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  • Oriana Skylar Mastro

The Key to Happiness? Outsourcing and Delegating

I was chatting with my friend the other day about a contest I was thinking of applying to. In general, my position is to apply for everything (see blogpost on keeping track of awards), but this one would require a lot of work in a little time. Writing about 20,000 well-researched words in ten days, to be exact. In discussing the pros and cons, she asked me, "is there any part of this work that can be delegated to someone else?"


I don't naturally think like this. This is strange because minimizing the amount of time doing things necessary for joy in your life, but not joyful themselves - is the whole point of this blog. And one of the not-so-secret secrets of making more time for yourself is learning how to delegate.


Most books on productivity will focus on perfectionists - teaching people to let go of their need to control everything to allow for delegation. This is, of course, part of it, but another part is just brainstorming what can be effectively delegated.


1. Pay the setup costs. First, figure out what can be delegated in your life. If you are particularly busy or dread a particular task, brainstorm. Can someone else do this for me? In some cases, people just can't do something as well as you can (researching a topic, writing an argument, raising your children), or it's not ethical to delegate it. But there is a surprising amount of life and work admin that you can outsource to someone else.


For me, the first point of contact is my RAs. As you can tell from my other blog posts, I delegate a lot to my RA: presentations, putting together newsletters and publicizing my work, and helping me write op-eds. I get a lot done on my catch-all days, largely because my RAs provide a lot of support. Just this week, my RAs updated my website, wrote a grant cover letter for me, completed an appendix on China-Russia military exercises, drafted some tweets for me, put together Spotify playlists of relevant podcasts from the week, got some articles and books for me, and put together a full PowerPoint in English and Chinese based on an article I wrote.


For writing, I thought I was on to some next level sh-t because I use a copyeditor that proofreading all my publication submissions for me (and she takes the first stab and cutting words when that's necessary). But another colleague used a book agent, publicist, and fact-checker - all with great results. And I've recently hired a developmental editor for my current book to give me feedback throughout my writing process.


Now you might be thinking - Oriana, I don't have the research funds for that! It is worth it to pay out of pocket if you can. My copyeditor formatted my whole first book, which would've taken me two days. It took her a few hours - $200 well spent. Think about what your time is worth to you - what would you pay not to have to work after 4pm all week, or not have to get to work until 10am? This is the beauty of delegating.


When figuring out what to outsource, get to know your organization. Sometimes there are people in the organization whose job it is to help you with things. I recently learned that the development team at my organization will take my draft chapters and turn them into a draft grant proposal for me. Another department will make graphics for me if I request them. At your university, there may be people to update your website, publicize your work, or book your travel. My university offers lawyers to do estate planning for you. Seems kinda random, but the point is, figure out everything on offer and take advantage of it.


And delegating is even more important for non-work tasks! Mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, doing taxes, making birthday cakes - all things I outsource. I recently discovered the beauty of using a travel agent. It takes me hours to get United to figure out how to book my infant in a seat - for the last trip, it took me multiple calls for a total of 6 hours. I paid a $40 travel agent fee this time, and she waited and dealt with United for me. It took her 3 hours - I got work done in the meantime. I have a friend that pays for the high-end credit card and uses the concierge service to do everything from booking concert tickets to sending birthday presents. I haven't tried this yet, but it's appealing.


2. Put it all together. When you decide you will outsource or delegate a task, make a note of all the research you did when deciding who to hire (if that's relevant), record the relevant people's information, and what exactly they did for you. This seems like overkill, but in four years, when you have your next book, you might forget the indexer's name on your last one.


3. Produce reminders. If you think you'll forget that a certain task can be delegated, produce a reminder for yourself for the next time you complete that task.


4. Performance notes. Make a note about what worked and what didn't. For tasks that my RAs frequently do, I put together templates and instructions for them (ok, my RAs do that, but I supervise!). I once asked an in-house editing team to proofread a Congressional testimony, and it was a mess when they sent it back. I made a note to revert to using my own copyeditor in the future.


The bottom line - your time is precious. Think carefully about whether there are any necessary tasks that you don't enjoy that you could outsource or delegate. When I was in graduate school and broke, I would often do things on trade instead of hiring people. Some people love proofreading, others like making presentations or graphics. I didn't mind reading through sources in languages I speak to support their research. Form a community. Help each other. You may not save time, but you can maximize the amount of time you spend doing things you love.



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