Saying 'Yes' to Everything Leads to Failure — Here's How to Avoid the Trap of Overcommitment


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As people strive more and more for achievement, most of them become workaholics and get too involved. We all know how appealing it is to say “yes” to almost everything that comes your way because, who knows, you might get a promotion or be in the spotlight. However, this tendency often leads to a paradoxical outcome: failure.

Now that we have examined the danger, let’s consider the following practical approaches to overcome it.

Related: Overworked? Here Are 4 Easy Steps to Say ‘No’ and Stop Stressing.

The illusion of infinite capacity

At the heart of overcommitment lies a fundamental misconception: the understanding that the capacity for improvement is endless. It happens that we, as businesspeople and managers, think that we are capable of taking on more and more work. But in fact, time and energy are scarce goods that limit us in some way. It is important not to spread ourselves too thin across too many things, as this ultimately weakens our presence in everything we are involved in.

The productivity paradox

It is evident that doing more does not necessarily mean achieving more in this life. It is generally very unwise to engage in a lot of activities because this can have a very negative impact on productivity. Here’s why

  1. Decreased quality of work: Multitasking is usually characterized by decreased quality in the projects or tasks we have in our hands. We often work very fast, do not pay attention to the fine points and end up making errors. This not only affects the result but reputation as well.

  2. Increased stress and burnout: This is because overcommitment results in increased stress levels. Stress and feeling pressured to meet certain deadlines, for example, may lead to burnout and have adverse effects on the body and mind.

  3. Missed opportunities: When you are constantly agreeing to everything, you may not see any valuable opportunity coming. As we continue to be consumed with the low hanging fruits, our ability to capture the right opportunities is reduced.

Consequences of not saying “NO”

For instance, let’s consider a tech company called XYZ. The founder of XYZ startup may accept every invitation for a meeting, partnership and speaking engagement. First, this may appear as an effective way to develop the brand and expand the network. However, the founder is often left overwhelmed, struggling to manage and unable to adequately attend to the business.

The product development cycle is slowed down, customer satisfaction levels decrease, and the overall growth of the company comes to a standstill in the end; the startup exits, not because there are no opportunities but because it cannot utilize them properly.

Related: 8 Ways to Say ‘No’ So You Say ‘Yes’ to What Matters Most

The art of saying “no”

The ability to say “no” is essential for any manager to learn. It is not that one has to be unhelpful or discouraging — it means that one is smart enough to understand that he cannot do everything or be everywhere and do everything at any given time. Here are some tips that will guide you toward the realization of this noble goal.

1. Define your priorities: First, analyze your needs and define your main aims and values. That way, you get a better perspective on the opportunities available according to your priorities and which ones do not meet your priority list.

2. Evaluate the impact: First of all, one should determine how much that task is worth pursuing in terms of results that it can bring. Even if a study aligns with your research aims, will it move you forward substantially in achieving them? To analyze this, we need to decide whether it is worth the time and effort required. If the answer is no, it is most likely better to refuse whatever is offered.

3. Set boundaries: Boundaries are important for ensuring that there is no interference with the progress of the work or goals to be accomplished. Be clear with the people around you, your team members, colleagues and partners when conveying your limits to them. Make the time you’re able and willing to be available for others clear, as well as the time when you have to focus on important things.

4. Delegate wisely: It is not a rule that you have to do everything yourself. Try to transfer routine duties that can be performed by other people to them so that you will be able to focus only on the most important operations. Be confident in your people and give them full authority to do their work.

5. Regularly review commitments: Try to analyze from time to time what you are busy with and what is really important and effective. Are those tasks aligned with your goals and purpose? If not, do not be afraid to go back and think about what you committed yourself to and perhaps alter the plans.

Prioritizing effectively: The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is one of the most widely known and effective tools for sorting out tasks by their priorities. This basic framework allows you to sort tasks carefully due to their urgency and significance.

1. Urgent and Important: Activities that are urgent and strategically relevant to your objectives and priorities. These should be your top priorities.

2. Important but Not Urgent: Activities that are important for achieving long-term goals but do not need to be executed soon. Organize these tasks and ensure they have a time slot.

3. Urgent but Not Important: Chores that need to be accomplished soon, yet will not contribute much to helping you achieve your objectives. If possible, these tasks should be delegated by the person in charge of the project.

4. Not Urgent and Not Important: Activities that you think are not relevant to the achievement of your objectives. Avoid or reduce them to allow time for other, more significant chores.

When using the Eisenhower Matrix, one is able to avoid getting lost in a plethora of things to do, which ultimately leads to overcommitment.

Related: The Art of Ruthless Prioritization

Lessons learned from my personal experience

Reflecting on my own experience, I know how dire the consequences of overcommitment can be. In the earlier stage of my career, I used to think that the say-yes approach was the way to go. I became a participant and member of every project, meeting and invitation that I received. Before I knew it, I was submerged in distress and concerned about my ability to deliver high-quality papers. Some vital projects faced some slippages, while my efficiency took a massive hit.

It took a little while to finally knuckle down and start prioritizing and know when to simply say “no.” Thus, I maintained high productivity rates by prioritizing the most critical activities, offloading assignments and defining expectations. This change not only benefited me in terms of effectiveness in the workplace but also the quality of the work produced as well as my personal health status.

Overcommitment is something that often happens to many leaders and entrepreneurs. You need to learn what can go wrong if you are going to avoid the pitfalls and attain more success with proper prioritization.



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