You've heard the adage; a woman's work is never done. Have you taken multitasking to new heights? If it's not slaving through a day at the office or doing chores at home, it's driving the kids to hockey practice, grabbing groceries or squeezing in an overdue haircut.
Some of us are really good at doing it all on our own, never asking or accepting help from others. Even so, this "superwoman phenomenon" can quickly burgeon out of control. With so many women placing such unrealistic expectations on themselves it's only a matter of time before they start to feel overwhelmed and hit their breaking points.
Emily Axelrod, a social worker and co-author of You Don't Have to Do It Alone: How to Involve Others to Get Things Done (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004), says that one of the lasting gains of involving others in your work is "the emotional support that comes when responsibility is shared. When you have someone to share responsibility or commiserate with or share your concerns, you don't feel so alone," says Axelrod.
The problems with doing it all
While there are many benefits to be had by delegating, Annette Bot, a social worker at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, says that many women don't even consider delegating as an option, even as they take on increasing duties. "Patterns of behaviour become established and they just keep doing what they've always been used to doing," notes Bot. "They keep adding on more and more tasks, not stopping to think about what's happening; and the pace that they are carrying on."
Axelrod explains that delegating or asking for help is a learned behaviour and a skill. She admits that it's easier for those raised in environments where, for example, the mother delegated tasks such as dividing household chores among the family, to adopt the same behaviour in their adult lives.
For others, delegating is not so easy. Depending on your personality, deterrents to accepting help could be: feelings of inadequacy, lack of trust that the job will be completed adequately, or simply not wanting to take the time to explain the details of the task.
10 tips to keep from doing it all yourself
Here are some tips to help you become an expert at delegating, so that you can accomplish everything on your "to do" list and still free up time to do the things that really matter.
1. Examine your schedule. Make a list of activities, prioritize, and then look at whether anything can be eliminated.
2. Make a list of all the people who can help. Consider family members, friends and neighbours who could perhaps share car-pooling and babysitting responsibilities.
3. Have regular family meetings and assign tasks to your spouse and/or children. Annette Bot says that "If you continue to be the person who does it all, then others won't see the need to help."
4. Ask yourself: Do I have to do this? Who else could do this? Who wants to do this? Who has time to do this? Who is best suited to do this? How can I clearly describe the task?
5. Offer positive reinforcement to those who help you by remembering to say thank you and to compliment someone on their strengths.
6. Learn new skills and ways of doing things from those who help you.
7. Reward those who help you with something that is special to them. Cook your spouse's favourite meal if he does the grocery shopping or other task.
8. Write out tasks such as laundry, dishes, walking the dog, vacuuming, dusting, etc., and have family members draw from a hat. This makes delegating more fun and inviting.
9. Clearly define roles and expectations. Talk to people around you who can potentially be of some help in a task and ask them what their strengths and weaknesses are. This will help you to assign appropriate roles and expectations.
10. At work, ask a colleague to be your "delegating" partner and act as your conscience by asking you if you have divided the work and delegated it on a regular basis.
Some may find it easier to delegate at the office. This may be because roles and job descriptions are generally well defined. Others may find that because of a dependency on a spouse or children, they are comfortable asking for their help.
Whatever the situation, once you've mastered the skill of delegating you'll see that it's an effective time-management tool that encourages teamwork, develops a closer pool of family and friends, and liberates you to enjoy a healthy, balanced lifestyle.