“If you want something done right, do it yourself” – Holy Guacamole, what a load of bsuhlilt! If you’re an employee and are known to “do things yourself”, you are guaranteed a pile of work and no advancement. If you are a business owner who feels the need to do everything yourself, you’re guaranteed sleepless nights and marginal-at-best growth. Delegation is the key to advancement and growth. Most good management books will espouse that school of thought. However, what’s little discussed is “value-based delegation”. It’s an effective strategy employed by every successful employee that has climbed the corporate ladder and every business owner that has grown their businesses (although, I would surmise that the strategy comes second nature to some folks who don’t even realize they’re utilizing its power).

There are a ton of really good delegation techniques. Just Google or Bing “delegation technique” and you’ll be presented with a baker’s dozen plus of great techniques for successful delegation. Most of the techniques are really effective, and the choice of which one(s) to utilize is really a matter of personal preference based on your personal style and corporate culture.
Now if you paid attention, you would have observed that in the first paragraph I discussed the “value-based delegation strategy” and in the second paragraph I discussed “delegate techniques”. We often hear phrases like “strategic planning and tactical execution”. Raise your hand f you know the difference between a strategy and a technique. Yes, you in the front, please: “A strategy is a means to an overall goal, while a technique is implementation of a method to achieve the strategy.” Yes, pretty good description.


So if a sales rep’s strategy is to be a great sales rep so she can be promoted to sales rep lead to eventually become the company’s Chief Sales Officer, her implementation techniques must be conducive to her strategy. A technique that is out of step and not in synch with her strategy will not only ensure she does not reach her goals, but it will most likely cause personal frustration and the other pains of a dead-end career. For the business owner, a mismatched strategic plan and technical execution will result in a struggling company at best, and complete failure at worst.

In a prior blog, we discussed how to “move your needle” by focusing 90% of your time on the value you bring as an employee or business owner. The value you bring is your unique contribution that makes you irreplaceable (or at least, makes you very expensive and painful to replace). The butcher’s value is the perfect way he cures the beef; the baker’s value is the croissants he creates; the candlestick maker’s value is the intricate designs he carves into the candles. All three have built successful businesses. They focus their time on their value and utilize “value-based delegation” as a strategy to grow their respective businesses.


Keeping your unique value in mind, “value-based delegation” (or “value-based task management”) has you answer one question when faced with a task or project: “Is the task / project within the domain of value I bring?” If the answer is “yes”, then own the task / project. If the answer is “no”, then delegate it. There is a reason why this sounds overly simple: It is. Like Occam’s razor, this stragey does not require a 15-chapter eBook and 3-days of seminars. Just answer the question: “Does this task fall within the wheelhouse of the value I bring to this company?” If yes, own it; if no, delegate it.

The reason why the strategy is so effective is that it ensures that your focus remains on the unique value you bring to your company as an employee, executive, or owner. You add value by focusing on your value. While the strategy is binary (own it or delegate it), the execution requires tactical decision making. In essence, when you own a task, you must decide if this is a task that you will accomplish on your own, by managing others, or by mentoring others. Similarly, when you decide to delegate a task / project, you must decide if the delegation can be trusted to be completed by someone else without any follow-up by you, requires some degree of follow-up and status updates, or if you need to train someone to effectively delegate this type of task / project to in the future. More on the tactics of ‘own it’ versus ‘delegate it’ in another blog. The takeaway from this blog is to be aware of how to approach a task or project that comes across your desk.


No man is an island, and it takes a team. Delegation is crucial to successful growth as an employee or business owner. However, delegation is not simply a means to offload any task you don’t have time for or don’t feel like doing. Successful delegation is a strategy rooted in the unique value you bring to your organization. The butcher mentors his protégé; the baker manages other bakers; the candlestick maker does all engravings himself. They all hire accountants and assistants that they train or follow-up on their work statuses. It’s a very successful strategy that ensure growth and mental sanity.

What unique value do you offer? Keeping your value in mind, approach the rest of your week answering, “Does this task or project reside within the domain of my value”? When you answer “no”, delegate it; when you answer “yes, own it.



$400,000 for 15-Minutes of Advice

Would you pay $400,000 for 15-minutes of advice? What is the advice would DOUBLE your productivity? Charles Schwab thought the advice was worth $400,000, and paid that sum (in adjusted dollars) in 1918 to a gentlemen named Ivy Lee.

Schwab hired Lee to boost the productivity of his executives. Asking Lee what the cost would be, Lee replied, “Nothing, for now. Just give me 15-minutes with each of your executives. Then, in 3 months, send me a check for whatever you feel the advice was worth.” So Lee met with each of Schwab’s executives for 15-minutes, and explained a simple method of boosting personal productivity. Three months later, Schwab was so impressed, he mailed Lee a check for $25,000 (which is about $400,000 in today’s adjusted dollars).

The Method… For Free

Ivy Lee’s method for increasing personal productivity was actually quite simple. You can even start today. It just takes a few minutes of prep each evening. Here’s what you do:

  1. In the evening, when your day is done, write down 6 things that you want to accomplish tomorrow. That was six. Not five, not seven. Six. There’s something about 6 that makes the method work very well.
  2. Prioritize the items from the most important first.
  3. Work on them in order. And when you work on them, work only on them. Do not work on anything else, so not move on to the next item, until you finish the one you are working on. This is a BIG part of the solution.

If, for whatever reason, you do not finish all six, move the ones you did not accomplish today to tomorrow’s list of six.

Yep, it’s just that easy. And it works. Charles Schwab knew it worked, and paid a handsome sum to the creator. I know it works, because I employ the method every day. And now you know the method… and it cost you less than $400,000. But why does it work?

The Science behind the Solution

So why does the Ivy Lee method work? Several reasons, really. First, there’s really nothing more powerful than the power of focus. What’s more powerful? A flashlight or a laser beam? A laser beam (you knew that, right?), because a laser is focused light. When you focus, you can move mountains. And that’s the key. Focus on 1 task at a time. Ignore distractions. Turn off the social media, hide the email, silence the phone, and finish the task. Here’s a great method to help you focus: Mastering the Pomodoro Technique in 5 Minutes

Second, the method eliminates the hardest part of doing a task: choice. When you have 100 things to do, it’s very hard to decide what to do next. This usually leads to an inefficiency in productivity caused by prolonged decision making as to which task to do next. By creating a list of six tasks to accomplish for the day, you have eliminated the need to decide “what next”, because you have already created your list. That leads us to the third reason why this method works: The Halo Effect.

The Halo Effect, in simplest terms, is a cognitive effect caused by the known observation of another entity. In this scenario, you are watching you, which causes you to act in a manner that may differ if you did not hold yourself accountable. In other words, you set an expectation for yourself, and the expectation itself creates a positive cognitive effect such that you strive to accomplish the six tasks on the list.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Life in 2016 is more hectic than life in 1918. We are bombarded with sensory inputs at a blazing and alarming rate: cell phones, social media, texting, emails, internet, TV. But wait, there’s more… many folks work from home these days, so add the distractions from home, often including kids. So how do you adopt a 100-year old efficiency method designed for executive in 1918 for a work-at-home person in the 21st century?

This is how I do it:

First, I know I am going to get slammed. So my list of six includes one, and only one, BIG task. I choose a task that will move the needle for my business. By choosing only one really big task per day, I feel a sense of accomplishment that I finished all of my tasks, versus a sense of “catch up” and stress because I couldn’t finish all of my tasks. Also, I make great strides by doing one big tasks per day. I know the urge is to do as much as you can every day. But this leads to burn out, and then instead of going forward, or even just standing still, you start to go backwards. So by choosing one big task per day, you’ll make much better progress within a year than trying to overdo do and burn out. If you work 5 days per week for 50 weeks per year, that means you will have accomplished 2350 big task per year. More than most.

Second, I set the big tasks as the FIRST thing I do. Brian Tracy is famous for saying, “Eat that Frog”. He borrowed the saying from Mark Twain, who proclaimed that if you eat a live frog each morning, you will have the confidence to do anything else that day. My frog is the “one big task” on my list of six tasks per day (today, my “frog” was this blog – tasty). I eat my frog as the first thing I do. Yum! Then I tackle my other 5 tasks. It’s a great way for me to stay productive, and a great way to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Third, I mix business with personal. Life in the 21st century is blurred. We have a family life, and work, and socialize, and work, and exercise, and work. It’s a blur. We’re not living in a time when work was defined at work and personal was defined at home. The lines are slowly (or quickly) being erased. So a number of my six items are what I call “Personal Foundational Habits”. They are tasks designed to build strong, personal habits for self-improvement. By adding these items to my list, I build a personal foundation of habits that strengthen me mentally and physically for focusing on my “one BIG task”.

Finally, my remaining tasks are housekeeping tasks to keep the ship running. For example, once a month, one of my 5 tasks is to balance my books. I find I am less stressed with “the little stuff” if I can keep on them a little each day: one task this day, maybe three the next. But staying on top of the housekeeping keeps the ship sailing smoothly.

Do More and Be Less Stressed

One of the major causes of stress is worrying about all of the tasks we need to do. Let’s face it, we all have 1,000 things to do, and we all want to get them done today; now. Faced with thinking about all we need to do can be mentally overwhelming, causing undue stress, which diminishes the quality of the tasks we actually have time to work on. The Ivy Lee method isolates just six tasks to focus on for the day, thus decluttering your mind of the mental baggage we were carrying, so we can perform at a higher level and with less stress.

Your Homework

Try the Ivy Lee method tomorrow. You really have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Imagine if it boosted your productivity by 100%! And you paid zero for it (Schwab covered you 100 years ago). So tonight, jot down six things that you want to accomplish tomorrow.

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.  Does your six items include both business and personal? What’s your approach for the realty big tasks? Are you doing your tasks yourself, or sharing the responsibility with others? We would all like to hear your ups and down with the Ivy Lee method, and learn.

Thanks for reading, and have a productive day!

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I read this statistic several years ago when I first started my development company. I had mixed emotions; I was hopeful and discouraged at the same time. Hopeful because I knew that if I focused I could spend 90% of my time on moving my needle, but discouraged because I knew I currently wasn’t and, furthermore, wasn’t sure what my key activities were.

The statistic was from a Harvard Business Review that conducted a study and concluded that “business owners need to spend 90% of their time on activities that move the needle” in order to be successful and grow. In other words, a business owner needs to spend 90% of her time focusing on the value that she specifically brings to the business, and avoid or delegate the other tasks that distract from her value proposition.


“OK! I can do this!” I said to myself. “Um… but what do I contribute that’s of value, and what do I do that can be ignored or delegated??” I have to do bookkeeping, or my company’s finances and cash flow will be in chaos. I have to meet with my developers, or our projects will get off track. I have to market and network to acquire new clients. I have to architect and design products, because I have my name on the company – Serpico Development (SerpicoDEV).

“Well, I can’t cut anything out or delegate anything. I’m doing everything right. And even if I did delegate something, I don’t have the cash flow to hire anyone.” But I wasn’t growing like I wanted. So, obviously, there was room for improvement.


The story goes that Warren Buffet’s long time pilot asked Buffet how he could improve his career. Buffet asked the pilot to write down 25 things that he could do to improve his career. So the pilot wrote down the 25 things he could do to improve his career. “Now”, Buffet said, “Circle the top 5 to focus on now that will reap the most reward.” So the pilot circled 5 and said, “I get it, focus on these 5, and work on the other 20 as I have time”. “NO!” Buffet corrected him, “Ignore the other 20 at all costs until you have mastered the circled 5”.

I’ve always loved that story. Such great advice. I tried a modified version of that exercise and listed all of the activities that I perform as the owner of SerpicoDEV:

  • Development
    • Architecting
    • Coding
    • Hardware / Server Provisioning
    • Scrums (Meetings) with Developers
    • Ad-Hoc Meetings with Developers
    • Project Panning
  • Finance
    • Bookkeeping
    • Payroll
  • New Clients
    • Networking
    • Presentations
    • Combing eLance (and other project sites where development projects are posted)

Then I reviewed the list and identified which activities required me to personally perform them. In other words, I identified which activities could not be delegated because of the value I added to the company by doing those activities myself. Here’s what I came up with… the same list annotated with eye-opening notes:

  • Development
    • Architecting – I could delegate the details of the architecting to a senior level architect and review his work. This will save me several hours a week.
    • Coding – There are better coders than me. I could delegate all the coding to other developers and review their work. This will save me a ton of time.
    • Hardware / Server Provisioning – This does not need to be done by me personally. I just need to suggest or approve a hardware / server plan.Development
    • Scrums (Meetings) with Developers – I add value here because I am an expert of managing teams.
    • Ad-Hoc Meetings with Developers – I need to answer developer questions, because I add value by steering the project development.
    • Project Panning – This is another area I add lots of value, as I have a knack for planning projects in phases that match both development lifecycle and business goals.
  • Finance
    • Bookkeeping – I can delegate this… I am not an accountant.
    • Payroll – I can delegate this… I am not an accountant.
  • New Clients
    • Networking – This is vital, as my name is on the company, I need to be the face of the company.
    • Presentations / Public Speaking – I am good at making presentations, and, as the owner and face of the company, this is a vital task.
    • Combing eLance (and other project sites where development projects are posted) – I have had very limited success finding reliable clients on any of the freelance sites. So this activity is a waste of my time. I decided to jettison it.

Oh, wow! My new list of activities that move the needle became:

  • Development
    • Architecting – Review with a senior level architect.
    • Coding – Review developers’ work.
    • Scrums (Meetings) with Developers
    • Ad-Hoc Meetings with Developers
    • Project Panning
  • New Clients
    • Networking
    • Presentations

Within 12 months, my annual revenue DOUBLED. I then hired a project manager to run interference between me and the developers to free up even more time to focus on what I do best. Within 18 months of honing the process to focus on doing only the things that I do best, my annual revenue DOUBLED AGAIN. I can safely say that if I stood in the weeds and continued trying to do everything myself, and filled my days with tasks that either someone else could have performed or added no value to the company, I’d still be generating less than a quarter of my annual revenue.


This is a great exercise for any business owner to conduct. It only takes a few minutes, and can yield revelations you may not have expected. Go ahead… now… yes, now… and write down everything you do in your business. Then cross off the activities that add zero value to your business…. and don’t do them anymore. Now, circle the activities that only YOU can do… these are the ones that make your business unique. For example, a lawyer will always need to meet face-to-face with his clients and a backer will always need to create the secret recipes. What activities on the list do you need perform yourself in order to move your needle? The activities that you did not circle are the activities that can be delegated or, at most, supervised by you.

In the comment section below, please share what you discovered when performing this exercise, and any other advice you can give to small, growing business owners. What have you learned and can share with others?

In my next post, I’ll share a 5-minute productivity tip that Charles Schwab paid $400,000 to learn that doubled his productivity each day.

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