Balls & Boxes – A Delegation Metaphor – Part 2

This is part 2 of a multi-part series of posts that describes a metaphor for how our work life, personal life, and delegation of tasks all fit together to fill our boxes with all different sizes of balls.  If you missed Part 1, start there first.


We have established that our lives are a series of boxes in which we keep our different priorities (balls). The question that we need to ask now is:

What Do I Do When My Boss Gives Me Another Ball to Manage?

We only really have two options.  Refuse it or accept it.

Refuse It:

How long do you think you’ll last in that job if your boss gives you work, and you give it right back? It’s not likely to end well for you since It’s reasonable to assume that your boss knows more than you about what tasks are a priority and what can be left undone.  After all, they are supervising you and your work. 

If that’s not the case-politely suggest that they go to for some management training.  Or, find somewhere else to work (that’s a whole other topic).


Accept It:

So, you have to accept the work but your box is full.  What do you do?

First of all-accept the new ball with enthusiasm and gratitude.  By giving you this ball, your boss is telling you that you can handle more work.  In her judgement, you’ve taken the balls that she’s given you in the past and you’ve handled them well. You’re ready.  You’re growing.   Accept this as a compliment.


How you accept new work tells your boss volumes about where you are in your position, whether you’re thriving or drowning, and whether you’re ready for a promotion or not.



So, you’re going to enthusiastically accept this new ball. Now what?

Your box is full, and you now have have one more large ball to take care of.


  1. Jam it in and hope for the best.
  2. Pass it down to one of your Directs.
  3. Pass one of your other Big Balls down to a Direct.
  4. Pass down some Small Balls.
  5. Split the Big Ball up into Smaller Balls and spread them around.


1. If you gladly accept this new ball, and I’m sure that you did, and you just add it to your box, other things suffer. First of all, it pushes into your play box.  This is OK temporarily but not for long term. Secondly, your other balls don’t get the attention that they need/require (all work suffers). This is often the case during the time of transition (change) and one of the primary reasons that change is so difficult for many people. We have our balls all neatly lined up in our boxes, and some nit-wit comes along and messes it all up.

So, #1 is an option-but only temporarily. This is usually the first step. You gladly accept the ball without knowing how you’ll accomplish it. You add it to your box (temporarily), then get on to the business of figuring out how to get your boxes back in order and cleaned up.

2. Pass the new Big Ball down to one of your directs.  Here’s something that I didn’t tell you before: When your boss handed you that Big Ball-for her, it was a small ball.

She has more experience.

She’s  been doing that task longer.

It’s not a big deal to her.


But, when you touched it, it grew to become a big deal. If your boss had given you one of her Big Balls, you probably would’ve collapsed under the weight.  It’s the same with your Directs. Except in rare circumstances, your Big Balls are too much for them to handle. If you pass this new Ball (that is Big to you) down to one of your directs, you’ll overwhelm them. 


They won’t have the context to understand what is needed.

They won’t understand why the task is important.

They won’t have access to people/resources to perform the work.





That’s enough for today.  Come back again tomorrow for the other 3 options of what we can do when our box is full but we get more work to do.


This series was inspired by a Manager Tools Podcast.  Thank you Mark and Mike. 



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