Delegating the Toilet Roll

Despite the title. This is not a smug blog about what an amazing parent I am for getting my children to help me around the house. I’m pretty sure my children have been sent to test the very limits of my patience (I’m looking at you – middle child 👀).

Nope, this blog starts with a story of reluctance to delegate or share responsibility for any tasks.

When I was studying A-Level Biology. I had a newly qualified teacher with leopard print nails, who liked to try the latest teaching methods. She split us into groups and within each group we had to work together the present the components of ‘the cell’ in our next lesson. We each took one part (I still remember mine was the mitochondria). I diligently prepared and turned up to the next lesson ready to combine our work and present our Cell. But much to my horror. Two people hadn’t done their part. I felt like it reflected so badly on me. I hadn’t done enough. At the time, the lesson I took from that incident was the old adage, “if you want something doing right, then do it yourself.”

Fast forward to 2013 when I was in full blown Superwoman mode. Oscar was 12 months old, I had been back at work part-time for 4 months and just found out I was pregnant again. My contract was up for renewal before my next maternity leave. I needed to push to prove that I was even better than before I had children. And valuable enough for a contract extension to get maternity pay and have a job to return to. (A lot of my fears were centred around safety and security at that time.)

I was leading a Scientific Outreach project from scratch. To me, it was a major undertaking from ideas on paper to a physical exhibition stand with fully functioning hands on activities, an ipad game, conveying scientific messaging to the general public with over £14,000 visitors in 5 days. Naturally, I was sold on the impact it would have and I was all in. That means, I put ALL of myself into work to the detriment of everything else in my life. 

I remember being on the phone to the graphic design agency on a Friday lunchtime when Oscar was having his nap (remember I don’t get paid to work Thursday’s or Friday’s). But he woke up early, and after listening to him cry for 15 minutes. I plucked him out of bed and tried to entertain him on my lap for 30 minutes to finish the call. I came in at the weekend by myself to put together a demo stand from scratch. I’m useless at flat pack stuff. I hate having to follow written instructions, so I sat on the floor, surrounded by allen keys getting more frustrated, angry and resentful by the minute. When I was finally offered help by a colleague. I was so relieved. But two weeks later, after an embarrassing phone call from a supplier I realised that they hadn’t done their part. It was like I was right back in that A-Level Biology classroom. Quickly I took over. Worked late into the evenings until I had everything back under control.

Clearly, 15 year on. I had not moved any further forwards with my delegation abilities.

The things is. I’ve now been taught effective delegation through my coaching certification. Ironically, it is one of the conversation templates I support many of my clients with. They are so sceptical at first, so I love to hear their surprise stories.

I resigned from my Project Manager role during maternity leave with Elsie, so I didn’t ever get to implement the delegation process for myself in a ‘work’ setting. You might be in a similar situation yourself, “theirs is no-one to delegate to.”

Then I remembered, I never suggest that my clients start with “the big one” but (time permitting), practice on low impact situations first.

The 7 Keys to Effective Delegation: distribution of the toilet rolls

Step 1: Book in a meeting.

Family meeting called about “the toilet rolls.” Sunday at 12 noon.

Step 2: Ask for what you need. 

“Mummy and Daddy have a lot of jobs to do to make our house run smoothly. One thing that would make a massive difference to us is if you two could make sure that there are 3 toilet rolls at all times in the bathrooms.”

Step 3: Tell them what that will give you.

“It will give mummy and daddy more time, which will make them happier.”

Step 4: Tell them what’s in it for them.

“That means that we will have more time to be able to spend together as a family, playing games.”

Step 5: Walk through what done looks like.

“The toilet rolls are kept in this cupboard. Ever Saturday, you check how many toilet rolls are already in the toilets and you make sure that there are 3 toilet rolls there.”

Step 6: Open up the space for them to ask questions.

Oscar – “I think it would work better if I do the downstairs toilet and Jenson does the upstairs toilet. What if we run out of toilet rolls before Saturday?”

Jenson – “Mummy, let’s be safe and just have 5 toilet rolls at all times. That will definitely last us at least 1 week.” 

Okay great. They have now thought of something that I hadn’t considered. Distribution of duties and increasing the numbers. Awesome.

Step 7: Book in a time to follow up.

What I’ll do is check the toilets every Saturday to make sure that you are doing your bit to help the house.

I did this the first 3 weeks, but I haven’t needed to remind them again. This has just become part of their routine.

Hurray! That was the first time I have successfully delegated in my whole life! 

Since then, I have delegated many things off my list using this format and the results are always the same. An enthusiasm to help. This comes from being explicit about what it will give both you and them.

It’s worth thinking through conversations and mapping out how you would like them to go before diving head first into delegation. 

It may just break a habit of a lifetime.

PS: I’d love to hear how delegation goes for you. Hit reply and let me know.

PPS: If you are not already in my wonderful Facebook community, Breakthrough Unleashed you can join for free. Every week we cover topics and questions in a live Q&A.