Delegation Challenge – Days 9-11

The 30-day delegation challenge continues. Today is actually Day 14 of the challenge, but I’m breaking this update into smaller chunks because there’s a lot to share, so I’ll just cover Days 9, 10, and 11 in this post.

Day 9 – Organization and Conversation

I’ve continued to experiment with Magic for outsourcing, and I’m gradually getting used to having a team of virtual assistants available to me 24/7. This is such a different way of thinking about tasks and projects, and it’s taking me a while to wrap my head around it. I keep dreaming up new ideas for how I could better leverage the service – and VAs, outsourcing, and delegation in general. Sometimes I feel as if a whole new world is opening up to me.

It turns out that Mike Chen, Magic’s CEO, is aware of this challenge. He’d already known about me from my polyphasic sleep days when I blogged about that experiment in 2005. When he learned that I was trying Magic, he suggested that we connect. That sounded good to me. Instead of emailing him back, I thought it would be clever to delegate the task of arranging the call to Magic. Of course to Mike and to Magic, that was really no big deal and perhaps a bit predictable. Since I’m only a week into this, even using a VA service to schedule a call is a new experience. That call happened the next day (Day 10).

Today I better organized my delegation ideas in Scrivener, separating them into personal and business lists. I have way more items on the personal list so far. For some reason I find it easier to identify delegation-ready tasks on the personal side, maybe because they’re more compact and have fewer dependencies. Eventually I’d like to delve further into the business side, but for now I’m still learning a lot on the personal side.

I also created a simple system for tracking assigned tasks and keeping track of tasks in progress. This also helps me keep tabs on how many request credits I’ve used with Magic, so I can pace myself for the month.

Also on this day, I had a one-hour call with Pete Bissonette from Learning Strategies, mainly just to catch up. I told him about my challenge, and we talked a lot about delegation and team building.

To me delegation is still an extraordinary and unusual thing to do, although I’m gradually getting used to it. Even committing to this challenge for an hour a day feels like a big deal to me. But for those who’ve been doing delegating tasks for a long time, it’s just a normal, everyday, run of the mill thing to do. For some it’s no more unusual than driving or walking. I’m just beginning to catch a glimpse of what life will be like when this feels normal and even routine to me.

I’m really loving this challenge because it’s a renewed chance to be a beginner once again, which is my favorite phase of personal growth pursuits. This is the phase where we can learn and grow the fastest. Everything feels new, and there’s a tremendous sense of possibility and expansiveness in multiple directions.

The challenge within the challenge is not to be overwhelmed by too many possibilities. It’s also important to take action in spite of limiting beliefs, knowing that we’ll push through those limits and learn new lessons. We can have loads of limiting beliefs and internal blocks and still take action because our blocks are imaginary anyway. It’s fine to have lots of limiting beliefs when we work on a personal growth challenge; that’s totally normal. We just have to make sure we don’t succumb to meta-belief that says, A limiting belief is a reason not to act. I think a more powerful meta-belief is: It’s wise to take action in the direction of our limiting beliefs. If we experience lots of limiting beliefs in a certain direction, that’s a juicy area to explore with direct action.

Day 10 – An Interesting Delegation Reframe

My friend Rich Litvin shared some articles related to delegation and team building with me this week, so I read them and also shared them in CGC. Perhaps they’ll interest you too:

I especially liked Rich’s approach to hiring the assistant he always wanted in the second article.

One thing I love about my lifestyle – and something I feel I got right many years ago – is maintaining a non-competitive perspective towards other friends who work in the same field. I like that my friends and I are so willing to support each other on our paths of growth. This helps all of us grow faster. No matter what type of growth exploration I embark upon these days, there are always people willing to support me. Is that your reality too, or are you still tolerating too many naysayers and unsupportive people in your life?

Some people who’ve been helped by my work many years ago have reached out to share tips and advice about delegation as they see me getting into this challenge. I appreciate such help, especially the opportunity to learn from people who have similar values and who have more experience than I do along this path. This is a big part of how I see the world. I believe we’re all here to help each other learn and grow. Consider just how much you’ve grown thanks to the efforts of other people. How can you pay this forward? If you struggle to attract growth-oriented friends, ask yourself if you’re behaving as a powerful growth-oriented friend to those who appreciate your efforts. A common trap is wasting energy on people who don’t appreciate and apply your help.

I also spent some time further clarifying my genius zone, which are the activities I do best. For me that would be writing/blogging and doing personal growth deep dives. I could also include doing workshops, but they’re not as frequent.

One way to think about delegation is to aim for the point where you’re only working in your genius zone, and you delegate everything else that can possibly be delegated. I actually find this model a bit weak, although I know some people who are huge fans of it.

My favorite part of this day was talking to Mike Chen. We talked for nearly two hours – about delegation and outsourcing, about Magic, and about the future of delegation. It was a fascinating call, and I gained a lot of insights about how I could further leverage delegation.

Since Mike has a background as a programmer too, he helped me see how thinking algorithmically could actually get in my way. It can be better not to think in terms of delegating step-by-step action sequences and instead think of delegating the vision, outcome, or result, and let someone else figure out the process to get there.

Of course when you delegate this way, people won’t always do things the way you’d expect or even as you’d like. But as Mike pointed out, things still get done, and if you can accept that people will do things differently, you can delegate a whole lot more.

Maybe this seems like a simple insight, but I thought it was pretty profound. One of my pre-conceived notions was that I must document all of my existing business processes first, and then I can train someone to run them. This is a mindset that I picked up from other entrepreneurial friends, but I also note that many of these friends don’t seem to like delegating all that much. Documenting a bunch of processes and then seeking an obedient human to run them seems incredibly boring and rather disempowering. If I delegate this way, am I not just creating a dull job for someone? Would you want to work in a job where your duty is mostly to run someone else’s processes step by step with little room for creativity or self-expression? This strikes me as the sort of work we should delegate to machines, not human beings.

It feels more aligned with my values to work with smart people I can trust and not feel like I need to come up with every process for them. I really don’t care what process they use, as long as they can achieve a solid result in a reasonable period of time. I’d rather work with people who are great problem solvers and give them sufficient autonomy to devise their own solutions. Let them be creative. Let them fail and learn by doing. Then they’ll come up with solutions and processes they own.

Mike also helped me think about delegation more casually and less formally, including when dealing with Magic.

Here’s the initial text message I sent Magic to ask them to help me find a new landscaping service (before I talked to Mike):

Hey Magic… I’d love it if you could help me find a new monthly landscaping service for my house (same address you have on file). It’s a 1/4-acre lot with desert landscaping in the front and back, so no grass to deal with. Previously I was with ___ for several years but had to drop them. The landscaping is currently in decent shape since I had it serviced not long ago. I’m looking for a new service to maintain it once a month to keep it in good shape, at least on par with the landscaping of other homes in the same neighborhood (a gated community). Potential landscapers will need to come to the house to give a decent estimate, and I’d like to get at least 3 estimates from reputable landscaping services (like with good reviews on Yelp). I’d expect that someone could do it for about $___/month. I’m not in a rush, and I know that some popular landscapers could have 2-3 week lead times just to give an estimate, but it would be great to secure a new landscaper within the next 4 weeks.

This is a long message, and I’m thinking like a programmer giving instructions to a machine. I felt that I should provide as much info up front as possible and anticipate what Magic will need to know. But I’m also doing part of the thinking for them, such as by suggesting they check Yelp reviews and get 3 estimates. All I really need is the end result of having a new landscaper.

Mike helped me understand that this is a cognitively burdensome way to delegate, suggesting it’s actually better if I let the VAs take charge of the task, including following up with me to figure out what they need.

So a simpler way to begin the delegation process would have been to send a text like this:

I need a new landscaping service for my home.

Or even:

My yard is growing weeds.

Crafting my original text took a few minutes because I had to think about all the details to include. That may not seem like a big deal, and under ideal conditions, it may even speed things along. But what if I was tired and not at my mental best? What if I only had 30 seconds instead of a few minutes? What if I had several other tasks to delegate, and I felt it necessary to explain them all in detail? Then I’d procrastinate on delegating. In fact, I did procrastinate. I could have delegated this task a few days earlier than I did, but I needed to think about the details first. That slowed me down.

When I solve problems as a programmer, I’m used to thinking through the problem algorithmically before I start writing any code. I try to solve the problem conceptually first. I would often visualize the solution. Sometimes I’d design the solution on paper. By the time I start coding the process into the machine (a form of delegation), I’ve largely solved the problem already, and I’m showing the machine how to implement the solution. This approach makes sense for coding, but maybe it’s a suboptimal approach for delegating to human beings.

Starting with a simpler expression of intent makes it easier to get into motion. I can do that in mere seconds, and it doesn’t require much thought at all. To delegate something to a person, I need to think about starting a conversation, not encoding a pre-defined solution that I want someone to implement.

As another example of something I could delegate to Magic, I’d like to set up a WiFi mesh network in my home. The problem I’d like to solve is that even with a range extender, my home doesn’t get good WiFi coverage in every room. Two routers aren’t enough to cover all rooms. The signal drops off too much. We also get terrible reception in the dining room because the signal is too often blocked by the giant stainless steel fridge in the kitchen.

I haven’t delegated this yet because I’ve been thinking about it algorithmically, figuring that I have to have a decent idea of what the action steps should be before I begin to delegate it. I’m not sure what kind of mesh network equipment to buy or even if a mesh is the best solution for my home. And once the equipment is purchased, I’m not sure if I should set it up and configure it myself or have someone else do it – my preference would depend on the solution. In fact, those things don’t matter much anyway. What I really want is for everyone to get a strong and stable WiFi connection in every room of the house and on the backyard patio. So if I wanted to, I could start this process rolling with a super simple text like this:

My home WiFi has dead zones of poor connection. Can you help me fix this, so I get good WiFi coverage in every room?

This way of thinking about delegation reminds me of the difference between declarative vs. procedural programming. An example of a procedural language is C++, which I used a lot when programming games. With a procedural language, you have to think algorithmically because your job is to define the sequence of action steps the computer will follow.

An example of a declarative language is HTML. When you code in HTML, you specify what you’d like to see on a web page and where, but you don’t define the sequence of action steps to render the page from start to finish. The web browser is responsible for the action sequences.

So maybe I should think of delegation more like coding in HTML and less like C++. That may not mean anything to you unless you’re into programming, but I find it helpful to create mental bridges between new skills and prior knowledge. It helps me create more effective mental models as I learn.

Delegating procedurally can be pretty involved, and there’s a risk of negating the benefits of delegation with too much procedural delegation. If I have to explain all the action steps, it’s often faster to just do the steps myself. Or I can delegate them to a computer if possible by turning the steps into code. Another issue is that procedural delegation can disempower people who might otherwise devise better solutions than the processes I gave them.

That said, I still think that procedural delegation has its place. I can envision situations where it would be wise to follow a certain step-by-step procedure and not be too creative, especially if that solution has been well-optimized already.

Day 11 – Solving a Technical Problem

Today Rachelle and I decided to take a short road trip to Southern California. One thing that motivated me to take this trip was to see if I could delegate something worthwhile from the road.

During the first day of the trip, Magic reported that they’d found a local charity to take my old weight training set: Opportunity Village. I’m familiar with Opportunity Village and visited their headquarters a few years ago. I thought that was a great choice. The earliest they could do the pick-up was June 11. Magic handled the arrangements and confirmed the pick-up window, so it looks like this item will be checked off soon.

I figured I might as well assign Magic another task, so I gave them the challenge of solving the previously mentioned WiFi connectivity issue. This time I tried to apply Mike’s advice and not overthink it. I started out with the following:

I have another request that I could use help with. My home’s WiFi network gets inconsistent reception in some parts of the house. I’d love some help upgrading to a better WiFi setup with the goal being reliable reception in all rooms.

So instead of saying how I wanted this done, I defined the desired result of having reliable WiFi reception in all rooms of my house. That seemed like a reasonably clear goal. And it’s a solvable problem that doesn’t require a huge amount of tech skill. It mainly boils down to figuring out what hardware to buy.

Magic wrote back right away and asked me some follow-up questions. I quickly got the impression that they weren’t really understanding my request since they started asking about my current “provider”. I shared the info they requested but noted that these details shouldn’t matter since I have a stable gigabit fiber connection to the house, and the problem isn’t at that end.

The provider is Cox. We have a gigabit fiber connection coming into the house that seems very stable and fast. I think the issue is mainly due to the size of the house. It’s 4000 square feet, two stories. So some areas are likely too far from the router. We have a Netgear range extender too, but its coverage is only so-so. Coverage is great close to the main router but spotty as we go farther away.

After this they asked me if I wanted to upgrade with my current provider or have them look into other WiFi providers. That phrasing sounded a bit odd to me – not what someone would ask if they understood what I was asking. At this point I was wondering if maybe this request was a little too technical for them. I was also hoping that the request might be handed off to another team member who’d understand it better, although I didn’t ask them to do that.

During our conversation on the previous day, Mike had noted the importance of directing the exchange as needed to get what I want, so I opted to persist and see if I could get this request going down a more viable path. I wanted to let them figure out a solution, but I thought this situation needed a bit more steering.

No, the issue isn’t with the provider Cox per se but likely with the router hardware’s limitations. Perhaps a mesh network could work as a solution? Are you familiar with those?

I knew in advance that a mesh network was the likely solution we’d end up with, and I’d done a small amount of research on them in the past. But I opened the request without sharing this in my initial text, partly to see how Magic might draw this out as they followed up. Maybe they’d have gotten there eventually, but I figured I’d speed things along.

They followed up with another question about my provider, and I did my best to shut down that line of questioning since I knew it would only lead us astray.

Not exactly. The provider wouldn’t even need to be involved since they only control the connect[ion] to the house, not within the house.

Next they asked if I was interested in hiring a home networking expert. Now we’re at least heading in a viable direction, but I thought I should steer things a bit more here.

That would probably be overkill for this. I was mostly hoping that someone at Magic might be familiar with mesh networks and could research options for a good setup for my house. They sell them on Amazon, for instance. Setting it up should be fairly easy.

This finally worked, and Magic set about researching mesh network options for my house.

About two hours later, they got back to me with a very nice report they compiled of three good options: Google WiFi, Eero, and Orbi. I’d heard of all of these systems, and I’d seen the Orbi system at Costco, so I knew they were on the right track.

I thought the report they compiled was excellent. They summarized ratings from three sources for each item and listed pricing info for the options appropriate for my home. They included product images, key features, a short summary of user reviews, and pros and cons of each item. At the end they included some additional info about how to space the routers for good coverage of all rooms.

I was genuinely impressed. I read through the report, and I felt that it would surely help me make the decision. This got me thinking that I should outsource this type of research a lot more often because it can definitely save me time.

Magic also asked if there were any other options I’d like them to research. I suggested the TP-Link Deco. It was another mesh system I’d heard of, and I recalled reading a favorable review of it a few weeks earlier. They got back to me about 90 minutes later with an updated report that included the TP-Link Deco as well as the Ubiquiti Amplifi HD. The report was now five pages long, and it was instrumental in helping me decide which option to choose.

I ended up going with the Google WiFi (3-unit version) due to its reported reliability, easy setup, and positive reviews.

Magic offered to order this for me, but at this point I just went ahead and ordered it via the Amazon app on my phone, which was simple enough. If I give Magic access to my Amazon account, they can place orders directly through my account, but I haven’t set that up yet. I might try that later, but placing Amazon orders is already pretty quick if you know the exact item you’d like to buy.

My new hardware should arrive on Tuesday, and I’m pretty confident I can manage the setup. And if three mesh units isn’t adequate for some reason, I can always add more units until the WiFi signal is strong and stable in all rooms.

Although this request started out a bit rocky, it did end up going in a very worthwhile direction. It just took some steering to get it heading down the right path.

Maybe it would have been faster if I’d suggested a mesh network from the start, but I also wanted to allow some space just in case the person handling the request knew of another option that I wasn’t aware of. So even though this ended up going down a path I could have predicted in advance, and maybe I could have jumped ahead to the expected solution space sooner, I don’t think it was bad to begin with a more open-ended statement of intent. It showed me that this approach can work.

Knowing that I can open a request with a pretty bare-bones idea is an interesting way of thinking about delegation. Once I get someone else involved, the request takes on a life of its own. Just sending a text invites action and gets things moving. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to have everything figured out. I could open with a request that may even be poorly formed, just to see where it leads. I’m only risking $25 each time, which isn’t a big deal.

I’m also seeing the power of sharing intentions with people who will help move the intention forward. If I text to a friend, “I could really use a massage,” I may get some sympathy in return, like an “Awwww”… or perhaps a “Me too!” If I text to Magic, “I could really use a massage,” I’ll end up getting a massage.

If you share a goal or intention with someone who won’t move it a step forward, isn’t that a way of preventing progress? We could even call this a form of complaining, couldn’t we?

I’m starting to think of delegation as a special kind of microphone. When I speak an intention into this mic, it initiates the manifestation process, giving me the expectation that what I said is about to become real. If I have an intention but avoid speaking it into this mic, it means I’m not ready to see it become real yet. Speaking a single line into this mic is powerful. It means I’m inviting my intention to become real. It means I’m saying to the universe, “I’m ready now! Let’s do this!”