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How to Grow Your Business with 20% of the Work

If you’d told me early in my career that I could earn 100% of the results while only doing 20% of the work, I’d imagine you were trying to sell me something or else encouraging me to cheat. I wouldn’t have realized you were about to teach me an important lesson about delegation. That’s a lesson I had to stumble into on my own.

It started with podcasting. I knew the importance of building a platform when I started my company. So I started my own podcast and quickly discovered just how much work it could be. Researching and prepping for the show, recording, editing the audio, promoting the episode, writing show notes, and posting on social media took two days out of every week. While running my own company, I spent sixteen hours weekly releasing a single podcast episode. Looking back, I’m embarrassed.

But I’ve met so many solopreneurs and clients who share some version of the same story. They’re hands-on with parts of their business they probably don’t need to be involved with, because they always have been. They’re convinced they have to go it alone, because they don’t have a team, or because delegation hasn’t worked well in the past. It’s understandable, but it’s also misguided. And it’s costing your company time, money, and energy. There’s a better way.

The 10-80-10 Principle

The 10-80-10 principle postulates that leaders should only involve themselves in the first 10% and the last 10% of any project. Specifically, they have the most to contribute when casting the vision and providing feedback on the execution of that vision.

As I reflected on my podcast, I soon realized I was doing too much. I knew little to nothing about sound engineering. Researching ideas and writing show notes was tedious for me. I didn’t enjoy the ins and outs of social media. I was wasting valuable time on tasks others were better equipped to complete. 

So I brought on someone to record and edit the podcasts. Eventually, I delegated the research and preparation of podcasts. Now, I’m only responsible for contributing episode ideas and summaries and showing up when it’s time to record. I’ve spent the time returned to me in strategic, high-leverage meetings, developing ideas for new content, and presenting our content to coaching clients—activities I love that add lots of value to the company.

Taking back your middle 80% is easier than you think. It involves following five steps.

Step 1: Identify a Long Process Eating Up a Significant Amount of Your Time

What are the projects you spend too much time on? Maybe you used to enjoy them, but your passion is waning. Or your business has grown, and it doesn’t make sense to devote as much time and energy to a project as you used to. The projects coming to mind are prime candidates for reengineering.

The list of possibilities is likely longer than you realize. This principle can be applied to closing sales, writing books, and designing project-management systems. While it works best for recurring processes, it can even be adapted to trying an idea for the first time. It all starts with identifying the possibility of delegation by noticing where you might be doing too much.

Step 2: Dissect the Process into Its Component Parts

It’s easy to overlook how many steps are within a single process. Just like “releasing a podcast” entails half a dozen steps, routine tasks take up more bandwidth than you realize.

Start at the beginning. What do you do first? And then what? List these steps as though providing instructions to someone who has never completed the task.

Itemizing processes into their component parts brings clarity for the next step.

Step 3: Assess Where You Add the Most Value

You’re not equally passionate and proficient at every task. And while some tasks or skills might just require more practice, others are holding you back. Drudgery tasks affect our quality of life. They hurt our job satisfaction. And they waste valuable time and energy.

Most leaders add the most value at the very beginning, casting vision, and at the very end, providing feedback. But there may be additional steps along the way. The points where your contribution is absolutely necessary should be pretty obvious. Ask yourself, Could anyone else do it better? And don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.

As you reflect on your list of component parts, ask yourself where you contribute the most value. Then start thinking about who could step in to help with the rest.

Step 4: Call a Meeting with Those You Want to Involve in the Process

These people become the team responsible for the process you once completed on your own. If anyone is going to touch the project, they should be in the meeting.

Start the meeting by explaining the why. Knowing your rationale for both the process and delegation will empower others to make decisions on your behalf. Then walk through the process step by step. Assign action items to team members. And provide time for questions and suggestions. You might find your team has a few ideas to improve right from the beginning.

Step 5: Begin the New Process as an Experiment

You’re not committing to the changes you’re implementing for the rest of your life. You can always go back to the way you were doing it before. Validate your new strategy through experimentation.

Viewing the changes as an experiment also helps you keep your expectations realistic. We don’t expect experiments to go perfectly on the first try. We expect to iterate based on data. When you hand off a process with an experimental mindset, you won’t be surprised if you see room for improvement. You’ll adapt based on feedback and keep moving forward.

You can get 100% of the results while only completing 20% of the work. What will you do with the time and energy returned to you? How will you use it to scale your business? What ideas will you pursue? What future will you envision? What culture will you create?

There’s only one way to find out.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use and believe will add value to our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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