We have a large yard that takes a long time to mow. By large, I mean over two acres. By “long time” I mean three to five hours with our three-blade riding mower. This spring I found myself very short on time and went ahead and made an investment in finding someone who could mow it for me. It took a little while to find someone. The first guy that was recommended to us made it clear that he wanted to be paid in cash in order to avoid losing his disability benefits and his pricing seemed more like rolling the dice instead of somehow relating to the size of the job. Finally we found someone who seemed like they would do a good job. He just finished a few hours ago. I’m very pleased with the way the yard looks, but more than that, I’m very pleased with everything I accomplished that would still be pending had I mowed the grass myself.
While he was mowing the lawn, I switched my company over to a new accounting system–an important task that I’ve been meaning to do since the beginning of the year. I also picked up that stack of papers that was on my desk and sorted and shredded a bunch of documents that I’ve kept around because I haven’t had time to go through and decide which ones could be discarded. By hiring someone to mow the lawn, I was able to basically trade a task that someone else could do for ones that could only be completed by me. I couldn’t delegate the setup of the accounting system to someone else, so I made the decision to buy back the time I would have been on the lawn mower in order to apply it to the more important tasks.
When it comes to delegating and outsourcing tasks, you need to think in terms of investment. If you can pay $100 to free up time that allows you to do a task that is worth $250 to you, then you’ve made a good investment. However, if you spend $250 to give yourself the extra time to work on a $25 task, you are losing money.
What a lot of people overlook is the setup and overhead cost of delegating work. With the lawn mowing, I had to invest several hours in finding a good person who could mow. I asked friends whom they would recommend, called several people, showed them the lawn, got estimates, etc. If I only needed the lawn mowed once, it probably would have been faster for me to just mow it myself. But since mowing needs to be done over and over again, it is pretty easy to justify this up-front investment by spreading it over every time my lawn gets mowed.
Some tasks have quite a bit of overhead associated with them. By overhead, I mean the time that you’ll need to invest even after you have found the right person to do that work. This is what often happens with virtual assistants. People try to delegate tasks that the assistant really can’t complete without getting more information from the person doing the delegating.
What you can delegate will be different for each person. For example, I usually can’t delegate travel plans. When I travel I take my family with me, so my travel decisions are rarely just “get a ticket from A to B on this date.” If it is cheaper to fly in on a weekend, and we are staying somewhere that has a great zoo or aquarium, we might go ahead and fly in a few days early. There are too many variables to really delegate it to someone else.
On the other hand, I’ve had great success delegating some other tasks. One that comes to mind is digitizing a file cabinet of information and moving it to my paperless system. Even though it took a little while to show someone how to do it, once they got started, they didn’t need any additional interaction from me and were able to get the entire thing done without requiring any more effort on my part. The up-front investment was very low relative to the time it saved me.
A lot of people get delegating and outsourcing wrong. You can increase your chances of success by focusing on the return on investment of an investment in delegating or outsourcing. And don’t forget that what works for someone else may not work for your unique situation and needs.