by Katharine Grubb
When my two older daughters were very small, they asked me to play with them. I agreed. We were playing”house” after all, and I knew this game. Or at least I thought I did.
“I’m the Mommy,” my 4-year-old daughter said.”Miranda is the Daddy.” She pointed to her 3-year-old sister.
“Who will I be?” I asked.
“You can be the maid.”
Did they demonstrate they understood the concept of delegating responsibility or were they just typecasting me?
Okay, so my family, at least my small children, are used to seeing me do much of work in our house. Your family has probably been used to you working too.
Are you working alone? Are you taking the sole responsibility?
If you are managing a family and your personal goals or career, then you must recruit their your family’s help. This article will demonstrate how you can organize the people around you. By delegating responsibility, you can be more organized and have more ten-minute increments to write (or do whatever you like.)
Like it or not, one of your adult roles is that of a manager. You are the manager of your life and you are the manager, for better or worse, of the dependents in your home. The first boss my children will ever have is me. I want their first experience of being managed to be a positive one. Managing looks a lot like parenting, but the main goal of managing is training others to be responsible. Delegating is one form of managing.
If you are to manage the people in your life to help you in your objectives, you need good definitions, good communication, and good delegation. These are overlapping concepts, but all are essential. You can’t succeed without any of these.
In Write A Novel In Ten Minutes A Day, I call these definitions non-negotiables. These are the baseline requirements that your household must have to run effectively. These requirements are determined only by you and the other adults in your household. If you take the time to create definitions for what your requirements are, then it is easy to communicate what must be done.”Pick up all the clothes off the floor” is specific and easier to understand than “clean your room.” If you are issuing commands or requests to children, you need good definitions so that they understand.
Definitions also help us see what goes wrong. If you have clearly spelled out what it means to”clear the table,” and yet you see wadded napkins on the floor, empty milk glasses and crumbs everywhere, you will know whether or not your standard is met.
Definitions move our household obligations from a vague feeling of disarray to clear, measurable outcomes. Even if you are the only one in the house doing the work required, you will get a richer feeling of satisfaction if you set a standard for your chores and meet that standard consistently.
Definitions should be clear, measurable, and agreed on by all. Take the time to discuss definitions with the members of your house. The time you take in this task seems like it may crowd into your writing time or your other obligations, but by clarifying what you expect and communicating your expectations to others, you are actually saving time in the long run.
Sandra Day O’Connor said,”The really expert riders of horses let the horse know immediately who is in control, but then guide the horse with loose reins and seldom use the spurs.”
I’ve monitored five children on chore day while they attended to the tasks I had given them, and at times I think guiding a horse would have been easier. I’ve tried very hard to communicate to them my clearly defined expectations, then guide them. What is the use of delegating? I sometimes wonder.
Good communication keeps the hearer in mind. If you keep the hearer in mind, you’ll consider what they can adequately understand. If you are communicating well, you’ll be respectful and patient. You’ll keep in mind their age, abilities, and relationship to you. Hopefully what you ask your teenager to do will sound differently than what you ask your spouse to do, yet both of these requests are clear and consistent with who they are.
Good communication requires attention. You must not assume that your listeners can read your mind or see things from your perspective. When my children were smaller, I made sure they would come to me and look me in the eyes before I asked them to do anything. If I felt they still weren’t listening or caught them looking at the computer screen behind me, I’d say,”give me your eyes, please.” And then I’d give them a simple command and ask them if they understood what I just asked. I found this to be far more effective than yelling across the house and hoping they heard me. This, however, is a good tactic with children. Adults may resent it.
“Each delegated task must be both time-consuming and well-defined. If you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off and assign your VA to do that for you, it doesn’t improve the order of the universe.”
― Timothy Ferriss,
Good communication is clear. This is where having a good definition is important. If your family has all agreed on what cleaning the kitchen means, then you shouldn’t have to add “load the dishwasher.” When I am giving instructions, I have to remind myself that it is my job to be clear, not their job to understand. It’s far better to repeat yourself or explain something differently than to assume you are understood and regret it later.
Good communication is simple. As your children mature and your household needs change, you’ll learn if you can give a series of requests or not. To keep things simple and clear for my family, I often make lists of things that must be done. I allow them to check things off as they do them, or I check them off once I’ve approved their work. My children like knowing they’ve done what I’ve asked. They should not have to fear doing their tasks incorrectly because my instructions were too vague or not detailed enough.
Good communication allows for questions. When giving instructions, especially to children, leave room open for their reasonable questions. Reasonable questions are those that they may ask to clarify instructions or to problem-solve.”We’re out of trash bags; what do I do?” would be reasonable at my house.”Why do I have to this every stupid week?” would not be.
“Start with the end in mind. ”
― Stephen R. Covey,
Good communication explains parameters. If you have specifics that need attention, say,”launder the socks and underwear in hot water,” make sure you explain this to your crew. If you need the trash at the curb before 6 AM, explain that. Don’t expect them to remember every detail. They’ll remember on their own someday and you’ll be glad to stop reminding them.
Good communication explains consequences. You and your spouse must determine whatever fallout comes at your house when assigned tasks are not done. While child discipline is a subject for an entirely different website, you should at least consider what you’ll do when they fail. And they are going to fail. Make sure your consequences are reasonable, consistent, and uncomfortable enough that they don’t make the same mistake again.
As we grow in communicating with our children, no matter what their ages, we begin to see that we’re doing more than making our homes more orderly. We’re developing in them character and skills that will last far longer than whatever project we’re cooking up in those ten-minute increments.
I’ve seen on Pinterest:”If you are skilled enough to push the buttons on a video game to get the high score, then you’re skilled enough to push the buttons on a washer and dryer.” And mothers around the world nodded in agreement.
I just may start to preach here. If you have the skills to ride a bike, then you have skills to sweep and mop. If you can trek everything you own from one room to the other to create a fairy fort or Lego lair, you have the skills to empty waste cans in every room and take the trash to the outside bins.
Parents, I urge you. Pick up the tool of delegating and put your children to work! Teaching them responsibility around the house will be one of the best things you ever do for them.
With clear definitions and clear communication, you will sow the seeds of delegation. Delegating responsibilities has far more of a long-term reward than freeing you up and making your home tidy. Delegation can be a unifying, exciting way to nurture our families. Delegation helps us depend on each other.
I believe delegation is the single most important way to free up time. Enlisting others is essential because, when done well, delegation builds others up and deepens existing relationships.
I know that this is true. I’ve seen it in my family.
I can’t imagine anything more inefficient than teaching a child to pick up their toys, or sweep the floor, or tidy a bathroom. It’s slow, frustrating work. It takes every conceivable bit of energy not to yank that broom and dustpan out of their little hands and do it ourselves. The act of teaching a six-year-old to clean is not doubling efficiency. (As good as their intentions are, a child younger than six years isn’t capable of many regular chores.) But that’s not why we delegate. We delegate to train our children first, to grow in our relationships with them. Someday, we’ll sit back and watch them do it all. I’m at that point now. My children, ages 12-19, can do everything in my household.
I have more time than ever to write the things I want to write. I’ve heard rumors that the older children want to go to”college” and”get educated.” But then, who will clean my kitchen?
I kid. These are some of the things delegation has taught me:
Trust builds relationships. When you hand off a job and allow someone to work for you, you’re saying,”I trust you. Show me what you can do.” Around the house, the stakes are low, so it can be easy to build trust. I believe, that given the right situation, my children will rise to the occasion and do well because of that trust. With the completion of the job, the bond between us strengthens. The joy that comes out of our good relationship is far more valuable than the completion of the task.
By giving someone something to do, you’re inviting them in on your mission. Of all the reasons to delegate responsibility, this is the best.”Do you want to help?” is a question that, if asked correctly, can be an invitation. The reward for saying,”Sure!” should be shared thanks, credit for a generous contribution and satisfaction for a job well done. When my children were small, I tried to use the word,”blessing” when it came to doing chores around the house.”It blesses me when you pick up your toys.” Or,”when you ask to help, it’s a huge blessing.” Or,”who wants the blessing of doing something for the house?” I wanted to communicate to them that sharing responsibility was a good thing. To this day, they do their chores cheerfully. They are still on a mission with me and receive the full reward of it.
And my teens often say,”What can I do to help?” I make sure they know I appreciate that question.
Few mistakes are fatal. If I am really honest, then I have to admit my tasks are not life-threatening. If they don’t get done, the worst could happen is that we’re inconvenienced. I need to communicate this to my helpers. They need to know that I value them, I value their contribution, but their mistakes are rarely upsetting. If a mistake is a critical one, then I try to handle it calmly and reassuringly. I don’t want any mistake they make to taint our relationship.
Others may have better solutions than I do. Little kills a spirit more than squashed creativity. I’d love for my helpers to come up with good, creative solutions for the tasks I give them. I always retain veto power, but by letting them have a chance to create, I’m demonstrating trust and good will. They may show me ways to change how I do things. I’ve received lectures from my children on how to fold napkins and how to load a dishwasher. This is proof that they are seeking excellence, so I don’t get defensive with them.
I need to separate myself from the task at hand. After good instruction and proper tools, I need my helper to feel free to be themselves in the task. If I’ve communicated the definition and the parameters well, I can sit back and let them attack it the way they see fit. I believe the more freedom they feel, the better they’ll be. Even if they mess up, I want them to see the whole task as a positive experience so they’ll be willing to help me again.
I want my people to go on without me. If I do all the work and never allow them the chance to help, then that makes me irreplaceable. While I do want to be irreplaceable in their hearts, I don’t want to render my survivors helpless. If they share in the responsibilities now, then they’ll be able to function when I’m gone, either temporarily or permanently. I want this for them. I want my purposes, and our shared foundational vision, to last.
Everyone should share in the glory of a task. I like it when my kids beam when I say,”I couldn’t do it without them.” This glory-basking is a sweet thing to share. I want their team experiences to be pleasant ones. Taking all the credit is a pretty lonely task. I’ve found it only feels good for a second. But sharing credit sows seeds of goodwill that will reap big rewards later.
What Keeps Us From Delegating?
1. Lack of communication. We’d like it if our children could read our minds and just know that dirty socks don’t belong on the floor. But they can’t. It’s up to us to communicate to them what we want to be done, how we want it done, and how quickly it should be done.
Good communication requires getting their full attention. Instead of yelling up the stairs that I want them to come down and get their socks, I call them personally,”Corbin? I need you. Come here.” I’m not going to tolerate him yelling back,”What do you want?” He has to come to me and that way I have his attention.”Are those your socks? Put them where they belong. Right now, please.”
Good communication requires understanding the household definitions. My son knows that dirty socks go in the laundry hamper. If he doesn’t know, it’s my job to clarify this for him.
Good communication keeps things simple. I fully believe that it is counter-productive to give him a lecture right there about his messy habits. He and I both have better things to do than going over whatever problems he may have. If there is a chronic problem I need to address, it would be better in the long run to find a time to sit down and talk about it. Although, I’ve been known to say,”Find a home for this item in the next sixty seconds or I’m throwing it in the trash.” That works too.
Good communication keeps things pleasant. I am my children’s first boss. I want all of them to like contributing to the household. So, most of the time, I’m purposeful in my tone of voice. I need to refrain from berating them, snapping at them, and making obedience to be a negative experience.
I should also set a good example by staying respectful of their time, saying”please,” and”thank you.” I can’t expect them to do anything unless I model it first.
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
2. It’s more convenient to do it ourselves. We may also think that doing it ourselves is the only guaranteed way to have something done right. It is always easier to do something yourself than to delegate a chore to a child. But short-term fixes are long-term regrets. I encourage you to take every opportunity to teach your child to do reasonable chores.
3. We may believe childhood is for playing. I’d like to argue that children must learn responsibility while they are at home. If they accept employment as young people, we want them to be the kind of worker that is thorough, respectful, and capable. We’ve met young people who didn’t take responsibility seriously and believed erroneously that they need not work hard. With reasonable requirements, you can teach your child responsibility and still allow them plenty of time to pursue their own interests. If we neglect to teach them responsibility as children, then we are setting them up for failure as adults.
4. We don’t want to appear to be needy or incapable. It is rather humbling to admit that you can’t do it all. By asking for help you are not pointing to your weakness; rather, you’re inviting others around you to work beside you. It is far better to be humble, ask for help, forget your fear of looking bad, and accomplish more in the long run. Habits of controlling or micromanaging can be destructive. There could be root issues of control, anxiety or fear that you need to deal with before you make it a habit of delegating. Consider your original answers in Chapter One regarding foundational vision, and if you need additional guidance, consider calling a counselor.
5. We don’t expect to be heard. It could be that you have tried in the past to communicate your needs to your family members and found them unable or unwilling to help. People, unfortunately, are complicated and their behaviors and responses can’t be predicted in a book. If you can’t effectively communicate definitions and a workable plan with the adults in your home, consider getting help. It could be that your issues should be only addressed with the help of a family therapist, pastor, counselor or educator.
Not everyone can communicate well with their spouse. Not everyone has a houseful of hard-working teens and preteens in their house like I do. Not everyone has willing in-laws or trustworthy neighbors. But yet, you can ask your people to help you. (If you have few real-life resources, or you live alone, you may not need this post. I couldn’t do what I do without the people in my life to help me.)
“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.”
― John C. Maxwell
Why get them involved at all?
We never have better opportunities, on a day-to-day basis, to reinforce our foundational vision and change the world than we do when we deal with the people around us. A team around you will not only help you accomplish your dreams and save time but also build up a family culture that is supportive of each family member.
This team can reinforce your foundational vision, making it all the stronger. By delegating, all of your life can be improved.
This entry was a selection from my book: When The Timer Dings: Organizing Your Life To Make The Most of 10 Minute Increments. Click here to order.
Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community.