how to keep track of the work you’ve delegated

If you manage a busy team, you’re probably doing a lot of delegating – of big projects as well as small details. In an ideal world, you’d be able to rely on your team members to circle back to you on everything you delegate to them – but in reality, you need to have a system for tracking what you’ve delegated so that you can make sure work isn’t falling through the cracks.

But you don’t want tracking delegated work to become a project unto itself – after all, you want delegation to take work off your plate, not add to it. Here are four easy ways to track work you’ve delegated out to others so that you don’t lose sight of it for good.

1. When you delegate a project, put a reminder on your calendar to check in on it at some future date. Make this an automatic part of your delegation process so that you don’t have to remember to do it later. (And besides, you’re likely to forget if you don’t do it right when you assign the work.)

2. Create a list of all ongoing projects, who they’re assigned to, and when they’re due. Be vigilant about jotting a note on this list when you delegate anything new. It doesn’t have to be lengthy – something like “Alvarez memo – Julie” can be sufficient. Make using this list part of your regular operations (if you never update it, it won’t have any value).

3. If you frequently delegate through email, create a “waiting for” folder in your email, and then drag any relevant messages from your Sent folder into it. You can periodically check that folder to spot if there’s anything you’re waiting to hear back on. If you need to check on the status of a project, you can just forward the original message to the person you sent it to with a request for an update. (Make sure to or move messages out of this folder once you no longer need the reminder, so that it doesn’t get cluttered with unnecessary items.)

4. Put more onus on your staff members to keep you in the loop as projects progress. One easy way to do this is if your staff members send you an agenda before your regular one-on-one meetings. (If they don’t, have them start!) You can ask that this agenda include include a spot for ongoing projects, and then you can periodically spot-check to ensure that these lists are comprehensive (and address it if they’re not).

{ 24 comments… read them below }

  1. KarenT*

    Great article! This is something I really struggled with when I first became a manager, and it’s probably still not my strongest area.
    #4 is so, so important.

    1. Jamie*

      Me too – definitely not my strongest area, either.

      I’m much better but delegating is still tough for me – if given the choice for most things I’d prefer a magic wand so I could give myself more hours in the week to do stuff myself.

      That’s part control issues and part reality that it is often easier to do it myself.

  2. Aspasia*

    I work in a very small law office (just me, the paralegal and the attorney) and our caseload is quite substantial. So it’s extremely important that everyone knows what’s going on and stays on top of their individual projects. Part of my job is to make sure that there are no loose ends, so any advice on keeping track of ongoing issues/projects is always helpful.

  3. Jess*

    There seems to be a way you can assign people tasks and track them in Outlook but none of my managers have ever used it so I’m not sure how good it is.

    1. Chinook*

      “There seems to be a way you can assign people tasks and track them in Outlook but none of my managers have ever used it so I’m not sure how good it is.”

      As with any tool, the “assign task” function works as well as the poeple using it. In the one office I worked where everyone, from the president to the mailroom clerk, had to take a time management course (off-site, so no interruptions) that showed how to use Outlook efficiently, the assign task option worked quite well and helped you organize your work and monitor what others were working on.

      Every other office, though, it seems that people don’t even use “tasks” to track their work and some even use their calendar to track tasks.

      1. Lisa*

        I love basecamp for assigning tasks, its great for managing who is doing what. The deadline part is too basic though, but just for open tasks its a great list by project and people.

  4. Kate*

    What worked for me (learned through experience and failures):

    -I have a number of large(-ish) projects, each assigned to employee (as per Alison’s advice) – there’s a whiteboard in the office which displays projects and assignees;
    -I let employees manage their projects themselves and I keep my “door” constantly open – they feel free to ask questions whenever needed;
    -We have weekly meetings when employees tells everyone about how they are doing – so there is transparency – and also they mention achievements and issues if any, and the whole team may suggest how to resolve.

    I have a list of tasks for myself – I literally list them in my notebook and strike them out when I’m done. So my day starts with renewing the list and updating it. It helps me getting my mind ready for work every single day.

    When I need some “bit” to be taken off my plate, I ask for someone’s help and state their name next to my task, and so next day when I rewrite my list, I ask about status right away (or postpone asking if that’s a longer task) – until it comes off the list.

  5. ThursdaysGeek*

    I don’t delegate work, although I do still need to wait for others input at times. I use the Outlook sticky notes, and I love them.

    I have a sticky note for every project, with a list of tasks that are needed on each, plus any extra notes. I change the colors depending on status and priority, and move them around to different areas, as they move through their process. If I need to ask for input, I move them to a ‘waiting’ area, and when I get a reply, move them back to actively work on, checking the waiting ones periodically. It’s an editable burn-down chart!

    I have a folder for each task as well, for any related files, as well as an outlook mail folder for each. That keeps everything organized, but it’s a low maintenance system: it doesn’t take a lot of time keeping things up to date.

    I also have a journal, just a text file for each month, and as I finish a step from a sticky note, I cut it from the note and paste it to my journal: the note lists what I still need to do and the journal keeps track of what I have done.

    Right now, I have 23 sticky note tasks, a half dozen or so sticky notes for specifying organizing areas, a few for templates, and a few more for recurring or reminder items, just under 50 notes. I think if there were more than 100, it would start to get unwieldy, but for the tasks I have, it is quite nice.

    Once a week I send a status email to my bosses, and I can always say what I’ve done this week and what I expect to do in the next.

    1. Kate*

      This is actually brilliant thing for reporting!

      When I do my weekly report, I have to go through at least 5 chirped pages!

      I think I should take a look at those sticky notes. One thing I love about paper notebook is that it’s always in front of me while computer is my work tool and it has multiple windows open at all times, on a couple of monitors… Arrrgh

      1. Chinook*

        The downside to Outlook sticky notes is that they are on a different screen within Outlook (but accessabile with the click of a button). The plus side is that they are available wherever you access to Outlook (i.e. remote logins) and they are searchable and be categorized with the same keyword/colour as everything else in Outlook.

        1. Sascha*

          I’m definitely going to give the sticky notes a try, I work from home 60% of the week and I often forget to bring my paper notebook home with me.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            I started with a paper notebook, years ago. They do have advantages. But I like the searchable aspect of my journal. When I’ve done a similar task, perhaps 6 months or a year ago, I can quickly search and see what I did last time. I also paste code into it and other things that I think may be useful in the future, if I ever need to know how to do something again.

            My journal is my past and my present, my sticky notes are my future.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          Yeah, since I use them with email, it would be nice to have both open at the same time. I do open the sticky notes for the task I’ll be working on that day, so they’re out on the desktop (often underneath the dozen other windows I have open — I need a 3rd monitor!)

  6. Marina*

    My current supervisor is great at delegation. We have weekly meetings with a running agenda google doc that I create, which always starts with a “follow up” section. Everything that we discuss in that meeting that needs to get done gets highlighted in yellow, and everything that has been completed is highlighted in orange. It’s super easy when I’m scrolling back through previous weeks to find the yellow items, move them to this week’s “follow up”, and mark whether or not they’ve been completed.

    My supervisor is also huge on deadlines. Absolutely everything has a deadline. She’s flexible if they can’t be met for some unforseen reason, but it at least gives us something written down so that we remember to check in and see where that project is.

  7. C Average*

    When I delegate to my global counterparts–something that happens on a nearly daily basis–I include a particular keyword in the title of the email containing the delegated task details. Then when I want to check up on what I’ve delegated to them, all I have to do is run a keyword search. (They can do the same thing when they want to review all the requests from my team.)

    This is such a great topic. It’s something you never really get specific instructions about in education or training, but it’s so, so important.

  8. Lisa*

    My company has a google doc in the form of a status update, it should change weekly with new tasks. Mostly its a way to get a quick update on something without having to keep post-its everywhere. We go over it on Mondays, which announces what you think you will get done that week.

  9. AnotherAlison*

    Good tips, so timely. . .after 6 years as a non-billable independent contributor, I’m moving to a PM role next month. I won’t lie: after sitting in on a PM meeting, it was a little overwhelming to hear how many concurrent projects they’re juggling. I will definitely not have time to spend on here anymore.

    I’ve used some form of 1-3 in the past, so looks like I’ll dust off those systems again.

  10. Meg Murry*

    In addition to using the “waiting” suggestion, many email systems will allow you to flag a message, and add a date to that flag, and what you want it to do (email you, popup, etc). I was taught to use this religiously, so any time sent a message to someone, I would flag the message with the date I expected a response before I sent a followup. If someone said to me “I’ll have it to you by the end of the month” I would flag their message and date it with the last day of the month (or the first day of the next month). When I got a reminder, if I hadn’t received the update could just reply to the message asking “what is the status of this request”? I miss this feature – it basically allowed me to dump my brain into my email, and not have to hold onto thoughts of “so-and-so needs to get back to me on X, otherperson promised me report Y by the end of the week” etc.

    I know Outlook can do this, and Lotus Notes as well. Google/Gmail does not do this well (I can add messages into tasks, but that’s ugly) that I can find.

  11. anon o*

    I struggle with this a lot. I supervise people of varying degrees of experience and competency who all have very complicated detail-filled jobs and keeping track of everything is really difficult. I’ve been using several methods but I love – you can enter things and use hashtags, so I can do something like, “Update #Peterson #budget by #Friday” and then it will later come up when I search for all the Peterson stuff, all the budgets I need to update or if I search for everything that’s due by Friday. It’s really simple but works well. I can also hashtag it with the initials of whoever is tasked with something also, like, “#AG updating #Peterson #budget by #Friday” – it’s really easy.

  12. Cath in Canada*

    This is great! I’m good at tracking all the big things, but I’ll admit that smaller things (e.g. waiting for someone’s response to an email before proceeding with a minor task) do sometimes fall through the cracks. I don’t have a separate folder, but I do have a colour-coded category in my Sent folder for “waiting for a response”, and I review those emails at least once a week to see if I need to send any reminders, or if I can clear the category for some messages. I’m going to start using the calendar reminders system too, now, though, especially for items that aren’t initially addressed via email.

  13. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    I don’t keep track of stuff I delegate at all, other than having the world’s most copious email collection (not in folders! :p) where I can find anything by keyword search if I need it. (I always delegate by email and ask for responses in email so there’s a trail for everything.)

    What I do do is set up the people around me and also any delegation with the expectation that people touch me back with any questions, progress updates that they feel are necessary, and then completion information.

    I get *super* cranky if something fails because somebody I delegated to didn’t complete or ignored a task, *super* cranky, but not cranky enough to then take the responsibility on myself next time to check up on them.

    I’m dedicated to systems, processes and flows. I’ll spend a lot of time creating flows that check themselves, but I won’t spend a minute checking up on people I trust to get their jobs done.

    (This is a fast paced, open atmosphere where questions are welcome, including being shouted across the room, and I work with a bunch of competent people which helps explain why this works for us.)

  14. Cassie*

    I’m not a supervisor, so I don’t delegate work in the traditional sense, but I use some of these for requests that I’ve sent out and am waiting for a reply.

    #2: I have a simple spreadsheet that I write the date, the person, and a description of the request. If the person responds, I’ll check it off. I’ll go through the list periodically and send out reminders based on what’s still pending.

    #3: I use Thunderbird and set up a “waiting” tag. I also saved a search for the tag “waiting” so that all those emails show up in one area.

    #1: I don’t use this method too often, but if it’s really important and the deadline is farther down the line, I’ll put in a reminder on Google Calendar.

  15. Young HR Manager*

    I do a simple thing. Whatever I delegate, I do it by using the task feature in outlook. This helps in keeping track of the work which is delegated and on the timelines as well. I find this very useful and easy to manage.

    1. gsa*

      Y HR M,

      I need to research Outlook’s task function more thoroughly. I use it, but only for my tasks.

      I email and flag, with date and reminder.

      Thanks for the insight.

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