2 min read

Delegate the 5-minute task

Delegate the 5-minute task
Photo by Eden Constantino / Unsplash

I used to frequently find myself agreeing to take on quick 5-minute tasks.

  • "We need to send an email to see if anyone wants to be the organizer for lightning talks? I'll do it right after this meeting."
  • "We need to fix the the whitespace on this page and make it 2 rem instead of 3? I'll do it right after this meeting."
  • "We should file a bug to follow up on this issue? On it, will do right after this meeting."

What I failed to realize was the cumulative impact of these seemingly quick tasks. Often, what I thought would take 5 minutes turned out to be more like 10-15 minutes. In total, I was unintentionally committing myself to an extra 1-2 hours of work each day.

In my role as a tech lead, I believed it was my responsibility to fill in the gaps and take on the necessary glue work for my team to be successful. Oftentimes, no one else would raise their hand, so I assumed that meant it was my job to get it done. I also sometimes worried that others might be unreliable, and figured investing 5 minutes upfront was more efficient than chasing people down later.

This approach worked reasonably well when I leading a team of 3 people. It started to break down when my team grew to 10 engineers. As the tech lead of a 100+ person organization, this system is completely impractical.

Recognizing this, I decided to implement systems to delegate those 5-minute tasks efficiently. Now, in meetings, I will assign ownership by saying something like, "We should follow up on this. Samantha, can I volunteer you to take the action to file a bug?"

This simple sentence not only relieves me of having to take on the task myself, but it also means that I am not the only person tracking Samantha's progress. Everyone in the meeting will be too.

Delegating ownership has significantly empowered my team to take charge and solve problems together. People are no longer blocked on me to get that 5-minute task done, which helps me manage my trouble funnel. Clearly designating a single responsible owner and ensuring everyone is informed has allowed us to manage our workload effectively, and foster a stronger sense of teamwork. I now less frequently find myself drowning in a sea of 5-minute tasks, allowing me to focus on the things that uniquely require my attention instead.