It’s easy to lose track. Especially if you receive an assignment or question by email and you know who can answer the question or should perform the task. So, you simply forward it on to the “expert”. To really cover your tracks, you also copy the person that sent you the email. Now you’re clean, right? For the most part, the answer is “no”. The email culture of unchecked delegation has proven ineffective.
I recommend compiling a list of topics that you need to assign to someone, or discuss with them, and then visit their desk or hold a conference call to discuss them. The (email) buck stops with you and then someone actually has to perform a task. Afterward, if you want to forward the summary to them as minutes or an open issues list, you will be doing them a favor as opposed to forwarding each assignment as a separate email and creating the non-productive task of emptying their inbox.
I’ve gone as far as to create a “dashboard” to track topics on which I need to follow up. It’s a simple Word document that has people’s names on it and a list of topics that I have communicated tasks that could require follow up. The idea is, when I run into them, I don’t have to trust my memory to follow up. I simply look up their name and the related topics and I am prepared for relentless accountability. If I went as far as to actually meet with them and talk to them about the assignment, I also have the credibility to expect action. Also, it replaces the faulty notion that, once I forward an email, I can consider the task that it contained complete.
You feel like you’ve accomplished something by spending hours reading emails and sending them to people to be acted on? Think about it: the person that sent them to you felt the same way, yet the tasks are still not even being worked on. You call it multitasking in contemporary times, yet multitasking merely means doing several things poorly, at once. Tony Schwartz included something about this myth in a great blog posting for the Harvard Business Review (http://blogs.hbr.org/schwartz/2011/11/four-destructive-myths-most-co.html).
There might be better systems. I don’t feel that I’ve mastered the flood of delegation that email permits. However, I am confident that I’ve recognized that the contemporary notion that merely forwarding an email means the task it contained is complete is hogwash and I am managing my business instead of letting it happen to me.