control-freakOne of the most natural human impulses is the desire to be in control. Usually the more instability a person is dealing with in their life, the more they grasp for control of whatever aspect they can. This is often why we see children with bad home lives picking up an eating disorder (if they can’t control their parents, they can control what goes into their body) or a mid-level manager in a failing company micro-managing the people underneath him with an iron fist.

As a child I was obsessed with controlling my surroundings, down to the point where watching a new movie stressed me out because I didn’t know what was going to happen. As I grew up I was able to shake my extremely controlling ways, in part due to a therapist and long-suffering boyfriend, but when I started Zirtual a year ago I saw the red-eyed control-monster once again rear it’s ugly head.

I wanted to do everything myself but as I started hiring people I realized that it was impossible to keep tabs on it all and be able to focus on the high-level stuff at the same time. My dilema was ironic since Zirtual is a company based around the concept of saving one’s time by delegating tasks to a personal assistant.

I had worked with assistants for several years and they had very much helped force me out of my micro-managing ways because knowing I was paying someone gave me an extra incentive to send off tasks to them and clear my plate. But working with a team and co-founders was a completely new experience.

An important quote I ran across which totally changed my thoughts on micro-managing and delegation within my business was from Richard Branson:

“I am often asked how I manage to keep my finger on the pulse with so many different companies and ideas to think about. This is all about the art of delegation. From a very early time, when we went from one company to two companies, I realized I couldn’t do everything myself. I had to learn the art of delegation and try to find people who are better than me to run the companies –  that wasn’t that difficult!”

Luckily for me (and our team) between Branson’s encouraging outlook and a few delegation tricks I learned along the way I was able to let go of my controlling ways and instead focus on growing my business.

3 Ways to Not Get Your Control Freak On

1. Surround yourself with smarter people than, yourself. Never hire someone you think you’re superior to, this is a lesson I realized very early on. Hire people who make you think “wow, they’re a lot better at me in X, Y or Z” and you’ll be less likely to try to micro-manage them.

2. Practice the 80/20 principle. This idea, called “Pareto’s Law” is based around the idea that 20% of the things we do contribute to 80% of the results. So 20% of your work is actually responsible for up to 80% of your success. Instead of focusing on the whole enchilada try to spend your time on that important 20% and let the rest be handled by your team. This is hard for the control freak but luckily, like with all things, delegation gets easier with practice.

3. Start small. The first step I took to freeing myself from my control-freak ways was to hire an assistant. Just somebody who could take small tasks off my plate and free up some of my time. This trained me on the basics of how to manage people, how to delegate properly and how to practice letting go of the majority of my day which I didn’t need to be directly handling. As your business grows you’ll want to eventually have a whole team who you delegate to, but often it’s helpful to start small with just one person like an assistant or intern.

Maren Kate is the founder of Zirtual, a personal concierge service for busy professionals, and writes about the startup life and unconventional living on her blog