How to Delegate Your To-Do List

You actually don’t have to do it all — learn how to delegate work duties to your colleagues (or laundry duty to your 8-year-old) with advice from one expert.

ADHD adult delegating some tasks to colleagues at work
ADHD adult delegating some tasks to colleagues at work

Those of us with ADHD spend a lot of time trying to do things that we don’t do well or that we don’t have to do ourselves. I’m talking about things that people around us can and will do for us, if we are willing to ask them.

My inability to delegate was a hindrance to my advancement early in my advertising career. For most execs, the climb up the ladder is, in part, a function of how well they get people to do things for them.

As a classic adult with ADHD (undiagnosed at the time), I insisted on doing it all myself. Not because I wanted to, but because I didn’t know how to delegate. In my performance reviews, my bosses told me, “Alan, we can’t promote you yet because the people under you have nothing to do! You’re doing it all!”

Once I learned the knack of delegation, I started climbing the ladder and having much more time and peace of mind. Think about it: Whether you’re managing a career or a household, if you could delegate two things a week, you could free up a lot of time. Now multiply that by 52 weeks, and the amount of time you could be saving for yourself is mind-boggling.

That’s easier said than done, you say. I know, I know. There are two reasons people with ADHD are terrible at delegating:

1. We can’t give another person a clear road map in order to complete a task. Drawing up the steps of a task is best suited to linear left-brainers, not to us right-brained wonders.

2. Delegating requires asking something of another person. People with ADHD have a lot of self-worth baggage, and we don’t feel entitled to ask for help. Instead, we aim to please: “OK, no problem! I’ll just take care of it myself!”

There’s a simple solution to each of these barriers: Take the time to prepare good instructions for doing a task. Before trying to delegate a task — especially one that involves a lot of steps — set aside some time to think about the task. Take some notes about:

  • How do you get it done?
  • What are the tricky parts of the task and the ADHD solutions you’ve learned?
  • Who are the other parties involved in completing the task?
  • How much time does this task typically take?

Draw a diagram or make a mind map of the task — whichever allows you to see the task clearly. Now you’re almost ready to delegate it.

Now, ask the candidate for feedback on the instructions you just handed him. “Are they clear? Do they sound right to you? Can you see a better way to do it? Are the goal and timing realistic?”

Be Honest

The best way to disarm your own insecurity about asking someone for help is to be honest about your inability to do the task well, while complimenting the person on her ability to do it better. You can even offer to help her with something you’re good at. Whether or not she takes you up on the offer, you’ve just made a win-win.

An action step that I teach in my videos is to jot down a few things you could potentially delegate this week. Set a timer and spend 10 minutes on this. I bet you’ll find a few things to not be doing yourself any more. Note to parents: You can delegate stuff to an eight-year-old. I started doing my own laundry at that age because my mom was such a savvy delegator.

Remember, everyone: You can’t do it all. You’ve got better things to do.

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