How to Better Track the Tasks You Delegate to Others

Perhaps you may have heard the adage, “what gets measured gets improved.” I would propose a parallel principal: “what gets tracked, gets done.” This is especially true when it comes to delegation.

A Business Person Taking Notes in a Journal - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #435078

Photo courtesy of ©

Early in my career, I had an experience that burned this into my psyche. As a first-time supervisor, I didn’t want to be guilty of micro-managing my staff. I had been managed this way, and found it to be incredibly demotivating. As a result, I went to the opposite extreme: I delegated tasks and never followed up.

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One day I was sitting in a marketing meeting with one of my company’s authors. I was his assigned marketing director. In a previous meeting, I had committed to him that I would follow-up on a problem he had with a report we had sent him. I told him I didn’t know the answer, but that I would research it, and share what I learned at the next meeting. I delegated the task to one of my staff members—and forgot about it.

In the meeting, the author, who was a copious note-taker, started out the meeting by asking me to report on the issue from the previous meeting. I looked at the colleague to whom I had delegated the task and watched the color drain from his face. It was obvious to everyone that he had not completed the assignment. It was a very awkward moment.

It would be easy to blame him—and I did. But as the leader of my department, I was also responsible. I was the one who made the commitment, and delegating to someone else, didn’t erase my own accountability. I was embarrassed and purposed that I would never find myself in that situation again.

Over the course of the next few years, I learned that I had to make delegation work, I had to take five steps:

  1. Assign the task to one person. Ask them to confirm that they understand the assignment and have accepted responsibility for it. Until this is done, the hand-off is not complete. In American football, it’s called a “fumble.”
  2. Articulate a specific outcome. In other words, what exactly are you expecting the other person to deliver to you or for you. I always start the assignment with a verb (e.g., “Call,” “Notify,” “Write,” “Order,” etc.) and finish it with an objective “deliverable.” You have to be able to tell whether the task was completed as assigned.
  3. Include your delivery timetable. Some projects have hard fast deadlines. For example, I might tell someone I need a task done by “the close of business on Friday.” Others are not as time sensitive. I might say I need a task done, “anytime in the next two weeks.” Regardless, you have to express your expectations and be clear.
  4. Make yourself available for consultation. You want to be a resource, but you don’t want to micro-manage the other person. The best way to do this is to stay focused on the outcome rather than the process. I personally don’t care how the other person gets the job done (assuming it is ethical); I only care about the end-result.
  5. Track the delegated task on a to-do list. This is crucial. Not everyone you delegate to will have a good task management system in place. Perhaps those directly under your supervision will—because you trained them—but what about the others?

There are at least four ways to track delegated assignments:

  1. Use a page in your journal. This is the simplest, most low-tech solution. I used it for years and still know people who prefer it to automated solutions. If you are using a Moleskine Notebook, you can dedicate several pages at the end of the notebook. Divide each page into three-columns. In the first column, note the date you made the assignment. In the second column, note the first name of the person to whom you delegated the task, then the task itself. In the third column, note the due date (if any). I don’t use a due dates unless a specific date is mission-critical.
  2. Use Outlook, Entourage, or Mail folders. Nearly all of the assignments I delegate happen via email. If I make an assignment in a meeting, I follow-up with an email confirmation. Regardless, an easy way to keep track of these assignments is simply to drag a copy of the sent message to a “Waiting For” folder. If you need to check in on the status of a project, you can forward the original message to the person you delegated it to as a reminder of the assignment, and ask them for a progress report. When the task is complete, you can delete the message from the folder.
  3. Use Outlook, Entourage, or Mail tasks. This kicks the level of automation up a notch. It puts your delegated tasks in the same spot that all of your other to-do lists are, so you will be more likely to review them. If you follow David Allen’s methodology as recommended in Getting Things Done (a.k.a., “GTD”), you can set up a “@Waiting For” task category. In the Task field itself, you type the name of the person, a dash, the assignment, another dash, and the date you made the assignment. For example:
    Category Task Due Date
    @Waiting For Lindsey – Notify Andy Andrews contest winners – 7/1 7/6/2010
    @Waiting For Vicki – Renew my Admiral’s Club Membership – 7/7 8/1/2010
    @Waiting For David – Review Jesse Sparks book proposal – 7/6

    If you want to explore this methodology in greater depth, I highly recommend that you buy one of David Allen’s Setup Guides. It will walk you through the process of using GTD on Outlook, Entourage, and Lotus Notes. Even if you use Apple Mail, as I do, you can learn a ton from the Entourage guide.

  4. Use a dedicated task manager. This is the method I personally use now. A dedicated task manager is a more robust tool than any of the ones I have mentioned above. I am personally using Things for Mac. Nozbe is also excellent, as is OmniFocus. There are literally dozens of others. I have written an AppleScript that allows me to delegate a task via email and add it to things automatically as a Waiting For task. (I hope to share this in a future blog post.)

Someone once defined delegation as “the art of getting things done through other people.” This is true, but only if you track the tasks you assign to others and make sure they are completed as assigned.

Question: How have you been managing the tasks you assign to others? What has worked best for you?
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  • @AndreaAresca

    Thanks for this post, Michael! You reminded me of the fact that I am responsible as a leader of what I delegate.
    I'd like to point to this post by GTD coach Kelly Forrister and my comment on it:….
    I've met people that – knowing that I track what I delegate – feel free to wait that I remind them of the task they should accomplish. Did you have the same experience? What would you suggest?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I have not experienced this. I have great people, and I rarely have to remind them. I have a bunch of “activators” who usually finish soon after I have made the assignment. Thanks.

      • Chris Montoya

        When you say “activators” – what are you referring to? 

        • Michael Hyatt

          This is one of the strength themes in the StrengthsFinder test. I wrote about it here.

          • Chris Montoya

            Thanks Michael. I train my organization on StrengthFinder so you’d think I’d remember this title – but when you have many different models you work with, I appreciate the reference.  Have you cross referenced the top five themes with their leadership strengths? It’s very helpful! Thanks.

  • Daniel Decker

    Great post. I personally track delegated tasks through Outlook mostly. I keep a task folder and slide things over. For time specific tasks I add a reminder alert to the email so that it pops up at a certain interval to remind me to check in on the status or that it's time for the end result to be delivered.

    My system could be a bit more automated but for now it's working well for me.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That's the important things, Daniel, use what works for you. It's easy to make this stuff more complicated than it needs to be. The best system is the system you will actually use! Thanks.

  • Mark Bortz

    Another add-on is to set the deadline one day earlier than needed. If they do not complete the task or the completion is incorrect, they have time to resubmit the results. Nothing is worse than promising a client a finished task and someone else delivering 'no to polished' results. When it's my reputation on the line, I'd prefer time to review the results. It's also a good learning opportunity for those submitting information to you. If there are corrections, they begin to learn what you are looking for, and improve.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I do this, too, especially with people I don’t know as well.

  • brandon

    another way to track your to do list is an online version that's simple. It's called The great thing is that you can email yourself things and then delegate that email into your todoist. The beauty of this is when you think of something when you aren't at the office, you can still send the task to yourself and then go on spending time with your family or whatever instead of dwelling on that task and hoping you don't forget.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Nozbe is good about this, too. You can do it with Things, but you have to have an AppleScript to process the incoming message and assign the task to Things.

  • Samuel

    Great post. Very applicable to some issues I’ve been dealing with lately—within the first paragraph I realized the problem was really with me as a manager not following up properly!

    I’m going to give the notebook list approach a try—I’ve been using Things but haven’t been able to come up with a decent way to delegate tasks and track them in there. Otherwise, I *love* Things—far and away the best task app available.

  • @Whitakerous

    Good post Michael; it was GTD that actually lead me to your site in the beginning and I appreciate what you wrote on delegation. I often find that when I get stressed and feel like I am overwhelmed it is because I have not delegated enough. It is during those times that I really look hard at all the stuff that I am doing and ask myself do I really need to be doing this or is it something that I can delegate to someone else. When I do this, I find that there is quite a bit that I have been holding on to that someone else can do and I end up feeling much better and more relieved when I release those projects to other folks. I like you five steps and realize that the hardest part, at lease for me, and the key for success was having a good follow up system. Outlook seems to be the best when it comes to formal work follow up and I used a FranklinCovey planner that is where I store my other follow ups.

  • Spencer Click

    Fantastic post – I'd love to see your post on the Apple Script…

    • Michael Hyatt

      Cool. I hope to get to that soon.

  • Kristin Cole

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m a fairly “new” manager, and information like this from seasoned professionals such as yourself is invaluable. Thanks!

  • tarheel810

    Great post Michael. I am currently using Outlook and the @Waiting For category to track things that I delegate. I found a great macro tool that allows you to select an email then press a toolbar button which runs a macro that creates a new task with the @Waiting For category assigned, attaches the email to the task and assigns the subject of the task as "email subject: person assigned to: date". I found this at It's free and even works in situations where you can't install software on corporate computers. Hope this helps someone else simplify tracking their delegated tasks.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That looks like a great resource. I wrote a number of those kinds of macros in visual basic back when I was using Windows. I even posted them on my first blog. Unfortunately, I lost most of them when I changed systems. Since I am now on a Mac and have new systems it doesn’t affect me, but I wish I still had them to share with my friends on Windows.

      • @ProactiveMan

        I was *just* thinking about these the other day. I used your macros eons ago (I think that is how I first ran across you); my favorite was the one that would launch another, separate Window in Outlook so you could setup your Desktop with your email, a calendar, and …. errr, something else (been so long). Today, in Outlook 2010, I always Right-Click to open something in a new window; an extra click that made me harken back to the "good old days."

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  • Eric

    I track delegated tasks on my own to do list, making a note of who I delegated it to, and setting a due date that will prompt me to follow up with the person.

    I don't like the "@waiting for" nomenclature because it takes away the "@next action" function of the delegated task. Delegated tasks are a single step to a bigger project or goal of the delegator.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s fine by me. I am a big believer in using the system that works for you. If you don’t like the nomenclature, change it! The key, I think is to be intentional know who has the ball at any given moment.

  • guy m williams

    Thanks, Michael. As a pastor in a new congregation, leading a whole staff for the first time, this post is particularly helpful to me. I'm wrestling with how to delegate tasks while remaining responsible for outcomes, but not wanting to micro-manage my folks. I'll look forward to trying this out.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You have the right goal, guy. That’s half the battle.

  • michaelhsmith

    Thanks for the post Michael and especially for the mentioned resources, which I am exploring now

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think you'll especially enjoy David Allen’s Setup Guides. They are a treasure-trove of ideas.

      • michaelhsmith

        I have ordered two of David's books and bought and downloaded the "GTD and Outlook 2007" guide. Looking forward to digging in.

  • John Richardson

    Great post, Mike. I've always had problems with the follow up of delegated items. Your ideas really hit home. I took some of your points and created a project delegation tracker template in MS Word and put up a blog post about it.. I still use paper for most things, so this may be a workable tool to make sure things get done. Your readers can download it at

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, John. Great response. I like your form!

  • Katherine Bolger Hyde

    Mike, I've read GTD and am using Things, but I don't think I'm getting the most out of it. I'd love to hear more about how you use it.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I’m planning to write a blog post on that soon. Thanks.

  • bondChristian

    I loved the first point. Simple, but often easy to miss on big projects.

    Responsibility = one person.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Amen. I like to have one person to blame. ;-)

  • ThatGuyKC

    Another set of great tips for organization and productivity. Thanks!

  • BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

    It occurred to me that these recommendations are generally good for parenting, too. Especially being specific in instruction or what you call the five steps in delegation. Especially for teenagers. ;)

    • Michael Hyatt

      It is amazing how many parallels there are between leadership and parenting. ;-)

  • Imulus

    This is precisely why we developed Stacks, a group task management app. Everyone in our small team is now organized and accountable, and it has made a world of difference! And it certainly helps from a project manager standpoint to be able to see what’s on each person’s plate and when it’s due.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I just watched the video. Very impressive. Thanks for sharing this resource.

  • lauradroege

    Nice summary of the steps of delegation and how to keep track of who does what, by when, and how. Not only useful for business, either; I can use this with my children to make sure they do their chores!

  • Brian Stewart

    Well, you’ve done it again, Mike. Great post. This is the third time in the past year I have purchased a resource that you have mentioned in a post. I have spent the afternoon getting my Task lists switched over to Nozbe and it looks great. Thank you for sharing with us about tools for better productivity and easier living! God bless.

  • Randall

    Great post Michael! When I delegate a task I MUST give a specific deadline. If I ask for it anytime in the next week, I might get it by COB Friday or, more likely sometime over the weekend. If I don't give a deadline it rarely/never happens.

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  • sharonhague is a new technology specifically designed to track delegated tasks amongst team members – you can use it just as a kind of super To Do List application on your own – but it works best for tracking team assignments …

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  • Stacy DuBois

    Fantastic post, thank you very much! It’s actually very refreshing to see someone suggest using some paper-based methods as well as the electronic tools. I love software, but I always use my notebook to keep track of what’s going on… just in case.

  • Anonymous

    I absolutely must work on this. I always trust that folks will do what I delegate but I tend to forget about the when of it. Also, I’m reminded of another post on your site about the levels of delegation (just how much of the “decision” is being delegated). Thanks for a great post!

  • Ashley Musick

    Awesome. I’m definitely going to have to download that guide! It sounds very helpful for me as I try and figure out how to manage a growing team. Thanks for the tip!

  • Cynthia Schuerr

    Michael, I really like your management of a delegated task. It’s a very simple solution to keep from micro-managing, but still allows you to stay on top of things.

  • allanwhite

    I’m an inherently disorganized person (I’m a creative professional. Surprise!). To compensate, I’ve tried to build systems around me that keep me accountable and on track.

    What I’m dealing with right now is that there is no single way people track tasks. Some send via email (bunched in with other signal & noise); some write on a whiteboard (my least favorite); some via dropping by. It feels very chaotic to me. We do a million kinds of work, not all of which fit neat task lists.

    I prefer an online, networkable task list. There’s lots of tools that fit. That way it’s accessible anywhere, others can check in on progress or add new ones, and always at hand. I’ve found it shocking how resistant to using simple online checklists people can be (I mean, if we can type it in a Word doc or email… just sayin’!). People like their own systems, so I’ve tried to accommodate as much as possible.

    Used Basecamp for years. Task templates are great. My Moleskine & iPhone are always present. I’m impressed with Action Method from Behance; they have digital and physical (paper) products that all work together.

    How about you? Are you a non-digital-native who hates these online things? How do you expose your tasks to others if so?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I don’t share my tasks with others, but I use Nozbe. I think it may have task sharing. I track my delegated tasks on a @WaitingFor list.

  • Alex Baez

    I have an Action Item list that I make sure the team reviews at the beginning of every team meeting, to see the status of the items, and at the end of every meeting, to make sure there is clarity moving forward. I also email it out with any team minutes. On the Action Item List are 3 columns:
    1. Who
    2. Will Do What
    3. By When

  • James Mortensen

    Hi Michael,

    Your article has some great advice on how to keep tabs on people, make sure they follow through, while still avoiding the mistake of becoming the oh-so hated micro-managing jerk.

    It’s a thin line between being hands off while still holding people accountable, and it’s tough to balance the two.

    I asked a similar question on Project Management Stack Exchange and received some great answers.

    I’m going to add your article to this answer page as I believe these tips will be helpful to others.

    The most important piece of advice for me is to make sure the person being assigned the task understands their role and that he/she is responsible. It’s easy sometimes to just think that this is assumed, when in fact it’s not.

    Another thing that I try to do to avoid being too pesky is I ask the assignee when he or she would like me to follow up with them. We agree on a specific interval. I tell them this is important because, if they don’t give me a specific follow-up date for me to put on my calendar, I can easily end up asking “is X done” over and over again.

    Thanks again,

  • @jnnfr_lynn

    I always find a nugget or two in each of your posts. It’s amazing what we forget to remember sometimes!

    Personally, I’m one of those visual, tactile sorts, so I have to *touch* taks I delegate (helps me remember I’ve done something with it). I’ve been using Remember The Milk (RTM) for tracking action items as a variation to the paper/Outlook method. I’ve created a list for each of the folks I delegate action items to…their initial (date assigned), task, and (due date). What I like about RTM is the [Android] app which allows me to track things as I think of them, while away from the office–I enter them to my RTM inbox, then move it to the appropriate list as I actually assign the task. The other benefit of RTM is that it is web-based; I can update without needing to open Outlook (which can sometimes be a rabbit hole.

    Looking forward to the next pearls of wisdom!

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  • David Arella

    Michael, Thanks for this post. I’d like to add a comment about two aspects of your discussion about tracking tasks assigned to others: Process and Tools.

    Process: You have described well the process of assigning tasks, but I suggest a better process is forging agreements. Assigning tasks is one-way communication; agreements require a two-way dialog. Many times we make “assignments” to people along with requested due dates, but rarely do we get an explicit “Yes, I will get that done for you by that date.” response. We all have had the experience of sending an email to an intended performer and never hearing back from them. See my recent blog post on this problem (Email is flawed for managing work The process of managing and following up on tasks should be a shared responsibility between the requester and the performer. The two people are co-laboring. Tracking the process should not be based on a single-user approach of updating my personal notebook or Outlook menu. Rather, we should be using a multi-user paradigm where both parties are accountable.

    Tools: As your article points out, there a dozens of solutions in the market today for managing tasks, but none of these is truly a multi-user approach that fully engages the performer. 4 Spires ( has come up with an entirely new approach. It’s an email-like interface that manages and records agreements between both parties. The online software facilitates the explicit dialog between the requester and the performer for negotiating a clear agreement to deliver and then tracks the progress of that conversation through to completion and acceptance. Dashboards and reports provide current status of all requests. This is the first in a new generation of work management tools.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, David. I’ll have to check it out.

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  • Susan Allen

    With task management and GTD products becoming better each day, there are many to choose from.  As a small company, the choices were pretty staggering, expensive and confusing.  It took some time to narrow down, but I found that Dooster had all the features, reasonable pricing, and was easy to set up and use right away.

  • Podlesnick

    I am trying to find a really sophisticated task management software, sice all that Ive tested lack  some of crucial features I need. So what do I need in the program? Here is a list:

    – required feedback – in settings I should be able to choose wether I want the SW to require feedback of several operations – finishing the task, extending the due. This means if I delegate a task to my colleague I want to be reminded if he completed the task within the given time or he needs a time extention and so on. I also would like to have a possibility to confirm that not only my colleague considers the task to be completed but also I do.
    – possiblity to redelegate – I delegate a task to my colleague and he delegates it to another
    – subtasks – I need a possibility a create a tree of tasks – each task can have million of subtasks and each subtask can have million of sub-subtasks and so on. Finishing all subtasks are required to be able to complete the task.

    So these are the most crucial features that I miss in the SW I tried. So do you know any other SW that meets my idea?

  • Larry D

    Thank you for these great insights on task management. 
    I love the “waiting for” folder idea, but I would want to able to sort tasks by person so I can review them at touchbase meetings.  Any thoughts on how best to do this?

    Thank you! 

    • Ekdebell

      You could do this by searching the folder by person (in outlook) or viewing the messages by sender. 

  • Steve

    Thank you Michael for this post,
    I agree with every point you explained here. Actually tracking is a quite intricate thing that requires a complex approach to be successful (you should start with measuring and planning of what you want to control, so you can stay objective and determined in what you want to get as a result from your employee). Also it is critical to establish effective communication with your delegee, so you can make him or her properly engaged. We, in our organization, used to bounce tons of papers from employees to managers and vice versa in order to formalize our work tracking, until we discovered collaborative task managers, just as you mention in the last point of your article. Our team uses Windows-based computers, and a program that helps us is VIP Task Manager ( if you are interested its web-site is ) – it cannot work for Mac or Linux, but we are satisfied as we can plan, track and feedback all jobs that we carry out in team. Hope someone will find this info useful, thanks.

  • Anonymous

    All 5 steps happen automatically if you assign via Donedesk (, mine).

    Tip for Step 2, “articulate a specific outcome” — Use fuzzy delegation. Assign it with loose requirements. Then tell them their first step as: “Brainstorm options and outcomes and report back.” When they do, the two of you will refine the requirements, maybe more than once. This takes you less time, it develops the initiative and skills of the assignee, and you come up with better solutions together.

    (Caution: you can’t do that easily unless your assignment/tracking system manages the discussion around the assignment, because the dicussion become part of the requirements. Emailis terrible for that. Cloud tools like Donedesk make it automatic.)
    P.S. Michael, great post! Added it to my Scoop.It for “Making Delegation Work.”  Please consider looking into Donedesk and reporting on it to your readers sometime.

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  • Terrygeter

    I know this is an older post, but I was interested in the Apple Script you used to send tasks via email to be added to Things.  I am using things and had considered using Nozbe, but it just does not work for me.  If possible could you assist me with the script.  

    • Michael Hyatt

      You can download the script here. I am not sure it will work with the current version of Things. Good luck!

  • Ekdebell

    Great point.  Can’t shift blame when you are the supervisor.  I like the “Waiting for” folder (I also have a “to do” folder for myself), but I struggle with how to keep track of a group task that is completed at different times.  

    For example, I recently sent out an email requesting proposals from a group of 11 people.  We will need to select 5 proposals and develop them as mini-workshops.  About 2 of the 11 have responded with proposals which we have started to develop.  I still need 3 more proposals and have 9 people who could contribute them.  How to keep track of who in a group email has done their part and who needs to be followed up with aside from just remembering that so-and-so did and the rest didn’t?

  • Robert Miles

    We use in our company free task management software from Comindware which includes easy-to-use project planning, task management, time tracking,and collaboration applications. Also one of the great advantages of this solution is an integration with MS Outlook.

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  • Mita

    informative – Accurate

  • Joel_nickelson

    Hi Mr. Hyatt! Im a student at Dillard University in New Orleans, La and i wanted to know how does competence influence your career?

  • Ellis Thomas

    Nice streamlining for task management. Each and every points described above are the must for task management of a particular project. Well I feel the need of task manager an essential for every project, what would be more easy job when a tool doing the job of an individual.

    But the most priority to be given in terms of accessibility and compatibility of the manager. The one loaded with more features and capable to manage the tasks in a smooth manner is sure to win the trend.

    Take for example a company with multiple projects and the project managers getting messy with the terms on the projects. I mean the tasks getting clumsy. So the only one solution for the same is nothing else to have a software implemented on the company where all the managers as well as the employees will have access to the task management tools which ultimately have a positiveness on the productivity.

  • Sharee

    This is such a wonderful post! I have been meeting challenges as far as achieving my desired results when working with others. I know that some of the problems lies with me and I searched for a way to be more effective. I realized that I fall short with following-up efficiently and “articulating a specific outcome”. Thank you for this post. I am glad that I came across this!

  • Vassili

    Thanks for this useful list of advice. I think a good tool for effective delegation is Collaborative/shared to-do lists. Be able to assign actions to a collaborator which are added to his own to-do list is an effective way of delegating tasks in my opinion. For that purpose I can recommend you Beesy. me, which is a platform for productivity and project management with collaborative features that enables a reliable delegation of tasks and collective work. The way you assign tasks is very easy and effective, here it is explained you should have a look: