A few weeks ago, I wrote about how learning about my Myers-Briggs personality type helped me get more done by pointing out my natural weaknesses. We’ve also talked a lot about how working parents can’t be expected to do it all. In order to get it all done without doing it all, we’re often told to delegate, but what does that look like in a real household?
It’s easy to say that we need to delegate, to hand out tasks for others to complete, but many working parents find that easier to discuss than to actually implement. In reality, poor delegating leaves kids with dry cereal for lunch and laundry piled up for weeks. Any control freak will tell you that the reason they maintain a tight hold on everything is because past attempts to recruit help have ended in disaster, with reports needing to be redone and apology phone calls needing to be made.
I’ve been experimenting with delegation for a few years now, and I’ve learned a few things about how this and other tricks can make up for my natural weaknesses - without sacrificing the end result of a happy, functional home and work life.
Delegate the things you hate and are not good at. This seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning that we don’t all have the same preferences or strengthens. A friend of mine recently told me that she decided against hiring a housekeeper - the default solution for working moms looking for more time - when she realized that she actually enjoyed cleaning her house. “I like the process and the feeling of satisfaction I get when I’m done. I don’t want to pay someone else to do something I like.” Instead of looking for the easiest things to delegate, identify the tasks that suck joy from your life or that could be done better by someone else. Instead of hiring a housekeeper, your money might be better spent paying for a grocery shopping service or a wash-and-fold laundry service.
Play to other people’s strengths. In our house, I manage the bills, savings, taxes and any other task that involves a spreadsheet. My husband does the bulk of the cleaning. I love working with numbers and creating budgets, and he is ridiculously good at turning a house from disaster zone to company read in 30 minutes flat. We tossed gender roles aside long ago and decided to lean into our individual strengths. Similarly, my son is now responsible for lawn care because he thinks it’s fun and my husband loathes pushing a lawnmower. At work, I’ve learned to rely on detail-oriented editors and the database entry skills of VA, which frees me up to generate and research new story ideas.
Open your wallet. This is always the hardest thing for me to do, but usually yields the best results. Paying a talented web designer saved me hundreds of hours during my last site update, hours I could spend doing billable work that I actually enjoy. Paying for help at home might not translate into more income, but it can give my family more quality time together. We can use that time to do free things together, like sledding or playing board games, and not feel like we have to pay for pricey vacations or trips to an amusement park to compensate for the weeks of nose-to-the-grindstone living.
The key to balanced living, I think, is to recognize that 1) we have weaknesses and 2) other people are strong where we are weak. We can find creative ways to collaborate, either with straight-up work swap (you do the dishes and I’ll go through the stack of bills) or by paying experts. For me, this approach helps me let go of the guilt about all the things I am not good at - and still live a fairly productive life.