How To Outsource Your Most Dreaded Tasks

If a task has you wringing your hands, there is a solution--don't do it. Here's how to move the things you hate off your plate in the name of productivity.

In our work and in our lives, we all have low-value tasks that sap our productivity and keep us from more worthwhile activity. But how do you identify these--and how do you outsource them in order to focus on the things that matter?

A good first step is to know the value of your time. This is easy if you charge by the hour, but you can get an idea of your “rate” by dividing your monthly hours by your monthly salary. So, if, for instance, you’re worth $250 an hour, it makes very little sense for you (or your company) not to pay a PA who might cost $25 an hour to deal with things like email and post.

You may also elect to outsource or delegate higher-value tasks that you aren’t very good at (an obvious example is that many people use accountants do to their taxes). And you should look at using support to break the back of hassle-filled administrative takes--such as transferring addresses or phone numbers--that you endlessly put off because of their size.

The same rigor can be applied to your home life. If your Sunday evenings would be better spent either relaxing or preparing for the week ahead, what are you doing cutting the lawn, especially if you hate it? In fact, because tasks we dislike tend to loom large in our consciousness and sap our energy, it is often worth outsourcing these, even if it doesn’t make much financial sense. Jim Maxmin, author of The Support Economy suggests, “Keep a diary and look for things you don’t enjoy. One person’s hassle is another’s necessity.”

There’s another factor at work here too--and this that as you earn more, not only does your time become more valuable, but you’ll probably work far in excess of a 40-hour week. Thus, for someone on $500,000 a year, an hour saved may be worth far more than the notional $163 per hour that their time is “worth.” Mr. Maxmin notes that many high achievers only have a couple of discretionary hours per week. What’s more, from virtual PAs to concierge services to LearJet share schemes, the support that allows you to save hours here and there has become both easier to get--and easier to buy fractionally. That is, you can buy two hours a week of a virtual PA, rather than employ a whole PA as you might have done 20 years ago.

If you are going to get others to do things for you, you should show them how to do them properly though do it well once and you’ll never need to do it again. You should pass tasks on at the right time too. “Rather than getting halfway though solving something yourself, write a brief and give it to an expert--don’t delegate too late,” says Alex Cheatle, cofounder of Ten Group, a concierge service. He also counsels finding the right people for the job and giving them the right tools.

You need to let go effectively too. Some struggle with letting other people take over. “You have a group of dodgy delegators who I call the 'no-one-does-it-as-well-as-I-can’ brigade,” says executive coach Geraldine Gallacher. “They find it really hard to let others take over.” But let go you must--and once you’ve outsourced once it gets easier and you create a virtuous circle.

Interestingly, the spur that makes starting delegating tasks effectively can often be something outside work. Ms. Gallacher notes that women returning to work after having children often seem to have developed abilities in this area, as “there is no greater test of your appetite for delegation than handing your baby over to someone else.” Octavius Black, founder of the Mind Gym, suggests that thinking about the future can also help: “Think about yourself in the future--do you really want to be doing the same stuff that you’ve been doing for the last five years?”

While some struggle with letting go, others find it all too easy--and the reverse of micromanaging those you delegate or outsource to is showing no interest at all in the task once its been handed over. This is just as bad--for while leaving people to get on with things is empowering, total indifference is not. So, try and strike a balance--and agree on goals.

While it may be tempting to outsource and delegate much in your work and your life, there’s plenty you shouldn’t outsource. For starters, says Mr. Black, “You should hang on to the areas where you can make a real difference. It’s generally things about people--and you can’t really delegate important relationships. Great CEOs usually manage people and not an enormous amount else.” Indeed, it’s notable that the Google duo had a hand in every hire until it became impossible for them to do so. You should also hang on to the strategic, broad horizon things.

There are also some mundane tasks you shouldn’t outsource--such as those that involve confidential information. And you shouldn’t just drop things on people because you don’t like doing them. There is also something to be said, even if you are a highly paid executive, for getting your hands dirty occasionally. Finally, there may be some mundane tasks you actually enjoy. It’s okay to hang on to a few of these.

--This piece is adapted from The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work, by Rhymer Rigby, copyright 2012 Kogan Page.

Related: Fancy Hands' On-Call Army Of Personal Assistants Log 20,000 Minutes Of Talk Time Per Month

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[Image: Flickr user Jez Elliott]

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2 Comments

  • Amber King

    Good tip. Outsource tasks that you do not feel like doing. It is better to leave the job to others that are willing than do it yourself but only give 50% effort.