing the workload is a challenge.

When handled correctly, delegation is a win-win: It frees you to make the most of your unique talents while letting other people make a significant contribution. It promotes healthy interdependence. Although she was scared, Ellen agreed to give it a try with Four Rules of Sane Delegation .

Trust One Day at a Time
We needed to experiment with a variety of tasks, some to assess her ability to follow directions and others to test her judgment. We settled on filing, schedule management, and drafting press releases, and planned to delegate one task at a time. This gradual approach would break down the time Ellen needed to spend training Nicole and allow their trust in each other to build.

Nicole learned, and within six months, a new working relationship had gelled. Ellen was still in control, but now in a more elegant, less fearful way. She came to realize that her old angst about relying on someone else was based not on her lack of trust in others but on a lack of trust in herself. Once she understood that Nicole wasn't there to judge her, she shared the work easily, which gave her the time to focus on tasks she was best at. Last time I spoke to Ellen, she was gearing up to make another hire.

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