Don’t overcommit at work

Have you ever noticed when stretching an elastic band how it can go back to its original shape and length when you stop stretching it? Then you might stretch it repeatedly or stretch it a bit harder and it’s now a bit longer forever after having lost some of its’ original shape.  Finally, the rubber band might be stretched too hard repeatedly and it just breaks. And when this happens the solution is pretty simple because we just get another elastic band.  

Now think of this as a scenario at work where we might have committed from delivering a bit more work, some more work or through to a lot more work becoming part of the norm. If you’ve been in this scenario then like the elastic band you would have experienced varying degrees in your ability to be able to bounce back to how you were beforehand.

If you’re able to bounce back then that’s fine but what happens if you’ve pushed yourself so hard that you’re unable to return to how you were before. Like the elastic band being easily replaced, we don’t want to put ourselves in the same situation.

Have you been guilty of stretching yourself too far? I certainly did in a previous working life (well it was over 10 years ago) where I kept on taking on so much that I virtually worked myself to the point of exhaustion. I’ll assume that I’m not the only person who has ever done this, which begs the question: Why do we overcommit at work?

Like many situations, there’s not a single reason but a variety of factors as to why.  For instance, a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that it’s just human nature to allow for more time in the future than is actually available. How often have you thought a task would only take an hour to complete and then it ends up taking several hours? When we do this over and over at work then we either need to work longer hours to meet all of the deadlines we’ve committed to or miss the deadlines altogether. Either way the outcome is less than ideal.

Often the reason can be far more fundamental in that we don’t truly understand our workload ie. how much is there in total (hours required to complete) and what are the priorities that will make the biggest impact. As such, we don’t know what we can or can’t take on additionally or what we need to reschedule to get the best outcome.

Maybe overcommitting is a sign of either poor planning and prioritisation and even negotiation. Besides missed deadlines, the impact of overcommitting can leave us with a feeling of being overwhelmed or losing credibility with peers and even those close to us.

Alternatively, some people say the answer is to under promise and over deliver. I acknowledge that’s an approach, but I’m not a huge advocate for it because while it might relieve some deadline pressure, it can on the flipside increase job performance pressure on us. And why draw unnecessary attention to ourselves in the current economic climate when many companies are monitoring their bottom line closely?

I think overcommitting at work eventually catches up with us in some shape or form. I don’t believe we should say yes to everything if we don’t believe we can achieve everything we’ve said yes to. Instead, what we need to do is ensure our personal work techniques and productivity are as effective as can be. That way we’ll achieve better outcomes in less time and overcommitting will no longer be an issue.