How To Delegate More Effectively when You Have ADHD (Part 1)

Here’s what I’ve found when it comes to delegation.

So many of us love it in theory…

…but in practice, it’s challenging to loosen our grip.

Why is this?

Why do so many of us struggle to delegate the endless list of tasks on our list?

And how can we overcome those obstacles and start delegating with confidence?

That’s exactly what we’re talking about in episode 168 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:   

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In Episode 168: How To Delegate When You Have ADHD, You’ll Discover… 

  • Why we struggle with delegation
  • How to handle overwhelm when thinking about delegating
  • How to know when it’s time to delegate

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Episode #168: How To Delegate when You Have ADHD, Part 1 (Transcript) 

how to delegate more effectively

Today we’re taking a deep dive into the topic of delegation, and in fact, I had so much to say about this topic that I split the episode into two parts. So this week is part one and next week we’ll dive into part two.

Let’s get started exploring all-things delegation, shall we?

Here’s the deal: Delegation is a key part of life for many of us – both at work and at home. And while we might fight this idea, believing and often wanting to do everything ourselves, it’s just not sustainable for most of our current lifestyles.

As throwback to our episode on effectiveness and efficiency, we can absolutely find ways to be as efficient and effective with our time as possible, but we eventually reach a point when we hit our limit.

We reach that moment of truth that we all have 24 hours in the day – no more.

As I tried to reinforce in that episode, the point of being effective and efficient isn’t to simply add more to our plate so we can keep working. The point of being productive isn’t to simply get more done so you can work more.

Instead, it’s to get our work done and ultimately make more time for fun and rest and whatever else you want to do. And along that same vein, I think another key component to helping in this journey toward creating your ideal balance of work, rest, and play, is learning how to delegate

When we learn how to delegate, and we share the workload with others who have common goals, we are so much more efficient when it comes completing our tasks, which makes enjoying our days that much sweeter.

I think this is equally true for partners running a household and employees working toward a team goal. 

It Is Possible To Delegate With ADHD, But It Is A Challenge. 

Now here’s the deal. Delegation can feel super challenging. I know it did – and still occasionally does – for me.

Our minds are often racing so fast that it’s hard to slow down and plan out who can do what.

Your brain may also play the familiar soundtrack that you’re the only one who can do it right. Don’t worry. You’re in good company. And I’m here to tell you it’s possible. 

Over the next two episodes on Delegation, we’re going to talk about…

  • Exploring the reasons we struggle with delegation
  • The benefits of learning how to delegate
  • Specific areas we can delegate in both our personal and professional life
  • How we can release the reigns, delegate the tasks confidently, and for my fellow “control enthusiasts” release that need to micromanage so we can actually reclaim that time we’ve saved

Why Is Delegation So Difficult For People With ADHD?

woman delegating tasks to team

Let’s start with why it’s so darn hard to delegate, especially if you have an ADHD brain or ADHD tendencies.

ADHD Impacts Our Executive Functions

As I’ve mentioned in previous episodes on the podcast, the ADHD brain has an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, which has an impact on our executive functions.

Our executive functions impact things like sequencing and planning, time management, organization, focus, emotional regulation, impulsivity, and cognitive flexibility.

When we think about these areas through the lens of delegation, it makes sense that we notice an impact on our ability to break down the steps required to get from A-Z.

Since breaking down the steps is often more challenging, it makes it difficult to know who we should ask to do what step… because we often don’t know the steps until they’re directly in front of us and we’re literally troubleshooting them. 

Additionally, ADHD can impact our ability to plan projects and set realistic goals because it’s more challenging to map out achievable timelines, and have clear way to communicate these timelines so we actually stick with them. 

Emotional Dysregulation Leaves Us Frustrated

Combined with the obstacles with planning, our emotional dysregulation can leave us feeling frustrated or anxious when things don’t go according to plan.

Perhaps we’re navigating our RSD – rejection sensitive dysphoria – and we’re spinning out and worried about what others might think if we ask for their help or if we don’t do this thing or that thing “right.”

Prioritization Is Challenging When You Have ADHD

Finally, because prioritization is also super challenging, it’s hard for our brain to know what’s most important, where we should start, and what we should put on the back burner.

And with everything I just mentioned, we haven’t even started working yet… it’s no wonder that it seems easier to just do it ourselves.

Making Excuses Not To Delegate

If you’re like me, and you hear yourself in what I just shared, you probably find yourself creating lots of compelling excuses not to delegate and simply keep doing it yourself. 

These reasons truly seem valid, but from my own experience, just because they make sense to your brain, it doesn’t necessarily mean they make sense full stop.

Instead, it means the brain is used to practicing these thoughts and it’s more comfortable sticking with what’s familiar… even if it doesn’t actually make more sense when it comes to effective and efficient use of our time and energy.

So, let’s talk about these familiar excuses.

By identifying what these excuses not to delegate are, we’ll have them on our radar.

This increase in awareness helps us notice the thoughts when they sneak in, and that way, the next time we have an opportunity to delegate, we can question the excuses. We can decide whether we want to believe these thoughts or not.

If this seems a bit abstract right now, stick with me. I think these examples will put things into context.

1) I’m The Best Person For The Job

The first reason why we struggle with delegation is that our brain offers some version of the thought: “I’m the best person for the job; why would I want to delegate it to someone else who can’t do it as well as me?” 

Here’s the deal, you may be the best person at this job, but is this actually true? Can you be sure? Might it be possible you could find someone or train someone to do it even better?

Even if this is true, would it be okay if that same task was done at 85% or 90%? Would the job still get done? Your brain might want to push against that idea, but I encourage you to sit with it. 

What if you delegated your weekly grocery shopping and someone got the sharp cheddar cheese instead of medium cheddar and chose organic peppers instead of regular…and you also got that hour and half of your time back?

Would it be worth it for that week, knowing you can provide feedback, so they know your preferences next time?

You’re the only one who knows this answer, but it’s a good question to ponder.

2) I Feel Guilty About Giving Others Extra Work

We often struggle to delegate because we feel guilty about putting extra work on other people.

I totally get this, but, when we delegate tasks to those who have skills in that area, you’re working toward increasing efficiency overall. And since everyone’s on the same team, working toward the same goal, I think you might be surprised by their willingness to help you out. 

In fact, I’ve been in this exact situation in academia; when you’re on the tenure track but haven’t reached tenure yet, you’re expected to do all-the-things. Because I wanted to be a team player and I didn’t want to burden people with extra work, I kept doing everything.

However, I ended up being the bottleneck because I couldn’t get everything done on time – especially because a lot of the projects worked very much AGAINST my brain.

Not surprisingly, this made people wait on me, which was ultimately pushed everyone back and was equally – if not more – inconvenient than simply delegating the work.

3) It’s Quicker To Just Do It Myself

Perhaps my favorite excuse is thinking it will be quicker to just do it yourself and get it right the first time.

Again, this might be true, but if you’re overloaded and overworked, chances are actually pretty good that you WON’T get it right the first time because your attention is so divided among everything else on your plate. 

It’s also true that it will likely take longer the first few times as you train the person in how to do it. But when you think about the long game, it will save you so much time and energy overall. 

4) People Won’t Depend On Me

The fourth reason that I’ve heard some clients share with me is a concern that if they delegate, they’ll lose a sense of authority in their role. They won’t be the one everyone depends on. 

That last part might be true – you might not be the sole person everyone’s counting on, but how might that be the best news ever?

Think about some of the most impactful leaders you’ve ever worked with; my guess is that they had a knack for delegating responsibilities, for knowing their personal and their team’s limits, and also asking for help when they needed it.

In fact, the opposite might be true, and learning to delegate could actually increase the importance of your role overall. I bet if you focused your brain on that thought, you could find a whole lot of evidence to support it.

5) Struggling To Say No

Another personal favorite, is struggling to say no. Let’s say someone asks you to add yet another thing to your to-do list, and your brain might offer a thought like, “I can’t let them down.” “I want to help out.” Or “This sounds like such a fun opportunity!” 

Whether it’s coming from a place of service, people pleasing, or fear of missing out, so many of us struggle to say no to requests or suggest someone else who might be better suited for the opportunity.

We want to be reliable. Our brain thinks we’ll upset people if we say no.

However, in my own experience, saying yes to too many things often results in not being able to deliver on everything, which actually increases the likelihood of what we DON’T want to happen, which is not helping out or doing what we said we’d do.

If you’re a person who struggle to say No, I’d suggest checking out my episode 95 of the podcast: How to Say No

6)  We Don’t Want To Give Up Tasks We Enjoy

The last reason why many of us struggle to delegate is that we don’t want to give up the tasks that we enjoy doing.

Maybe there are some parts of your job that you really enjoy, and you’d be bummed thinking about having to hand it over. We’ll talk about this more in depth later on in the episode, and more specifically how to identify the most impactful things for us to delegate. 

But for now, I’d invite you to notice how that belief – that delegation automatically means you’d have to give up the things you love doing – is a rather all-or-nothing thought.

By telling yourself this story, you’re stopping yourself from giving up anything by virtue of shutting down the argument altogether. When you tell yourself delegation means you have to give up doing what you love, of course your brain will want to avoid that at all costs.

In fact, it’s probably preventing you from actually enjoying the thing you like to do, too, because you’re so swamped doing with everything else.

When in reality, you could also think something like, “it’s possible I could delegate some of the things that aren’t my favorite or aren’t in my strengths” and then open up to the possibility of finding those things.

So again, many of us have these familiar stories that keep us from even considering let alone diving into delegation.

As a quick recap, these stories include: 

  • I’m the best person for the job, no one else can do it like me. 
  • You might feel guilty about handing off work because you think you “should” be doing it yourself.
  • You might tell yourself, it’ll be faster if you just do it yourself. 
  • You might worry that you will lose your influence if you start sharing the workload. 
  • Your brain might believe that it can’t say no, because you don’t want to let people down or miss out on a fun opportunity. 
  • You may genuinely enjoy a lot of your work, which is fantastic. But the belief that you’d have to give up the things you enjoy might also be holding you back from giving up the other things you could release.

So again, notice if you find yourself telling you any of these stories. Start bringing them into your awareness. Because once we start noticing them, that’s when we can start questioning them, challenging the ones we no longer want to keep, and finding ways to delegate them a way that’s in alignment for you.

The Issue Of Overwhelm And ADHD 

Now before we go any further, I want to address the issue of overwhelm and the way our brains love to go here when we start thinking about delegation. 

Overwhelm is very real for many of us. We get into a freeze state. There is so much going on in our mind. Our To Do List is so long, and everything seems urgent.

When we get to this state, it is really easy to fall for these compelling excuses that we just explored. This is because learning how to delegate and going through the process of delegation takes work itself.

As I mentioned, when your brain offers the thought, “it’s going to take longer than me just doing it myself,” you’re right. It will…at first.

Here is some really important information.

If you are side tracked, come back and single task for a moment as you listen to this truth. 

If you’re telling yourself you can’t stop to delegate because you’re way too overwhelmed, remember this… You’ll likely feel overwhelmed either way.

When you’re learning to delegate. You’ll likely feel overwhelmed either way. You’ll feel overwhelmed thinking that there’s way too much to do and not enough time to do it. Or you’ll feel overwhelmed thinking you don’t know how to delegate and you don’t know where to start.

Here’s the deal… Since you will likely experience overwhelm either way, why not choose the overwhelm that’s going to lead toward the long term result you want, which is getting that extra help you need, learning how to reduce your workload, and spending more time in your zone of genius doing what you do best.

This was a very real decision that I worked through when first hiring my assistant, Nicole. I knew it would take a lot of time to find someone and go through the interview process. Then I had to figure out what I could hand over and train her in on how to do those things.

During this process, it was so easy for my brain to think, I might as well just keep doing it. And quite frankly, this is still a process I’m learning as a slowly figure out how to let go of more and more. 

This process of learning, however, is totally worth it. Because I know it’s working toward the support of my long term goals. It’s helping me spend more time in my zone of genius, which is coaching my clients, thinking deeply about how to best support our ADHD brains, and sharing these ideas with all of you on the podcast.

So I invite you to check in with yourself…

  • If you’re going to feel overwhelmed either way, what would you prefer?
  • Overwhelm as you think about adding more and more to your plate, wondering how you’ll get it all done?
  • Or overwhelm thinking about learning how to delegate, being willing to do it poorly at first, and improving as you go?

Why Is It So Important To Learn Delegation Strategies For ADHD? 

why should you delegate?

What are the benefits here? Because believe it or not, it extends far beyond checking more things off your list.

In fact, I’d argue that learning how to delegate can change your life for the better overall.

Not only will you likely lighten your workload, but you’re also lightening the mental load, and reducing stress and chances for burnout.

What I’ve personally found as an unexpected bonus, is that learning to delegate also opens up opportunities for stronger relationships, which is super fun. So let’s talk about this.

Delegation Can Help You With Your Mental Health 

Starting with the impact on our mental health, as I mentioned, I strongly believe that learning how to delegate plays a powerful role in helping us navigate issues of stress and burnout in the future. 

I know for myself, before I reached out to hire support in my business, I was constantly burning the candle at both ends. I knew that something needed to change, but I didn’t know how. You might be in the same place right now whether in your own business, at work, or at home.

The first important step: Knowing you want something to change, and now you’re in the process of figuring out how. Because as you start taking those steps forward, and you admit – even if just to yourself – that you don’t need to do all on your own, that admission is incredibly freeing. 

Recognizing you don’t have to do it all can feel like a huge weight lifted off your shoulders.

Without that extra baggage and noise in your mind thinking about all the things you “should be” or “need to be” doing, it’s easier to start asking questions like…

  • What would be most helpful?
  • What’s the lowest-hanging fruit?
  • What could I hand off most easily?
  • Where could I find that support?
  • How could I check in with Michelle about proof reading the proposal details and adding the images to the slide deck? 

When you stop carrying the heavy belief that you have to do it all yourself, and everything depends on you, it opens up so many opportunities to start finding solutions and delegating effectively.

Delegation Can Help Your Work Relationships

The next area surprising benefit of delegation is its potential to enhance work relationships.

Recently, I was talking with one of my clients who leads a rather large team, and they explained how they had to really work on releasing the thought that being a good boss meant they had to do it all. They used to believe that a good boss meant they could handle everything themselves. 

What they realized as we coached, was that this thought was not only holding them back from being the most effective leader possible, but it also impacted their relationships with their employees.

They explained to me that once they learned how to delegate different roles and projects to their employees, it helped the team members develop a sense of autonomy and confidence in their role.

They were able to take ownership over certain parts of the job and feel a sense of pride in what they created. And it allowed the team members to challenge themselves to grow in their skills as they stepped up to new tasks.

Plus, when my client wasn’t busy trying to put out all the fires and do all of the work, they had more time to…

  • Meet with their team
  • Offer mentorship and guidance
  • Be the leader they wanted to be and that their team wanted

Delegation Can Help Your Personal Relationships

The same can be true in terms of how delegation can impact the way we think about our personal relationships. Whether it’s a roommate, your partner, or your kids, there are many opportunities to ask for help or delegate and divide up responsibilities. 

By creating a safe space for honest communication, it allows for everyone to share the different demands on their plate, the amount of time they have, their current capacity, and what they’re willing to do.

And again, this helps create an opportunity for greater connection and a sense of belonging or being on the same team, working toward a shared goal. 

How Do We Know If It Is Time To Delegate? 

woman delegating to team at work

Alright, hopefully, I’ve convinced you about the benefits of delegation and you now know how to spot those sneaky excuses your brain might make to try and convince you otherwise.

Now, let’s look at one of the questions that I get most often, and it’s also one that I asked myself all the time.

And that question is: “how do I know if it’s time to delegate?”

To be honest… for anyone listening to this podcast, it’s probably safe to say there’s always room for delegation. This may not be true for every single human in the world… but since I know you listeners quite well, it’s probably safe to say there’s already room for delegation. 

However, if you want more qualifiers, take a glance at your To Do List.

  • How long is it?
  • Could a human reasonably complete this in a couple of days? More specifically, could a human who gets enough sleep and eats and makes time for family and friends and hobbies actually complete this in a couple of days?
  • Could someone with ADHD who is likely time blind who gets enough sleep and eats and makes time for their life outside of work actually complete this in a couple of days?

If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, it’s time to consider delegation.

It’s Time To Delegate If You…

Are at a point in your job or at home where things are no longer fun.

Spend all of your time coaching your brain to simply move on to the next task and “keep on keeping on” without actually enjoying what you’re doing.

Are driven by anxiety, constantly worrying about upcoming deadlines or things you might not finish.

Notice you might be compromising either your life in order to get the work done, or the work simply because there’s too much of it.

My Personal Experience With Looking To Delegate

I’d love to offer a couple of different thoughts that helped me start opening up to the possibility of delegation.

One shift in thought that I started practicing was when I noticed myself thinking, “I have so much to do.”

Instead of believing that thought, and thinking, “I have so much I have to do.” I instead started thinking, “my team has things to do”.

Sometimes I still think the thought, my team has a lot to do and even that feels better than I have so much to do. That slight shift allowed for a little bit of breathing room.

The same is true for personal life. I know when I began shifting the thought “I have so much to do” to “we have things to do,” it allowed me to start thinking in terms of both Ryan and I. It allowed me to start thinking in terms of a team rather than assuming I had to do it all.

So just that one shift in thought from “I have” to “we have” can make a significant difference.

Next Step: Ask Yourself These Questions

If your brain starts freaking out, it’s uncertain about delegating, and it’s worrying that everything might come crashing down if you do it, I’d invite you to pause and ask yourself some questions. 

What would it look like if you continued doing all the work yourself?

Paint that picture in detail for yourself and allow your brain to go to the worst-case scenario.

What would it look like if you continue doing everything yourself?

What would it look like if you began delegating?

Then, do the same thing for delegation. What would it look like if you began delegating?

Again, paint this picture in detail for yourself, and similarly, you can allow your brain to go to the worst-case scenario. What is the worst thing that could happen if you start delegating smaller tasks to an assistant, or your team, or your partner or kids? 

What Are The Long Term Results Of Both Scenarios?

From there ask yourself…

What are the long term results of both scenarios? 

I know for myself personally, when I spent time exploring these questions, it helped provide a pretty clear perspective, which quickly kicked me into gear and I found my VA.

So again, allow yourself the space to explore all the different questions, because doing so will help you better understand whether it’s time to begin the delegation process in your life.

Final Thoughts on Delegation When You Have ADHD

To avoid overwhelming you with information, that is where I’m going to leave it today.

This way you can actually put into practice what we’ve explored today to create clarity around where in your life you could begin delegating.

And then next week, we’ll talk about how to actually do it. 

I invite you to use this week to start capturing your thoughts about delegation or asking for help.

  • How do you feel when you think about doing this? And why?
  • Do you feel different when you think about delegating tasks or projects at home versus work? If so, why?

Then think about where you might begin delegating or asking for help, and ask yourself…

What’s stopped me from doing this already?

Check in and notice if your brain is offering one of those six sneaky beliefs like, “I’m the only one who can do this job right.” Or “it’ll be so much faster if I just do it myself.”

Give your brain the space to entertain how delegation might be beneficial not only in terms of getting things done, but also in terms of lightening the mental load, reducing stress and chances of burnout, and also improving relationships.

How might it be possible that learning how to delegate could be one of the most impactful skills you develop? Could that be true? And if so, where might you want to begin?

Then next week, after you’ve uncovered these answers, we’ll explore the next questions in the delegation process.

We’ll discuss:

  • Several ways to help you know the best tasks for delegation. 
  • Strategies for effective delegation and how to choose the right person for the job.
  • Impactful ways to delegate in a business, as an employee, and in your personal life, so you’re still getting the most important things done without overextending your capacity.

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