A Case For Doing Work That’s, “Beneath You”
Why Delegating All The Tasks You Don’t Enjoy (Or Are Below Your Pay Scale)… Can Hurt You In The Long Run
I see this advice everywhere. I’ve heard it at business conferences, read it in blog posts about time management and found it in almost every course promising to help grow your business.
Delegate. Delegate. Delegate.
The idea is that as your business grows, your time is best spent on the highest level tasks that actually make you money. So, you should delegate to employees or outsource all the menial (but necessary) tasks that take up time but don’t directly generate increased profits. Enlightened advice givers will also point out that spending your valuable time on tasks you don’t enjoy will actually suck your energy faster and reduce your overall effectiveness.
I have experience both as an employer (I own a bagel shop and have managed up to 25 employees at a time) and as a freelancer. I understand in both situations, the importance of delegating tasks in order to keep business moving. In fact, for my entire career I have been meticulous about tracking time for every task, updating our written systems to accommodate new hires, and off loading work from my plate to allow me to grow my businesses.
However, I’ve always made a point to keep some of the tasks that I could delegate, on my own to-do list. Whether I’m running a 7-figure bagel enterprise, or growing a 4-figure solopreneur venture, I still value the simple tasks that aren’t directly making me money. Today I want to make a case for all business leaders to reserve a not-insignificant portion of their time on what others may consider “menial tasks.”
“Why the president should clean the toilet”
According to Christianity, Jesus Christ is the Son of God. In this capacity Jesus healed the sick, performed miracles and traveled thousands of miles giving speeches. However, when Jesus wanted to show his quality as a leader, he chose to humble himself with tasks that other religious leaders of his day would have thought “below them”. Jesus washed his disciples feet, an act of service that astonished everyone, but made clear Jesus’ intentions. Jesus spent extended time ministering to chatty, wild, simple-minded children, devoting himself to what was considered “women’s work.” Many people recognize the kindness and integrity of the Christian Jesus, but few understand how much his humble lifestyle and actions were crucial to his ministry.
The humility of bible stories connects in interesting ways to present day life. The President of the United States, or of a company, is no more valuable than Jesus himself, or than any other person alive today. Even the newest employee (or subcontractor) hired for the lowest paying, simplest task, has the utmost value as an individual. The concept of justice is built on this idea that every individual has equal worth as a human being. Entire countries have been built on this same lofty principle. And while we don’t ever see this value lived up to in reality, it is still a principle that people intrinsically understand and respect.
That is why it is important for leaders to not only show, but fully believe that they are not better than those who work for them. Taking on menial tasks, like cleaning the toilet, taking someone’s coat, or even just the humble act of actually listening to another person, is how a leader demonstrates this value, to themselves and to their followers.
By its very nature, humility does not show itself off. There are, however, what I’ll call “side effects” of humility that you may recognize. If you think back to a boss you had that was “always there for you” or a team that “looked out for each other” or a leader who “seemed like just a regular person,” you are probably witnessing the by-products of a humble leader. In business, humility is rarely looked at or spoken of as important. The truth is, to be an effective leader, humility is essential.
“Don’t Forget Where You Came From”
How many movies hit their climax when the hero is forced to face his past. We see a young single mother in a roach infested apartment, a neighborhood of scraggly kids with an ‘up to no good’ look in their eyes, or a dimly lit mail-room swarming with sweaty, tattooed ex-cons and possibly homeless old men. Our hero is forced to choose between what benefits himself, and his new found community of rich, powerful folks, or doing right by those people who knew him before he rose to the top. The “good” hero doesn’t forget those who helped her get where she is today.
These ideas work in fiction because they are too often ignored in real life. Getting ahead is synonymous with not having to do the shit you don’t like anymore. No more eating generic brand food. No more scrubbing floors. No more paper pushing or answering to bosses you can’t stand. But some of the things we don’t like doing, are important for us to keep on doing even when we don’t HAVE to.
While there is value to outsourcing tasks that suck up your time and energy, some of those tasks are still incredibly important to the health of your business and the morale of your staff. If you aren’t filling your time with at least one menial but still important task in your work, you WILL forget where you came from. As a result your employees will lose respect for you, the quality of their work will decrease, and your own inflated sense of yourself will infect your entire operation, possibly incurably.
“You have to know it to believe it”
The third reason I have for including menial tasks in your work week is much less lofty and simpler to explain. Many tasks should not be delegated completely because a leader needs to stay familiar with how their business runs on the “ground level”. Before you delegate, you should do every task at least once, so that you know the basics and can better manage those who take it over. But even after you’ve delegated, it’s important to keep coming back and spending time doing all of these tasks so that you can make sure the systems are working up to their best possible potential.
As your company grows, or if you own multiple companies, you won’t have time to check into all of the tasks that make your business run. However, spending time each week in different departments, doing the work of your employees will help you understand fully how the work is done and will ultimately make you a better leader.
Bonus: “Idle hands…”
My last idea is a bonus idea, because it is only a matter of my opinion (and experience). I believe doing menial tasks that include manual labor are the most important to incorporate into your work week. Nevermind the fact that sitting at a desk all day wrecks havoc on our health and stress levels. But performing manual labor as a part of our work also brings a tangible aspect to our success.
As the owner of my bagel shop, I can analyze numbers, develop new income streams, or create marketing material all day long. Each of those tasks brings money directly into my business, allowing me to pay my employees a fair wage, grow the business profitably for my family and our future, and offer something valuable to my community. However, it’s not until I get my hands dirty in the dough room or mix the cream cheese flavors or break a sweat in front of the oven, that I actually understand what makes my business money. Spending time on the physical, tangible activity in my business is what fuels all of the ideas I need to do the rest of my work.
In my job as a copywriter, there are far fewer tangible jobs. However, I still incorporate walks into my creative process because nothing helps me distill my ideas better than physical exertion. I also incorporate handwriting into my work week because the physical act of handwriting, whether it’s hand copying someone else’s sales email I found to be effective, hand writing the first draft of my novel, or jotting down my daily to-do list on a notepad, the physicality of the task energizes a necessary part of my brain.
If you can find a place to incorporate manual labor into your work week, then I believe you will see cognitive and emotional gains which will boost your productivity and the overall quality of your life.
You Are What You Do… Repeatedly
When I talk about incorporating menial tasks into your work week, I’m suggesting this become a regular practice, a part of who you are as a leader, and as a company. One of my favorite SaaS companies, Bonjoro, exemplifies these ideas beautifully. They are a Customer Relationship Management system for recording short, personalized videos to send out to customers. When you sign up for a Free Trial with Bonjoro, within a day, you will receive a personalized video from the company’s CEO, Matt Barnett. Every single person who signs up gets one. These aren’t even paying customers, and yet Matt is such an incredible leader that he takes the time to record these first impression videos himself, and he’s been doing so for years. He is able to communicate his excitement for his company, and for your new arrival in it as a prospective customer. But I’m sure this does more than create high levels of customer loyalty. I’m sure that it keeps Matt, the CEO, dialed in on a physical, emotional level, to the essence of what his company does. He can’t ever get lost in meetings, growth strategies or paid time off, like so many leaders do, and forget what the company is all about. He is, it seems daily, connecting back to the most basic tasks that make Bonjoro run. And I will also predict that his team has a high level of respect for their leader, as well as motivation to do their best, because they see him doing it.
This is just one of countless examples of companies who have humble leaders driving their success. Take a second to think of your favorite company, and I bet you’ll find that some of the same activities I’ve discussed in this article are an essential part of the leadership team’s daily practice. Now it’s time to start making it part of yours too.
Hi! I’m Annie Aaroe, a b2b marketing strategist. To find out more about story-driven, conversion copy and strategy that’s tailored for tech and SaaS brands, visit my website, aaroewriting.com, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.