Productivity at Work

How to Delegate with an ADHD Brain

Delegation works. But what and how to delegate is rarely clear. What we do know: Not delegating means we do more work than we need to, which adds stress to our already stressful lives. These tips will show you how to hand things off.

Delegating Tasks: How to Delegate at Work and at Home

There’s a reason many successful people delegate, yet few adults with ADHD do it well: Delegating is tough to learn, and no one teaches you — in school or on the job — how to do it. My inability to delegate early in my executive career sidetracked my promotions and raises. But once I understood why my ADHD brain had difficulty delegating, I was able to use strategies that bettered my career.

Why We Don’t Delegate?

Delegating requires executive functions like planning, crystal-clear communication, and realistic goal-setting, none of which are strong suits for adults with ADHD. It is difficult to sort out what to delegate, to whom, and how to do it.

In addition, those with ADHD have the following psychological barriers to delegating:

  • “I’m a people pleaser. It’s hard for me to say no to people — and even harder to ask for help.”
  • “I’m afraid they’ll say no. And I hate rejection.”
  • “I don’t want to let go of tasks I enjoy doing.”
  • “I’m too busy to delegate — it’s quicker and more efficient to just do it myself.”
  • “I don’t know how to delegate, especially with complex tasks or projects!”

If you have heard yourself say any of these lines, it is time to start building your delegation muscle. If you’ve tried to delegate some tasks in the past, and created more work and frustration for yourself, I understand. I’ve been there. But I’ve learned three ways to make delegating easier for the ADHD brain.

[Self-Test: Could You Have Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria?]

How to Delegate: Take the Time to Detail the Steps in Getting a Job Done

We can’t delegate a process that we can’t clearly articulate. Brandon Hire, an audio engineer and a member of my Crusher™TV community, blogged recently that, “Making that up-front effort can be painful. It’s tedious. It requires us to fully understand every step well enough to break it down into a logical sequence.”

This is why we can end up with what entrepreneur Jason Fried calls the “illusion of agreement:” “You have something in your head. I have something in my head. Both of us think it’s the same thing because we’re agreeing out loud, but in our minds we’re seeing different scenes.”

So, time-consuming as it may be, the clearer your delegation instructions, the better for all concerned. And there’s a simple approach to avoiding the drudgery of writing out detailed instructions:

Easier Delegation: To avoid both the “illusion of agreement,” and some of the hard work of writing out detailed instructions, record yourself doing the task with narration as you do each step. Let’s say you want to delegate a tricky process you’ve been doing at work to a coworker. Turn on your smartphone or your laptop’s video camera and do the process yourself while describing each step. This is faster and easier than writing.

[Free Handout: How to Manage Your Time at Work]

How to Delegate Tasks at Work: You Can Delegate Down, Over, and Up!

To get stuff off of your plate, you obviously need another plate to fork it over to. Delegation typically looks downward, but seasoned delegators know that they can delegate laterally — to equals on their team — and even up. Yes, up!

Easier Delegation: When the boss puts too much on your plate, why not say, “Hey, I’m already working on X and Y, so if you could get that project Z started (or have Person A start it), I can take it back when X or Y is off my plate.”

At home, we can delegate down to our kids (see “How to Delegate to Your Kids”) or laterally to a spouse.

How to Delegate Tasks at Home: Make It a Win-Win

It is key that spousal delegation not feel like “dumping on.” It must feel like a win-win situation to each party for delegation to work.

Easier Delegation: Here’s a script to help avoid Don’t-Dump-on-Me! pushback: “I think we can agree that ____ [goal of delegation] is really important to both of us. But I am having a really tough time with ____ [a specific task]. Would you be willing to try taking this on? I think it’s fair to say that ____ [reason, such as ‘You’re better at this than me’ or ‘It’s more convenient for you’]. And if you’re willing, I would be happy to ___ [compensation, such as doing more of a task you’re good at].”

The keys here are acknowledging the shared goal, framing it in terms of difficulty with, rather than shirking, the task, and offering compensation.

How to Delegate to Your Kids

Below is a script you can adapt to delegate nearly any household task to a child of any age:

“Would you like to help me with something? I think you’re ready to take on the job of ____. If you’re willing to give it a try, and can do it well, you’ll get ____ [e.g., an increase in allowance]. Let me show you how I do it: [very specific, hands-on instruction]. Now, it’s important that you do this ____ [frequency] (or ‘whenever ____ happens’), otherwise ____ [consequence, e.g., no allowance increase].”

Some suggestions for kid- and teen-friendly tasks to delegate: cleaning up after themselves, making their bed, wiping windows and counters, vacuuming, food shopping.

[How to Delegate Your To-Do List]