I have a hard time doing laundry. In our family the laundry isn’t really assigned to any particular person – it’s just handled by whoever happens to get around to it. Or who gets the most desperate.
I usually wait until the last possible minute, and then I am faced with a decision – do I wear the same underwear two days in a row, or do I take care of the laundry right now!
The silly thing is, that once I get started, doing the laundry’s really quite easy.
- Pick up the clothes, put them in the machine. Hit START.
- Wait an hour.
- Move the clothes to the dryer. Hit START.
- Put the dry clothes in a gigantic pile on the bed.
- At bedtime, either fold and put away the clothes, or move the pile off the bed temporarily so we can go to sleep. Repeat these last two steps until complete.
Okay, so the last part isn’t so easy, but the first three steps (which gets you from dirty clothes to clean clothes) is only about 2 minutes of total work. And yet, we tend to put it off.
Laundry is Delegation
It struck me recently that I have a similar problem with delegating tasks at work. In fact, it’s exactly the same situation. The laundry machine can do one thing really well, provided you give it clear instructions (warm wash, low spin – or whatever), but it needs you to provide the instructions. And when you first begin managing people (or are managing someone new), you tend to approach delegation in a similar way – you need to provide specific instructions before anything can be done.
To make things harder, the process of doing laundry has two steps, and you need to provide instructions to two different “workers” (the laundry machine and the tumble dryer) – at the right times – in order for them to do their jobs.
It’s not particularly hard to do the delegation – to provide the instructions – but you need to remember to do it, and you need to stop what you’re doing and get distracted for a few minutes on another task.
It shouldn’t be hard, but my brain resists the idea of spending time on this – and so I end up gazing with concern at my ever dwindling sock drawer, hoping against hope that my wife or kids will blink first and take care of it.
Ownership is better than delegating tasks
Unfortunately I don’t have a solution for the laundry problem – I think I just need to get off my behind and put the clothes in the machine – but in a work environment, I’ve found that it’s far better to give someone an area of responsibility, rather than delegating individual tasks.
Defining an area of responsibility, such as handling trouble tickets, monitoring alarms, or handling corporate security, and assigning someone ownership of that area allows managers to delegate more effectively.
You can tell the marketing manager that their job is to find more leads, or you can tell the customer support manager to make sure all the customers are happy, or the NOC manager to make sure that the network performs well and doesn’t experience any outages – and then leave well alone.
People like ownership and autonomy. And as a manager, I like not having to spend much time thinking about what everyone else is doing. So the best managers will define the scope of someone’s responsibility and then let them get on with it (perhaps with some metrics in place to check things are heading in the right direction).
Maybe one day we’ll have laundry robots – a customized version of the Roomba maybe – that will find laundry from all over the house, sort it, and then put it in the machine for us. Then I can assign that robot the responsibility for making sure that I always have clean underwear, and never have to worry about it again.
Move over Elon Musk! Who needs electric cars and hyperloops when you can have a robot sort your socks?