It’s Time To Stop Hoarding Tasks

[4-Minute Read + Audio + Infographic] Are you often too busy for your own good? If so, you’re probably task hoarding – and that’s affecting your ability to lead. It’s time for a radical workload detox.

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It’s Time To Stop Hoarding Tasks

Are you often too busy for your own good? If so, you’re probably task hoarding – and that’s affecting your ability to lead. It’s time for a radical workload detox.

Listen to Audio Version – It’s time to stop hoarding tasks

I’m constantly in awe of people who can operate in two modes at once. Women who are managers and leaders do it often: they are physically engaged in one task while their minds deal with a separate set of tasks.

Their hands are directing, fixing, consoling, creating, writing and typing while their minds are pondering the bigger picture problems like retaining, motivating, inspiring and upskilling.

This ability can be referred to as ‘multi-tasking’ (although any manager who has lived through it is more likely to label it exhausting). In some situations, multi-tasking can certainly be a talent. However, for middle and senior managers it has a major drawback – it lures you to do more because you can.

And it usually lures you into the wrong type of doing – something I call ‘task hoarding’.

What is task hoarding?

Task hoarding is the practice of holding onto tasks we don’t really need to be doing. Tasks that could be done by someone or something else. It’s common and we all do it. However, it greatly hampers your ability to do your job well. While you’re busy doing everyday tasks, you’re not leading.

And your staff probably already know. Just check out these statistics:

  • 77% of businesses report that leadership is lacking.
  • 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized.
  • Only 33% of employees report feeling engaged.


Four reasons why we hoard tasks

  1. Familiarity

When I get tired but still want to be productive, I’ll do tasks that I have done many times before because they don’t require much mental bandwidth.

The same thing happens when I’m stretched: I tend to fill pockets of time with tasks that I can do on autopilot. With all those pockets of time nicely filled, I also get the emotional reward of feeling like I’ve maximised my productivity (I’m a good little doer!).

  1. Unconscious habit

Reflexive action accounts for a lot of task hoarding. You do tasks simply because you’ve always done them or because it’s always been part of the role that you now occupy.

  1. It’s how things get done

Task hoarding may be based on assumptions about how things get done. For instance, you assume that a ‘hands-on leader’ answers the phone or attends meetings. Or perhaps you do a task because you assume that everyone else is too busy or too disinterested to do it.

  1. It’s a safety blanket

Fear can also drive you to hoard tasks. If you feel your job is under threat if others can’t see you being busy, then you’ll likely grab at any task that fits the narrative. There is also comfort and safety in continuing to do tasks that you have already mastered so you will hold onto those tasks even though your role may have evolved to a point where they are no longer relevant.

Desist or delegate

Is growing or reshaping your business on your agenda in the next one or two years?

If so, your leadership methods are going to have to evolve. Change requires you to change, regardless of how wildly successful you’ve been in recent years. Your team will follow and replicate your behaviours and methods: if you don’t change, no one else will – and the big change you want to see won’t happen.

During Week 2 of the 12-Hour Leadership Mentoring Program, we find 10 opportunities for you to make space for leadership using a method called ‘Desist or Delegate’ (Visual people: check out the attached infographic for an alternative way of viewing this).

Desist or Delegate goes like this:

  1. Write out a list of the 10-15 non-leadership tasks that make up your daily workload.

If you don’t normally keep a timesheet for your working day, you might like to for a week or two so you can see how you are spending most of your time. It is often different to what we think.

  1. Review the rationale for those tasks.
    • Why do those tasks exist?
    • Are they part of a larger process?
    • Why does that process exist?
    • Who created it and when?


This information allows you to carry out an initial pruning of the list: choosing the tasks to DESIST (stop doing altogether). The most effective ways to do this is to simplify processes or mothball them.

Processes can become unnecessarily convoluted over time. I think of them like my sock drawer; it started out organised and tidy but over time it’s become messy, through use and being busily focused on other things. So, spring clean your processes by reviewing the purpose of the process and the steps within it. You’ll always uncover steps that can be removed, like:

  • Emails that don’t need to be sent (and then read and managed)
  • Reports that don’t need to be generated
  • Meetings that don’t need to be held.

Finding more direct routes to an end point is also a great way to simplify. Perhaps you’re being included in a process that would operate more efficiently if A spoke directly to C rather than coming via you (B). Servicing clients often has these loops that may feel important but ultimately don’t add any value for the client.

Mothballing entire processes is also an option (and very satisfying!). If you’re in a long-established business, there will be processes that happen out of habit that don’t need to happen at all. Those processes can shelved until they are relevant or useful.


Your team needs you to lead. To lead effectively, you need to delegate.

Delegation can be a scary word for some people because they think it means getting other people to do your job for you. If you’re reading this, I doubt you aspire to be a lazy executive earning a big salary off the sweat of others. You’re not that ‘type’ of person.

But delegation doesn’t mean that: in fact, it’s essential if you are to lead effectively (we talk more about the fear of delegation during the 12-Hour Leadership Mentoring Program). I follow this three-step process.

  1. Can a robot do it?

When delegating, the first option I investigate is automation– essentially, getting a computer or a robot to do it. Let C-3PO do the hard grind and free up your bandwidth to do the big thinking! Artificial intelligence is progressing at a rapid rate: even if you investigated automation a couple of years ago, I would strongly suggest a revisit.

  1. Can your team be upskilled?

Most people love to learn a new skill, especially long-term employees. If your team can do a task (with training and support) then they should. Give them the chance to grow, to take on more responsibility and to see the business from a different angle. It will add value to the business as well as boosting their careers and job satisfaction.

  1. Is outsourcing an option?

If you have streamlined and automated, and there still isn’t sufficient capacity inside the business, then consider outsourcing options. It may only need to be a temporary arrangement but it can give you the breathing space to get on with leading.

End goal: give up all the busy work

The big and scary question I frequently get asked is “How many tasks should I give up?” (This is often said as if I’m a dentist who has just informed you that all is not well with your teeth.)

The short (but big and scary) answer is all non-leadership tasks. If it can be removed, remove it. You need to do your job – not someone else’s.

Your job is to guide your team toward a destination. If you don’t do that job, then you and your team are going nowhere.

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