What I Learned From Oprah About Delegation

If you want to really get a lot done in life or at work, one skill stands out: being able to get others to do what you want — better known as the art of delegation.

One of the times I was on the Oprah show, during a commercial break I asked Oprah how she managed to get so much done. After all, at the time I knew she had a daily TV show, a radio show, a magazine, and she sat on the board of something like 50 different charities. “How can you possibly do it all?” I asked.

Oprah smiled and said, “Early in my career I saw I had to choose between being a crazy busy control freak, or getting good at delegating. So I chose to be a crazy busy control freak — and that practically led to a nervous breakdown — so having done that, I worked at getting good at delegating. Now I delegate just about everything. Someone chooses what I wear, cooks my food, helps write my speeches, makes sure I exercise; it’s a much more relaxed way to live life.”

Like Oprah, most of us only learn to delegate once we hit our personal wall. We fail to become good at delegating either because we want to control everything, or we don’t have enough money to pay others to do some of our work. Yet, trying to do everything yourself is not a recipe for success or for enjoying life.

Highly productive people delegate as much as possible. They delegate tasks they’re not good at, and they delegate any task that they specifically are not required to do. That way, they can spend their time focusing on their greatest skills and highest priority items.

So what’s your reason for not delegating more? Everyone has an excuse. The most common reasons are a lack of money to hire someone, or you tried it in the past and it didn’t work out so well. I understand. Delegation is not easy. Yet, delegation is a skill that you get better at over time. At first, it’s like an investment. The person you delegate something to may not do as good a job as you, but over time they’ll get better — which will then free up your time to focus on what you do best.

Nowadays, I delegate many things. I delegate cleaning to our housecleaner; I delegate cooking to our supermarket — where I buy freshly prepared meals. I delegate various work tasks to an assistant. At first, each of these things I delegated made me a bit nervous, but soon I got used to it, and I saw that they ultimately led to me having more time — and even more money.

After all, I can pay a housecleaner $25 an hour, and fortunately, I can charge much more than that for my book coaching services, so I’m really making additional money by paying someone else to clean my house. And best of all, she’s much better at cleaning my house than I am.

As a step towards becoming an expert at delegation, in the next week try delegating some task you’d normally do to someone else. Perhaps you can delegate something to an employee, a handyman, a mate, or a friend. If necessary, hire someone specifically to do this task. As you contemplate this possibility, your unique obstacle to delegation has probably announced itself in your head. Don’t let that excuse stop you.

The first time we try something new, there is a lot of resistance. Yet, soon that resistance is overcome and whole new possibilities open up. So really do this: delegate a task you’d normally do and notice that the world does not end. Then, if it seemed like a useful experiment to try, keeping doing it until you have more time to focus on what you do best.

As I go through my life, I often ask what I call the “delegation question.” That question is, “Could I get someone else to do this task instead of me?” If possible, ask it often. If you make a decent hourly wage, it’s amazing how many things you can pay other people to do that charge less than you do. If you don’t make much money, you may be able to get friends, a mate, or even your kids to help you for free.

If you’re busy doing stuff that other people could easily do, then you’re not spending your time making your unique contribution. Delegation is a learned skill; with practice, you can get better at it, and as you get better, you can actually get more done with less effort.

is the author of 12 books and a frequent guest on Oprah. His website is FindingHappiness.com and his podcast is “Awareness Explorers.” email: iamjonr@aol.com

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