What do you need to control – and what can you let go?

21 Aug 2017 By David Clutterbuck

David Clutterbuck offers three techniques to help you declutter your to-do list

People often struggle to get the right balance between doing things themselves and delegating to others. But there are some questions and techniques you can use to help yourself (and others) understand what we seek to control and why, which creates the opportunity for significant changes in behaviours and habits.

1. Ask the right questions

  • What do you have to control?
  • What do you feel the need to control?
  • What can you let others control, with minimum anxiety on your part?
  • What do you want others to control?
  • What do you want to take back control of?
  • What could you let go of entirely?

For each answer, ask also:

  • What is your evidence for this?
  • If you had more confidence in other people, would your answer be the same?
  • If you had more confidence in yourself, would your answer be the same?
  • What would it take to change your level of confidence in others?
  • What would it take to change your level of confidence in yourself?

2. Treat tasks as objects

It can be useful to liken the rationalisation of your to-do list to spring-cleaning.

Imagine you have a whole week to de-clutter your home. Starting with any room and working through to wherever you store things to get them out of the living space (your loft, junk room, garage or whatever), what would you:

  • throw out without a second thought;
  • throw out on the grounds that ‘if it hasn’t been wanted in the past x years, it won’t ever be wanted’;
  • agonise over throwing out, because it has sentimental value;
  • sell on eBay or elsewhere (find it a good home, where it can do someone else a good turn);
  • keep in case; 
  • keep at all costs.

Now apply the same thinking to all the responsibilities you have taken on.

3. Think about delegation rationally

Another useful technique is to make a list of all the tasks you do and the decisions you make in your work, in two columns.

In a third column, write down: who could do near enough as good a job as me of this (or better)?

In a fourth column, write: what motivates me to hang on to this?

In a fifth column, estimate how much of your time is spent on this activity.

Finally, in a sixth column, answer the question: what’s the worst that could happen if I let go of control of this?

David Clutterbuck is practice lead at the David Clutterbuck Partnership, and a visiting professor at Sheffield Hallam, Oxford Brookes and York St John universities

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