It happens to all of us. Too many “yeses” and suddenly we’re in a pickle; there’s not enough time to dispatch all the commitments we’ve made. What to do?
Often, our first instinct is to start off-loading. We cancel appointments and other commitments to free up more margin. While that may give us short-term relief and help us get through a challenging time, it also has its downsides.
Here are three ways offloading your commitments may be hurting you in the long run:
- May hinder your peak performance. When the stress of your impending challenge creates a knee-jerk reaction to abandon other commitments, you may have removed the very pressure that can bring out your best. Our brain doesn’t reason well under panic. It enlarges threats and minimizes resources. We may, in fact, need to cancel commitments when we’re overloaded. But more often, I’ve discovered from my own experience that, what I truly need in these times is not relief from the pressure of prior commitments. I need focus. And the very pressure I’m feeling, knowing my time is constrained, brings a focus I don’t have at any other time. As Samuel Johnson put it, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
- May foster the habit of commitment abandonment. The easiest way to regain margin is to jettison commitments when you get overloaded. And therein lies the problem. It’s an enticing habit to adopt. I doubt anyone one sets out to become undependable. Instead, their addiction to exuberance coaxes them into a pile of commitments they cannot keep. Instead of reexamining their commitment making they default to commitment breaking. They forget, as Oscar Wilde did, that “every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character.”
- May keep you in an ineffective structure. Unless our capacity is challenged, we won’t find new ways to work smarter. We’ll keep using the same systems and the same tools, repeated again and again, with little change in output. Neuroscientist Gregory Berns describes our brain as a “lazy piece of meat.” It prefers habits to deep mental processing. This is, of course, the underlying basis behind the old maxim, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” When we truly need something, we find a way to create it, but not until then. Which makes me wonder, how much innovation in how I work has been lost because I was too quick to release the pressure that would have brought them to light?
Unless you make none, it’s impossible to fulfill every commitment. If nothing else, circumstances beyond your control will ruin your track record. But when that inevitable pressure to break them looms large, remember that you don’t truly know what you are capable of unless you stay with it.
I’ll be discussing this topic and how to build more capacity in our lives at my upcoming Strategic Margin Workshops on May 15 & 27 in Bloomington, MN.
Let’s discuss this: What are some things you’ve learned from offloading your commitments?