Swizec Teller - a geek with a hatswizec.com

Senior Mindset Book

Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companies

Senior Engineer Mindset cover
Learn more

    How I use delegation to get more done

    Productivity porn shows you how to pack more into your day.

    Podcasts at 10x speed, videos at 500x, timebox social media, pomodoro 25min, no multitasking, answer email with instinct, make decisions on the dime, don't put off 5min tasks, write shit down, keep a list, set intentions, do big things first, plan your day, read my book but every 3rd page ...

    Productivity porn is wrong my friend.

    What productivity porn gets wrong

    Productivity porn works. That's why it's popular. Everyone wants to know that 1 simple trick.

    Big industry, rich authors, raving fans, amazing.

    But hustling harder and optimizing more and shoving stuff into your day doesn't scale. You have 24 hours. You need to sleep, you need to eat, you need to relax.

    The secret nobody talks about is that your brain works best when you do less. Long periods of nothingness is how those authors, entrepreneurs, and technology leaders come up with their big ideas.

    You can optimize for doing things or thinking thoughts. Never both.

    DO more, work less


    Here's the only productivity advice you need 👉 "What am I doing that I don't need to be doing?"

    The 4 levels of delegation

    The answer to that question is delegation. Focus on things you are best at. Let others handle the rest.

    I'm terrible at cleaning so I hire cleaners. I suck at JIRA so my manager writes tickets. I hate memorizing so VSCode autocompletes my code.

    Delegation comes in 4 levels. Which you can use depends on your resources and willingness to let go.


    The zeroth level of delegation is tooling. Got a repetitive task you do often? Create a tool.

    XKCD is it worth the time?
    XKCD is it worth the time?

    20 second task 30 times per day (like running tests) eats 1h of your life over a year. That's an hour of Netflix you'll never get back!

    More importantly, automate tasks that take thinking but not a lot. Repetitive, boring, and easy to get wrong.

    Like deploying to production. That shit will eat you alive if it's flakey, cumbersome, or frustrating in any way.

    Removing friction is the goal.

    Not because it saves time, because it saves brain cycles.

    An easy task with high friction makes you put it off and procrastinate. Then you think about it and it's distracting and eventually you do it and hate every minute of it and ugh.

    Wouldn't it be nice to press a button and move on with your day?

    Human bash script

    You don't think of tooling as "delegation". But if it's a human, now we're talking eh?

    The first level of delegation is when you use humans like a bash script. Great for simple tasks that are too hard to automate.

    You (or your employer) have to pay these people. They're fantastic human beings, you're just using them for simple tasks.

    A good example here is when you ask a more junior team member to help with something that isn't worth your time.

    "Hey can you cut this list of bugs into JIRA tickets"

    Fantastic valuable work!

    But is it worth your time to sit there for 30 minutes and click around? Don't you have anything more important to do like fixing that bug that makes the buy button error out for 5% of your users?

    Another example is how I use my virtual assistant. You should get one btw, best decision I ever made.

    "Oh that's a great list of books I wanna read!" click around Amazon for 10 minutes? Heck no, send link to assistant and ask her to buy. Move on with my day.

    "10min here 10min there" adds up fast.

    Human API

    The third level of delegation is when you use humans as an API. I could do what you do, but you're better at it and I trust you.

    This is how your boss uses you Friend. Unless you're a high value expert, we'll get to that.

    Think about how you'd use an API when coding. You care about the outcome and you kinda understand what it takes.

    You fire a request and expect a valid result. That's it.

    At work this is how you use the backend team if you're a frontend engineer. And vice-versa. You trust the group of talented folks to give you what you need. You don't ask how.

    In personal life this is how you use services.

    You hire cleaners because yeah you can clean your house, but they're better at it. And as long as the house is clean, you don't care how.

    You pay a mechanic to fix your car, a dog walker to walk your dog, a babysitter to sit on your kid, a barista to make your coffee, a restaurant chef to make a celebratory meal ...

    Sure There's a Youtube video for everything, but is it worth your time? Do you have to do this?

    Prob not.

    Human AI system

    The ultimate level of delegation is when you specify a goal and ask: "What do I need? Get me there"

    At work this is the VP and internal expert level.

    Your boss doesn't tell you how to do things, doesn't even tell you what to do. They care about the result and the time it takes.

    "Bob, here's an objective. Get us there, tell me what you need"

    And you're off to the races.

    This takes a high level of trust. You are the expert, you know what it takes, what you need, and what's the best approach. Your boss is too far removed.

    In personal life you'll see this when you call a plumber, for example. "Diswasher not working. Fix it"

    Walk away and let the expert do their thing. Might not even be the dishwasher's fault, a drain got clogged. You don't care. You need a working dishwasher and you trust the expert.

    Be the expert in your field, let others be the expert in theirs. Focus. Don't do shit others can do.


    PS: other examples of how I personally use delegation include using my assistant as an API for more complex requests like "Find the best option to fix a leather jacket" or "Find 3 nice places for a weekend getaway" or "I need a microwave that fits this counter space"

    Another example is how I hired a marketer to figure out "How can we sell 1 course per day on average?"

    Goal is to find ways to do less ✌️

    Published on October 23rd, 2020 in Opinions, Learning, Mindset

    Did you enjoy this article?

    Continue reading about How I use delegation to get more done

    Semantically similar articles hand-picked by GPT-4

    Senior Mindset Book

    Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companies

    Learn more

    Have a burning question that you think I can answer? Hit me up on twitter and I'll do my best.

    Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.

    Want to become a true senior engineer? Take ownership, have autonomy, and be a force multiplier on your team. The Senior Engineer Mindset ebook can help 👉 swizec.com/senior-mindset. These are the shifts in mindset that unlocked my career.

    Curious about Serverless and the modern backend? Check out Serverless Handbook, for frontend engineers 👉 ServerlessHandbook.dev

    Want to Stop copy pasting D3 examples and create data visualizations of your own? Learn how to build scalable dataviz React components your whole team can understand with React for Data Visualization

    Want to get my best emails on JavaScript, React, Serverless, Fullstack Web, or Indie Hacking? Check out swizec.com/collections

    Did someone amazing share this letter with you? Wonderful! You can sign up for my weekly letters for software engineers on their path to greatness, here: swizec.com/blog

    Want to brush up on your modern JavaScript syntax? Check out my interactive cheatsheet: es6cheatsheet.com

    By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❤️

    Created by Swizec with ❤️