the three consequences of overcommitting

In building a business, deep thoughts, learning, motivation, product management, productivity by Jay Clouse

Let me start by saying that I am very, very lucky.

As time goes by and I put more work out into the world and meet more new people, I find myself being presented with more and more opportunity.

And it’s hard to find yourself surrounded by opportunity! (Though I recognize that feeling surrounded by opportunity is a mindset, and the “difficulty” as a story I tell myself).

I want to say “yes” to everything. But as I’ve written before, saying “yes” to something is implicitly saying “no” to something else.

There are three consequences of overcommitting your time:

1. You drop the ball

If you bite off more than you can chew, you may not have the actual capacity to see it through. And with people depending on you, you may drop the ball and not hold up your end of the bargain.

In this case, you risk trust and reputation — hard to build, easy to lose!

2. You don’t follow through

This is similar to dropping the ball, but more intentional. If you realize you’ve taken on more than you can realistically accomplish, you may not back up your commitment with action. You probably know someone who always has a new idea or project they are excited about, but never actually take action on it.

Just as above, this puts trust in you and your reputation at risk — would you want to work with the boy who cried wolf?

3. Everything moves forward slowly

This is the camp I find myself in most often. I won’t claim to do something without following through, and I’m great at keeping all the balls in the air — but everything moves forward much slower because of it.

It’s like moving a heavy piece of furniture by yourself — you pick up one end and swing it forward, then circle over to the other side and do the same.

The loss here is harder to identify — which is likely why I keep finding myself in this camp. Opportunity cost is too painless. While it’s easy to quantify what you lose in decisions, it’s impossible to know the full benefit to be gained from decisions.

If Amazon would have started trying to sell all things instead of just books, they would’ve grown much more slowly and may have been squashed by Walmart or some other upstart. By deprioritizing focused growth on one or two of my projects in favor of moving several things forward, what am I missing?

What should I give up?

My goal over the next 8 months of 2018 is to transition away from asking myself, “What should I give up?” in favor of just saying “no” much more often.


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