3 Ways to Delegate When You're on the Bottom Rung

Photo via Nguyen Hung Vu/Flickr This is a guest post by Joe Pawlikowski.

Have you delegated any tasks today? Unless you’re in a management position, with employees working under you, chances are you answered in the negative. Which is a shame.

How many tasks did you perform today that a person with half your brain power – or even a chimp, in some cases – could do? Furthermore: how does that make you feel at work? Chances are it makes you feel like you don’t have any value to the company.

The bad news: your boss isn’t going to give you more meaningful work just because you feel like you want it.

The good news: you can take your situation into your own hands.

There are risks, for sure. But if you want to change your situation, you have to take action. In this case, the action is delegation. How can you do that if you’re on the bottom rung of the ladder, with no one under you to whom you can delegate?

You’d be surprised at your options.

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Setting up Automation

The first way to delegate is to redefine what it means. In most cases, delegation means assigning work to a subordinate. When you’re on the bottom rung of the hierarchy, there is, by traditional definition, no one to whom you can delegate. But ask yourself this question:

Do I need to delegate to a human?

The question might seem odd at first, but when you think of technological advances it becomes clearer. No, you’re not delegating to a robot. But you can delegate some rote work to an automation service.

Check out: IFTTT and Zapier.

IFTTT – If This Then That – is a free service that integrates with both your desktop and your smartphone. It focuses mostly on social media and other consumer-centric apps, but you can still make it work for you. True, Instagram and Foursquare integration might not help you at work, but there are plenty of recipes that automatically send items to your email, upload to Dropbox, or update your to-do list. Check out their popular recipes to get an idea of what might work for you.

Zapier integrates with a greater number of enterprise level applications and services. Seriously, check out that page and marvel at what you can automate. The best part is that basic level service, which lets you set up five automation requests that run up to 300 times per month, is free. You only need to pay when you need integration into their Premium services, such as Salesforce and Infusionsoft. But if you need only services like Basecamp, Freshbooks, Mail Chimp, and any of the others they offer, you can get by with a free account at first.

Automation isn’t delegation to the fullest definition. But when you have no subordinates to whom you can delegate, automation can be hugely useful. You can, at the very least, remove recurring, rote tasks from your plate, freeing up your attention for more important work.

Hiring Someone on Your Own

While you’re on the bottom rung, you surely don’t have hiring capabilities. So how, then, can you hire someone on your own? Before we get to that answer, let’s get one big issue out of the way.

Hiring someone at this stage means money out of your pocket. For many, if not most, people reading this post, that isn’t feasible. You have rent, bills, and other obligations that leave you with little left over at month’s end. But I encourage you to read on. Perhaps you’ll find the idea compelling enough that you’ll cut some expenses to make this work.

In his 2007 bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss introduced the world to the idea of virtual assistants. You can hire one to handle tasks such as email monitoring, calendar management, and to-do list creation. In the seven years since the book appeared, the world of virtual assistants has grown both in number and in scope. You can find virtual assistants to perform high level tasks, such as the work your boss delegated to you.

This is absolutely one of those “better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” situations. If you ask, your boss is likely to say no, even if the money is coming out of your own pocket. But if you use the VA correctly, you can get all of your work done and start working on more projects that you want to do – projects that will help advance you within the company. At the very least, you’ll stand out from your peers in terms of productivity.

If you hire a VA through an agency – which you absolutely should, since it’s the most surefire way to vet the assistant – then you can buy packages of monthly hours. If you start off with a basic package, which typically includes about 10 hours; that’s 10 hours that you can devote to other projects. Combine that with a little OT and you can be well on your way to impressing your boss, and your boss’s boss.

Check out: Worldwide101 business grade virtual assistants. They’re business grade, because they can do more than filter your email and manage your calendar. They can perform many tasks that go beyond basic administration – again, the kinds of tasks your boss delegates to you.

Who knows: maybe after you get a promotion, you can convince your new boss to have the company pay for the VA. After all, you produced results with the VA, right?

Even if you absolutely cannot afford an assistant in this way, it’s something to think about if you ever feel stuck at work.

Pretending the Work Doesn’t Exist

We finally reach the most controversial and riskiest tactic. Fair warning: if you act on this advice you might get fired. But allow me to change your framing for a moment.

Consider the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. (You might recognize it from bestselling author Steven Covey.) It contains four quadrants: Important and Urgent, Important and Not Urgent, Not Important and Urgent, Not Important and Not Urgent. The best place to be is the Important and Not Urgent quadrant, since that’s what moves you forward as a person and organization. But when you’re on the bottom rung you don’t have that luxury. Sadly, most of the time you’re in the bottom two quadrants, the dreaded Not Important ones.

Are you really doing anything to benefit yourself or your company by constantly working at Not Important and Not Urgent tasks? Yet as any bottom-rung employee knows, those are the kinds of tasks that get passed onto you most frequently. So take action by deliberately not taking action. Put those Not Important, Not Urgent tasks at the bottom of your to-do list. Put the Not Important and Urgent tasks right above them – because the best work you’re going to do comes on the Important and Urgent tasks. Prove yourself on those, and you’ll see two probable effects:

  1. You’ll demonstrate to your bosses that you’re capable of handling important work and prioritizing.
  2. You might just show them exactly how unnecessary those tasks at the bottom of your to-do list are.

In a sane world, if you fail to perform Not Important and Not Urgent tasks, no one will notice. They don’t make an impact anyway. In the same way, no one will care that Not Important and Urgent tasks don’t take precedence, because they recognize that they’re not important to the central mission of the company.

We don’t live in a sane world, though. You might get fired for taking this approach, especially with tasks your boss considers Urgent. But ask yourself this: if you do get fired for failing to perform non-important tasks, is that a job you really want anyway? I hope not. Delegation is a task typically reserved for higher ups in the organization, those who have subordinates working for them. Yet you, at the lowest rung of the company, can take steps to delegate as well. Whether you decide to automate some tasks, hire your own help, or just throw the least important tasks into the trash bin, you do have some control.

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Joe Pawlikowski is a digital marketer and writer who focuses on changing our entire mindsets and taking control of consciousness. He writes at his personal website, The Pursuit of Abundance.