I’ve have commitment problems. I have the habit of biting off more than I can chew and have a hard time saying “no”. Burnout is common for helpful, engaged folks like me who want to do right by our community, but stretch ourselves too thin and end up being pretty ineffective. Knowing how to evaluate your own capacity and how to just say “no” when you’re overburdened is a key attribute of many successful people. Here are four ways to manage over-commitment.
Consider your mission
One of the most important things for all of us is to have a personal mission or credo. Stephen Covey talks a lot about this in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Just like a good business plan or communications strategy, the first step has to be defining where you want to go and what success looks like. Your goal may be to be the best father in your neighbourhood. Or it might be to contribute to your community by making a positive impact through voluntarism. Or, it might be to maximize your earning potential to live a life of luxury when you are 40. Whatever it is, it should be aligned with what brings you overall contentment. Coming up with our overarching mission isn’t an easy process. It takes time and usually a lot of thinking and self-reflection. But once you’ve clarified your purpose, you will be in a much better position to define what’s important (and what’s not) to you achieving your mission.
Measure your fun factor
Harvard Business Review has a fancy formula of calculating your internal expectations vs. your internal expectations. If you’re in to that kind of thing, click here.
For the rest of us, set some time aside and do a gut check of your “fun factor”. On a scale of 1 (being drop dead terrible) to 10 (being best day of my life ecstatic), chart your mood right now. Now diarize a check in multiple times throughout the month. Get a baseline for your mood, your stress levels and your general enjoyment of things day to day. Once you have a sense of the ebb and flow of your day to day experience, consider what commitments are making your “fun” spike and where you’re seeing dips. Then give some serious reflection time (I mean more than 15 minutes while you multi-task on the bus) to consider the results and what they might mean for your life – John uses a Passion Planner to highlight “good things that happened” every week, which informs where he focuses his time. Do you have too many commitments and if so, how do they rate against your mission?
Once you’ve considered your mission and your capacity for commitments (and how that’s impacting your state of mind), it’s time to take action to wind down non-crucial secondary commitments. Whether these secondary commitments are work, extracurricular, friends, volunteer, exercise, or family is up for you to decide – but you can use your mission and fun factor to help guide you. Once you’ve decided what needs to go, consider how to make the transition gentle and be realistic about what you can actually do, as Inc’s Jessica Stillman argues that it’s impossible to achieve success in everything. Think about a transition plan for your involvement as a volunteer. Who can you recruit to step into your shoes? If you want to scale back on after-work engagements with friends to spend more time with family, can you move some your meetings over to lunch dates or early coffees in the morning? Where can you align time with friends with family commitments or exercise? For example, I like to take long bike rides with friends. When you have a plan you can seamlessly manager a healthy transition away from too many commitments.
Just say no
This is super hard for those of us who are people pleasers. Remember, by saying no to one opportunity, your opening up more time for delivering on your life mission. No means yes to more important things and “giving-guru” Adam Grant has written about multiple ways to say “no” without hurting your reputation. Sometimes, in the early stages though it can be tricky to turn down a cool new volunteer opportunity or a chance to see an acquaintance you haven’t seen in a while. But in the long term you will thank yourself.