Crazy Busy: Preventing Overcommitment
“I’m crazy busy” is a phrase often uttered today, almost as if it is a badge of honor. As a husband, dad, project manager, friend, and many other roles, I’m all too familiar with this phrase and the dangers of overcommiting my time. Short infrequent stints of too much activity are unavoidable, since we can’t foresee all situations and how their timing will converge with other events already on our schedule. However, perpetual overcommitment is of our own choosing, whether we want to admit it or not. How can we prevent it?
Picture Your Life
Picture yourself overcommitted. How do you feel? Stressed, right? Know that if you have sustained periods of overcommitment – something’s gotta give – and it could be something you highly value – your health, an important relationship, etc. Now picture a balanced commitment level with minimal stress. If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing plan B is your goal. It’s funny that many people envision their ideal day surrounded by beauty and peace, and being with the ones they love, yet due to our culture of ultra-performers, they hold a belief that those moments are rare. Do they really need to be?
Picking The Best
As a project manager, I’m exposed to the juggling of multiple projects using what is called a portfolio (or collection). The portfolio is reviewed periodically to assure several things - alignment with important organizational objectives, proper ranking with respect to other projects, and assessing how it is performing in relation to it’s objectives, costs and schedule. A portfolio (or program) manager knows that there are not enough resources to tackle them all at the same time, so they have to be selective. Adding a project to the “already-resource-tapped” portfolio, means that something needs to change. Lower ranking projects may need to have their schedule pushed out. In business, it’s tempting to want to please everyone and stuff a portfolio full of projects that there is no realistic way to accomplish. So too, in our personal lives we need to be selective with our precious resources – especially our time.
Your Top 10
Are overcommitments robbing you of being with the people you love or accomplishing important things? Are the things you do necessary or are you doing it because it is expected by someone you may not want to dissapoint? Start by making a WRITTEN list of the top 5-10 (no more than 10) things you want to be or do in your life, and rank them in order of importance to you with the most important at the top. Review your daily, weekly, monthly activities against this list. Are your activities aligned with your goals? If not, it’s time to start cutting. ”But…but…but…I can’t cut anything out” you say. Imagine you are being held captive, and your captor tells you to pick something to drop or he will not release you – what’s it gonna be? On the flip side, maybe your activities ARE aligned with your goals, but you are still stretched thin. Great news! It’s time to start ranking and postponing. Activities aligned with multiple goals, especially higher ones, should get ranked higher and should get your attention. The lowest ranking items should be scrutinized, and at a minimum, be postponed. Oh, and by-the-way, your top 10 can change over time, so it doesn’t hurt to go through the process as things change in your life.
Eliminate, Delegate and Automate
In his book “The 4 Hour Work Week”, Tim Ferriss provides some great advice on how to view all the “stuff” we choose to do. Much of daily life is filled with “time-wasters”, or mundane necessities. The very first thing to do is to get rid of all the non-value-added things we do – eliminate. Next, find out who else you can have do some things – delegate. It could make sense to pay someone to do them. Thirdly, whatever can’t be eliminated or delegated, find some way to automate it. These words of advice can really help you to begin finding scraps of time that can add up.
May I suggest that one of those top 10 be a goal to maintain a certain level of margin in your life? Margin is not your week vacation you take a couple of times per year. It is space that you give yourself between activities. Overcommitted people usually live to the edge of their schedule. This is like living to the edge of your bank account. When something unexpected comes up, there’s nothing left. Guard this margin carefully and, just like your savings account, only expend it when there is a true need for your time. Treat margin like an appointment with yourself, and don’t feel guilty for not giving it up when an unimportant request for your time is presented.
Words Of Wisdom
Having the Bible as a guiding light in my life has been a true source of wisdom in this area. As seen in Galations 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law”. Ignoring the voice of God with even one of these fruit can really cause problems with some of the others. Conversely, improvements in one fruit can have a positive impact on the others. For example, lacking in self-control with our time will, at a minimum, reduce our level of peace and probably won’t help our level of patience, kindness, and joy either. I guess the phrase “one bad fruit can spoil the whole bunch” strikes again!
I hope there was an insight or phrase in this article that will help you with overcommitment. Help us know with comments and feedback.