4 Ways to Delegate Up When You’re at the Bottom (No, Really)

sounds awesome, right? You don’t want to do something anymore, so you shoot it over to your associate, or your assistant, or even your interns.

That’s all awesome (if not slightly inaccurate), but it’s also impossible if you are the associate, the assistant, or the intern. Who do you get to hand off tasks to so that you can focus on the big and important stuff?

Well that, my friends, is where delegating upward comes in. Delegating up means passing work to those around and above you. I bet you think there’s no way you can get away with it. But, hear me out, there are legitimate reasons for delegating up. So read on, clear those boring tasks from your desk, and sink your teeth into something much meatier.

1. Delegate to Your Boss (to Delegate)

Oh, you’re more than willing to do what you’re asked. You’d be perfectly happy to spend four days filing old invoices. However, you’ve been looking at your development plan, and if you’re going to cover all of the ground that you should in this quarter, then some of the more basic tasks assigned to you may need to be shared among the team.

The key here is not to complain about your tedious work, and then say, “Hey Ted, going forward, you’re actually going to handle the client invoices.” Instead, you need to sit down with your manager and discuss how your daily duties contribute to the team’s overall goals. Rather than announce, “I don’t want to do this boring stuff anymore,” you need to say, “How would you like me to prioritize these responsibilities?”

Maybe he’ll look at your to-do list and decide that he’d rather you spend more time on A than B. Or, perhaps he’ll see that you’re devoting more hours to administrative duties than he realized and find someone to help pitch in. Or, maybe he’ll tell you that this all seems feasible and he expects you to get it all done. You won’t know until you ask.

2. Delegate to Someone Who’s Better for the Job

Let’s say you’ve been asked to create a spreadsheet, fill it with data, and analyze it. That’s a sucky job, and it’s been dumped on you, the poor naïve newbie. Well, let’s think about that. Are you an Excel wizard? Are you a lover of big data? If you’ve answered no to these, then it’s probably not the right job for you. And crucially, you’re not the right person for the job.

You need to turn spy at this point, and figure out who among your team would love this type of job (or at least be able to get it done quicker and better than you could). Then, bring it up to your manager. Stress that you’re very keen to be helpful and professional, and that you’re happy to do the assignment, but that it may be more efficient for the whole team for Brian to focus on the data while you focus on what you were hired for.

3. Delegate to Technology

Sounds a bit weird, doesn’t it? But bear with me. Let’s say, for example, that the first thing you’re tasked with each day is checking the emails that came in overnight and distributing them on to the relevant people. Let tech take that job on. Set up rules based on keywords, and cut down the time you spend on such a repetitive task. (For more on how to do that, check out this article.)

Working on a project? Use a project management app such as Basecamp. Sending mass emails? Consider a product like Mailchimp. And, I get it, this is closer to automation than delegation, but when you’re toiling at the bottom of the heap, your options are limited. Delegating to tech might just let you cut out some of the more onerous tasks and focus on those that will help you become a force to be reckoned with even faster.

4. Delegate to a Better System

Ok, this is your last play. You’ve been given the task that nobody else in the team wants; it’s cumbersome, time-consuming, and enough to make you want to run screaming from the building. But hang on! There are ways to turn this to your advantage.

You should welcome the uber-task with open arms, but with a secret plan in mind—to take it, streamline it, and hand it back. This is your opportunity to show your manager what you can do. By taking a job that everyone hates and making it manageable (even enjoyable), then you’re doing the team a massive favor. And once it’s a quick and easy job, you won’t have such a battle on your hands when you want to delegate it to a colleague.

Delegating is hard. Delegating up is harder. But if you can put a positive spin on why you want to delegate, appeal to the strengths of your colleagues, and make it clear that you’re all about the greater good, then it should just be that much easier to get away with. Good luck!

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