“You don’t need to do everything yourself” may sound liberating and puzzling all at once. You might be asking yourself, “If I don’t do it, who will?” Admittedly, delegating is a challenge, but it’s also a very learnable skill with a sweet payoff.
Does My Baby Really Care Who Buys His Diapers?
How can you determine if you’re not trying to do everything yourself when you shouldn’t be? Sarah’s ah-ha moment came the day she brought her first child, William, home from hospital on a warm Sunday morning in the summer of 2006. She and her husband Gardiner had done what they thought was a thorough job of setting up the nursery. They had a crib, changing table, diapers, clothes, soaps, lotions, a thermometer, toys, blankets – the works. But they were in for a rude awakening.
Because their son Will was on the small side, they found that the diapers they purchased came up to his chin. Then they realized they had no diaper ointment. Then they realized they had no diaper pail, no soft little cotton pads to wipe his little bottom, and no plastic bowl to put warm water in for wetting the soft little cotton pads that they didn’t have. Then they realized that not only didn’t they have enough bottles, but the ones they did have didn’t have the right nipples. Will got too much milk too fast. Then they realized they didn’t have a pacifier. The list of forgotten or never considered items went on and on! Sarah felt like a complete failure (already!) as a mom, for missing such obvious things. Sarah also realized that she and Gar were failing as a team, because they weren’t getting the important things done.
Sarah felt she had to compensate for her perceived failure by going out and getting all the supplies herself. She refused to let her husband go to the store with a list to get what they needed for a properly-stocked nursery. She piled everyone into the car and sped to the nearest CVS and then on to the grocery store. Sarah felt resentment towards Gar because she was doing more, even though she insisted on going to the store herself. After two hours of shopping, Sarah was exhausted, the baby was crying for his next feeding and her usually gentle husband Gar was growling at her because she was acting like such a neurotic control freak. It wasn’t until they were waiting for the light to change at a stoplight that she took a moment to breathe and realized that she was acting like a crazy woman.
Post Partum brain, guilt, control freak – no matter what was driving Sarah to over-correct her mistake and take charge, we’ve probably all been there. We’ve all felt that if we do it ourselves it will get done better or faster or more perfectly. Letting go of the “if you want it done right do it yourself” dictum can not only open you up, you can get more done.
Warning Signs You Need to Delegate
Have you heard your internal warning signs—that uncomfortable, anxious, squirmy, got-to-look-at-my-watch-every-second feeling? The feeling that no one around you, including you, is very happy whatever you do? That’s the sign that there’s got to be a better way. In a clear thinking moment, at that stoplight Sarah vowed to get it together.
The key was to enlist the aid of her husband to raise awareness of when she needed help. When she talked it over with her husband, and he asked her how she might remember this insight in the heat of some future battle (probably with him). They decided to try out a Welch EWS – an “early warning system” Would alert them when Sarah was overstretched and could let go of something.
Sarah’s early warning sign number one: the alarm clock. Setting it earlier and earlier so that you have time to cross everything off your list and still try to get some semblance of exercise three days a week is a signal that you need to delegate something or a few things. Sign number two: dropping a ball, like forgetting to book a babysitter for a Saturday night date or paying a bill a day late. Finally, sign number three: the crab factor. When you’re stressed out and a little short with people or cranky for more than a few hours, it’s a sign you’ve got too much on your plate and something has to give.
If the benefits of delegating are substantial, the hazards of trying to do it all yourself are equally so. The most common side effect of carrying too big a load is burnout. According to clinical psychologists , burnout is a physical, mental, and emotional response to constant levels of high stress. Not only does it feel awful (it produces feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, cynicism, resentment and failure), but it also makes you less productive and prone to stagnation.
Why Women Don’t Easily Delegate
At work, delegating is a fact of life for women managers like Alicia, who delegated to staffs as large as 20 for over 15 years. Employees expect a boss to assign them new tasks and to guide them in getting them done, with the ultimate goal of making the organization work. An uncooperative employee can lose his or her job. A willing employee can get rewarded with more money and a promotion. “You don’t have to love me,” a boss may whisper under her breath, “just get the job done.” Clearly women have the skills and ability that allow them to delegate to others. When they are out of the office, it’s a different story.
When that same woman walks in the door of her own home, her paycheck, relative to her husband’s, may change the playing field. The amount of money a woman makes outside of the home can really affect the balance of power inside the home. Although the yearly value of an average woman’s housework is at least $25,000, a woman earning less income than her husband may think, “What right do I have to delegate?” when requesting family members help with the housework. Women who are stay-at-home moms with no salary share this feeling as well. A woman may question whether she should delegate tasks to her husband who is working at an office all day because she feels guilty about not getting “her” job done as well as not contributing financially to the family. There are other reasons that women tend to think we can do it ourselves:
The person I want to delegate to may say no or get angry. When it comes to parental urgings to clean their room, some kids “just say no.” Husbands also may not jump up and down with joy at the opportunity to do the dishes. There are options here, which will be discussed in depth later, but negotiation is key. You and your spouse may decide to achieve balance and try to keep your household contributions even. Incentives can also work. Offer a carrot like getting to choose the movie on Saturday night or getting to sleep in on Sunday morning when trying to persuade your partner to take on a task or responsibility that will lighten your load.
Fear that it won’t be done right or that others will judge unless I do it myself. Sometimes there’s a compulsion to do it yourself and to do it perfectly. Many women have perfectionist tendencies, and tend to go into an “I can do it all” frenzy when they fear others might see what a mess they actually are on the inside. Somehow ‘controlling’ little details in moments of chaos helps them to ignore how out of line they might be with the bigger picture. Doing it all is also a way to try to assuage the guilt that comes from living a life that does not necessarily fit into a traditional mold. If you’re a CEO or a stay-at-home mom, not doing something that’s traditionally Mom territory can open you up to criticism from others – or yourself.
There may be an area of the home – laundry, bills, grocery shopping – that you feel you have down to an art form and if its not done to your standard it may as well not be done at all. This is that yardstick issue again. It’s hard to let go of something you do really well, but it can be a necessity if you are overburdened and stressed by your responsibilities.
If you think about ditching perfection, you’ll have a good start to letting go of this barrier to delegating.
Money is a problem. There are two sides to the coin here. It’s hard to enlist the willing assistance of family members or outsiders when you don’t have money to pay for services, or if you’re feeling that your lack of a salaried job gives you no leverage when asking for help. On the flip side, it can be equally difficult paying an outsider to do the job that family members have the skills to complete. Don’t get stuck in this dilemma. Delegating and negotiating—with or without monetary payment--can help you overcome this problem.
If it comes down to paying someone, remember, we all make choices about how we spend our money. For example, would you rather take one family trip to Disney World—for say $5,000—or take that amount and spend $100 every week to get help with your chores so you have two or three more free hours each week to spend with your family? It comes down to prioritizing over the long term to decide how best to spend your time and money. You don’t have to break the bank to get extra help with chores or babysitting. Some employees who give excellent value for money include high school students, college students, and live-in au pairs who receive room and board in exchange for childcare.
It takes too long to give the job to someone else. Teaching someone else how to handle a household responsibility can be a useful, productive activity when you look at it as mentoring or nurturing another person. Repetitive tasks are often more appropriate and more easily delegated, and on those tasks the time spent teaching can be shared over a number of repetitions. As a starting point, try dividing up the task at hand. For example, you wash, I’ll dry.
I like doing this. Deb likes folding shirts. Hannah likes paying the bills. You may have a particular chore that you think, “It’s not so bad”. Admittedly, fun chores are usually delegated less often than uninteresting (e.g. housecleaning) or frustratingly complex ones (e.g. doing the taxes). Try to keep the end goal in mind. The end goal of delegating is to offload some items from your plate that can be accomplished by someone else so that you have time to do the thing only you can do or want to do (e.g. snuggle with your daughter). Don’t forget that delegating doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition – you can delegate when you need to, on a case by case basis. Delegating can also be sharing a responsibility. This way with more people working on the task, the faster the job will get done- and leave you more time for snuggling with your child, or doing what you want to do.
We are the co-founders of Buttoned Up, inc., a company dedicated to helping stretched and stressed women get themselves organized and co-authors of “Everything (almost) In Its Place.” We welcome your thoughts. Please send ideas and questions to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org  or visit us at www.getbuttonedup.com