Over commit to one thing
“Successful people have a glaring tendency to over commit,” Marshal Goldsmith.
Leaders live for opportunities. Opportunities ignite passions. As a result they may chase too many chickens at once and end up empty handed. In other words, opportunities may create over commitment. Over commitment yields mediocre results.
Get further by doing less not more.
Fail less. People remember your failures with more regularity and greater clarity than your successes. You’ll enhance your reputation and influence if you stop letting things fall through the cracks because you are over committed. Before starting something new, think stopping something old.
The question that frees you isn’t what should I do. It’s what should I stop? Courageously eliminate. Believe enough in your mission and vision to say no. Uncover and eradicate momentum killers and progress chokers.
I’m prone to over commit. I love the heat of battle, the excitement of starting something new. Trouble is, everything I begin starves for and fractures my attention. In this case, my strength is my weakness.
People who change the game aren’t average at many things they are great at one thing. Olympic divers dive. Swimmers swim. A minuscule number of us have the gifts and tenacity to be decathletes.
Over committers are dangerous because they may feel committing to things is a virtue. They’re partially right. Committing is necessary, noble, and courageous. However, over committing may reflect neediness, lack of focus or worse, a cowardly inability to say no.
Here’s Monday mornings leadership focus. Think of things you can stop so you can move closer to overcommitting to one thing.
Why do people over commit?
What helps leaders overcome the tendency to over commit?
I agree that it needs more courage to say ” No” what prevents your mission. I also agree that it is very difficult to overcome the habit of saying always “Yes”.
Why people do that ? I think people fear of breaking relation, social, people and organizational boycott.The general tendency of people is to avoid being center of attraction for nonacceptance reason. People love to be liked, appreciated and recognized. So, anything that challenges existing and accepted norms are encountered with inertia. I am also the victim of not saying “No” when it required to say so. And still working to overcome my habit. I believe it is a habit that comforts us. Perhaps it also provides us psychological comfort. We are so accustomed to your environment that we want new but afraid to try it. Sometimes, I also feel that people with low tolerance power usually say “Yes” all the time because they feel comfortable and they feel uncomfortable by saying “NO” even if they know it.
On the other hand, it is not always the case. People make it strategy to say “Yes”. It might be a formula to become more popular or hide your weaknesses. When you say yes to everyone, it is assumed that people may have soft corner for you. So, who need it. People with inability and incompetency might use this strategy as a key success factor.
So, for a deserving and honest person, over commit might be a hitch but for others it might be a strategy to shield, shelter and survive his interest, intention in the organization.
I think inward focus helps leader to over commit. Leader should focus on capacity, capability and limitation. This will surely help stopping over commit.
Thanks for your comment.
In particular, you bring up the tension between saying “no” and saying “yes.” It’s so important to say yes to helping colleagues and co-workers when ever we can. On the other hand it’s important to say no to things that distract from the important things in our mission.
We can say yes to short term activities that directly help others. We should avoid saying yes to major initiatives or projects (if our job allows it) that require long term commitments and valuable resources.
I appreciate your candor. Thanks for sharing your own story with us.
Ajay is a featured contributor on LF. Read his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/ajay-gupta
The best book I ever read was “Do Less, Achieve More” http://www.amazon.com/Do-Less-Achieve-More-Discover/dp/0060988754
Although the book really didn’t help with specific suggestions about doing less I did find the concept of achieving more with less to be a very intriguing concept to pursue – something to measure each day’s success against.
“Did I achieve more by doing less today?”
It’s useful when contributors leave added resources. I hadn’t heard of this book. Thanks for mentioning it.
Alan is a featured contributor on LF. Read his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/alan
I really enjoyed this post. I tend to be an overcommitter. Unfortunately because of the cowardice of saying “no”, but also because as I discover more about myself I am finding out that by nature I am a people pleaser. Yes this is something that I am working on and was even thinking about this earlier, like last week! I can see how that being this way is more of a hinderance because of the things that fall through the cracks rather than people seeing how busy I am. Thanks,
Your comment rocks because you share yourself.
I’ll jump right in and say I’m a recovering people pleaser. It’s my default response to most situations. When my people pleaser jumps in I lose sight of more important issues. I quickly give in rather than advocating for what I think is right. I bet you are highly relational. Once again, like me, your strength is your weakness.
Leading is about relationships. I think when pleasers get a grip on pleasing but still maintain their relational strengths they enhance their potential.
Thanks for this much needed reminder. I have a tendency to over commit myself in chronic fashion. I wrote in recent post about the need to constantly triage our priorities, to ensure we are working on the right tasks: http://ow.ly/2YPBu I think we need to occasionally do the same thing with our commitments. More importantly, we need to pause and think things through before we make commitments. If you’re like me, you feel good making a commitment to help others. Regardless of this, you need to determine if you have the time available to fulfill the commitment and what other commitments might suffer if the new one takes up more of your time than expected. Having spent several years volunteering on boards for professional associations, I know that the real time eaters in those positions are rarely what’s listed in the job description. So, I advise people to tread lightly. It’s much easier to say no up front, than to back out after realizing you can’t fulfill a commitment.
I’m personally working to a point where I’ll be slightly under committed. If I get there, I’ll be happy to fill up the free time with family, friends and education. It will also free me from the burden of prioritizing commitments.
Thanks for getting the wheels turning early on a Monday morning! This is an important topic.
I love this post. Every ministry leader needs to read it.
What keeps me from over committing is a little notebook I call my “Daily Sanity”. I prayerfully consider what goes on the day’s list of projects. Then, when the flurry of opportunities start in the day, I can go back to my “DS” and stick to the script.
I have also done what you propose. I have cleaned out my list of projects – the ones I thought were important at the time, but I’ve kept them on the list for months or years and it’s never mattered. This is a freeing exercise.
Why do people over commit?
To take Ajay’s words: tension between saying “no” and saying “yes” ; “fear of breaking relation, social, people and organizational boycott”.
This make me think in this case it’s more an assertiveness problem. And this can be solved by … an assertiveness training and maybe also a time management training.
But in the words of Dan, I understood something different, committing is not just saying yes to everything, everybody. Because you can say yes and not commit at all! I understood by committing : taking interest in many different things and spending a lot of times in. Which is basically more my case.
So maybe some of the answers to “why do people over commit?” are: too much curiosity, lack of focusing, researcher soul, maybe also lack of delegating (which is in my view more a management skill and maybe a management posture).
What helps leaders overcome the tendency to over commit?
To make it simple : taking the opposite of what I’ve said before : being less curious, more focus, realizing and accepting that I cannot do everything and not being sad about it…
There are internal and external reasons why people overcommit. Internally, some people (and I put myself in this group to some degree) gain a lot of their self identity from being “involved.” Other less positive words come to mind (crazy, frenetic, superbusy). The challenge here is that becoming so wrapped up in that identity can completely distance the individual from their core values and prevent them from having a “centered” enjoyment of life. Externally, many leaders feel pressure by entities that ask them to do “one more thing.” There are some times that this just can’t be turned down, but others where the overcommitted person can make things much easier for themselves by helping the asker find an alternative resource.
On overcoming the tendency to overcommit, there is a wonderfully written poem called “A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted” that might be the perfect meditation for anyone on the precipice of overcommitting when they should consider “doing less not more.” One of my favorite passages in the poem is:
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
The complete poem can be found here:
Paula, the entire poem is absolutely great. Will be getting the book. Thank you for sharing. Regards, Al
You’re welcome, Al. I often find inspiration in the Wednesday mailings from charityfocus.org (http://www.ijourney.org/index.php?op=show_email)
Very useful subject.
-Why do people over commit?
From my experiences I learned to not over commit. Now, I can say that I like to do 3 things great instead of 15 wrong. I can not talk for other people why they over commit…
-What helps leaders overcome the tendency to over commit?
I don’t know so much to give advises, but I would say it will help for they to stop and think of their actions. You always must have the end in front, so having that you can not over commit- you must make a balance. I try to do this everyday. My personality is kind of curios, but curiosity must be used in a good way to choose nice actions in present which can bring true joy also on long terms. I like very much this advise:”An idealist believes the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run.” Sydney J. Harris
We must have courage to make decision , say Yes or Not depending on situations we choose.
Here is an excerpt of what I learned from coaching a client on this very subject of “overcommitment”, which I now consider to be an oxymoron. The entire article is at http://bit.ly/becFEb:
>>>The verb “commit” means “to obligate or pledge oneself”, so if I say I am “overcommitted”, I may have pledged my time and energy too broadly. Most likely, you are involved in a number of activities and roles at work or at school, in the community and at home. You probably struggle “finding the time” and energy to keep your obligations. But are you really committed?
Reconsider the meaning of commitment. The burdonsome feeling of having too many obligations is common, but are you really over-committed or are you under-committed?
Over-commitment is an oxymoron. Too many obligations creates a watering-down effect, so none of them receive your true commitment. Does “obligation” equal “commitment”?
How might your problem look differently if you considered that you may really be under-committed to your real priorities? What new solutions does this shift in thinking generate? What are your real priorities? How do you know?…
…”Over-committed” people prioritize their schedules. The committed person schedules his or her priorities. Consider this critical distinction before you make promises in the future.<<<
A related article about managing commitments rather than "managing time" – what I call the "Formula for Well-Being" – is found at http://bit.ly/92LflD.
Dan, this is a great post to start the week. The overcommitted people pleaser well that is a mouthful and describes me to the tee unfortunately. This is a work in progress for me. I know all about the “tension” between yes and no and really do need to practice saying no more often. I have been burned more than once by committing and not being able to execute and then undoubtedly disappointing which ends up being a lot worse to not have committed in the first place. What I have been trying to do is prioritize what is super important from the very important and just simply important. Said another way keep my eye focused on the MVV and use them to help rank order my committments. This is definitely my personal big achilles heel and am taking to heart all of the wonderful recommendations being made. I will keep trying and learning how to gently say “No.” Thanks, Al
Al’s just a doctor who can’t say ‘n-n-n-n-no!’ 😉 Tough to do in many fields, particularly healthcare.
Yes Doc, you are so right about how difficult it is to say “NO” and unless certain personal value boundaries are broached I end up saying yes although I am slowly wising up to the fact that to disappoint is worse than to say no but then a half-executed response can be just as disheartening so finding that balance especially in healthcare as you noted can be very challenging. Maybe I should start by changing the script I use when I answer my phone. 🙂 AD
t’s a controversial, conflicting topic since you had begun by saying that successful people tend to overcommit. How’s this possible?
If you are talking of effective leaders then there is no question of overcommitment. It simply reflects the zeal and pace with which the leaders motivate the team of followers to achieve excellence with practical guidance and support. Their role is to provide a direction and ensure singular and collective contributions coming from each of his key team members.
It’s the operational managers who do all sorts of gimmicks to impress the seniors. There is no question of any confusion when we talk of result-oriented successful leaders. They are absolutely clear as to what is achievable and they also make their plans in 2 ways viz. realistic and optimistic plans. Every effort will be made to attain optimistic plans and such things are also conveyed to the operational team with lucrative incentives for achieving things by stretching hard.
Some of your posts are addressing middle management issues particularly in the operational areas. Leaders at the top have more of strategic issues to face which at times are missing in write-ups!
Dear Dr. Mrunal Asher,
The practice to impress is usually top down approach. Practices do not come from blue. When managers or people lower in hierarchy see, observe and analyse the practices of seniors, they generally follow it. ( Murphy Law)
Ideally people at the top should be engaged in strategic issues like creating vision, executing good corporate governane, and overall alignment and exercise of development. However, in practice, people at top are more concerned about the personal strategic issues than professional strategic issues and the result is corporate collapse, crime, corruption and failure. Recent examples of Satyam, SKS Microfinance and Commonwealth Games in India are classic examples of how people at top are engaged in strategic activities. I believe these people are successful but not effective. So, successful people are more prone to over commit than effective people. Here, I would like to distinguish between successful and effective people. Being Successful might be achieving vertical growth but being effective is achieving horizontal growth. And fortunately , leaders achieve horizontal growth. So, I believe that successful people tend to over commit but effective people are not.
Thanks for your valuable insight to the points as raised by me, There is a thin line difference between successful and effective leaders. All successful people are essentially effective without which they will not achieve what they have dreamt of.
Example of few of the companies as listed by you is just 1% of the total successful companies and it is more of failure on corporate governance part. If you term these companies as successful at the first instance it is because they were effective in their operations, There is nothing like two different things as successful and effective leadership. I hope you shall get me right if you think from a practical angle.
Challenging conundrum Dan!
The latest reports out do indicate that multi-tasking is highly overrated and less productive than originally valued.
As others have noted, we over commit for a range of reasons, including acceptance and advancement.
Ajay’s distinction re: successful v. effective rings true long term and in benefit to society, however, it is measured far too often in the short term financially.
How to minimize over commitment? The latest I have tried to incorporate have been putting up the projects/lists in a visible physical space and ensuring there are timelines and resources applied to each. As one gets done (post its) the pool gets filled easily. Limiting it to 3-5 is really the max most folks can do…effectively. This also minimizes the ‘crisis de jour’ commitment when you see how much is already on your plate.
Pingback: Do You Have an “Exam Attitude”? | :: Inspiring Shipments :: by Ivana Sendecka
I think people overcommit also for a lack of global vision. Perhaps they believe they get the big picture, and they can squeeze on last project in.
It’s not always easy to have a clear status on one’s “commitment level”, and it takes a whole lot of time to master this skill. As a manager I have the duty to manage the operations of my business hence I am very familiar with the concept of overcommitting, as I have to prevent it.
I also believe that getting tasks done, singularly, one by one, is the best way to avoid overcommitment and focus on your more pressing responsibilities.
Your article helped me, to discover and reveal an Irrational belief in myself: I don’t like to say No.
I like to be a super achiever, I tend to be one of them most of the time.
And, as a super achiever sometimes “I over commit myself to many causes”.
I believe that random events don’t exist. Just as it was not a random event that you leadership freak homepage pop up in Google’s results.
From now on I’ll honor that Queen’s song: “Don’t try so hard” and learn to say no.