Addressing Overcommitment in the Workplace

Are your emails piling up? Unread text messages got you bogged down? Are you feeling overcommitted?

...I just returned from vacation, I’m halfway through my first day back, and already I feel like I need another vacation. Don’t get me wrong – my vacation was relaxing and helped me recharge. What tires me out is returning to a seemingly unending list of commitments I haven’t completed yet. Before you read on, it’s important to understand that this isn’t a personal problem with time management. Instead, it’s a problem with saying “yes” and committing to projects, ideas, and goals without fully removing other items from my plate.

I spent some time with the world’s leading expert on workplace commitments a few months ago – Dr. Howard Klein, Professor of Management and Human Resources, Fisher College of Business. Over the course of our conversation, he shared some strategies to reevaluate workplace commitments and ensure they are healthy.

To start, you can think of workplace commitments as a pledge to someone or something. Commitments are generally helpful behaviors that allow us to coordinate across teams and organizations.

Further, commitments vary in their ‘stickiness’ – some are like post-it notes and some are like super glue – depending on:

  1. The importance of the commitment to you
  2. How much you ‘like’ the commitment
  3. How much you trust the person/group
  4. How much you believe you can influence the commitment.

And, most importantly, according to Dr. Klein, commitments aren’t always a good thing. Sure, they hold our teams and organizations together. But they also can lead to competing priorities, myopic focus on an idea that is no longer relevant, inflexible goals, and more.

So what’s the point here? Let’s return to my mounting list of commitments, unread emails, and texts. It has become very apparent that I haven’t taken time to evaluate my commitments and identify which need superglue like stickiness and which need lesser stickiness, or no stickiness at all.

Dr. Klein provided recommendations to address over commitment that I plan to apply this week (if not this afternoon!):

  • Take time to reevaluate your priorities. Not everything is important, and as goals change, it’s okay to adjust your commitments accordingly.
  • Then, actually adjust your commitments to align with your priorities. This may mean saying “no” to folks you’ve previously said “yes” to.
  • Finally, if you’re a manager, communicate your adjusted priorities and commitments with your team. There’s no need to subject your team to ambiguity if you have clarity on your goals, priorities, and commitments.

I invite you to join me in doing yourself (and your teams!) the favor of revisiting your workplace commitments.

Want to view a recorded webinar of my interview on “Managing Workplace Commitments” with Dr. Klein? You can view the conversation here.

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