Whether in business or at home, things tend to ebb and flow. And when everything starts stacking up, if you’re anything like me, you’re likely to bite off more than you can chew and overcommit in an attempt to get it all done. Truth be told, you just can’t be all things to all people so don’t even try!
At the moment I seem to have an overabundance of things happening on multiple fronts. While I value being responsive, I often have to remind myself that if I don’t respond to someone the instant I get their e-mail or voicemail, all will still be OK. While I’m not saying the answer is blowing people off, sometimes there is just so much you can stuff into one evening. Waiting until tomorrow unless it is life or death (and in my book I mean REALLY life (breathing? pulse?) or death (not breathing, no pulse, bleeding profusely), is a viable option. Fortunately, I don’t work in an emergency services arena so next to nothing I do is life or death. That means I can cut myself some slack. That probably means you can cut yourself some slack too.
I was surfing around to see what other people’s take was on this same topic. I was happy to see that The Savvy Entrepreneur offers some good business related advice in “Are You Biting Off More Than You Can Chew?”. The same truth that you can’t be everything to everyone holds true for your career as well. Whether you are self-employed or living in the corporate halls, this means you. My two favorite tips from her article are:
— If you are approached by a potential client who has a project that really doesn’t get you excited, tell them that at this time, your practice is too full to take on any other projects, but you’d be glad to put them on your waiting list. If the project is urgent or they refuse your offer, ask if they’d like you to refer them to someone else. At least they’ll remember you as a busy, successful, professional, resourceful and helpful entrepreneur.
— Quote a higher than usual fee and estimate more time than you think it’ll take to complete the project. That way, if they decide to hire you, the higher fee will make it worth your while for doing a less-than-desired project (or make it more bearable to work with someone with a more difficult/demanding personality) and you will have bought yourself some time with your time projection.
Two very nice ways to serve your clients in a professional manner without biting off more than you can (or want) to chew.
What about the rest of your life? The biggest key to avoid falling into the spiral of overcommitting is:
— Say no
— Estimate how long you think it’ll take you to do something and then add 50%. I’m not kidding – 50% may seem high but anyone who has ever done a home improvement project, assembled a piece of do-it-yourself furniture, or called technical support for a PC problem knows that the time we “think” it’ll take to do something has no basis in reality (while I insert a little humor here, you know it is partly true!).
Estimating is easy compared to the angst most of us feel when we have to say no to someone. Setting boundaries can be difficult for many. I know it has been for me. Yet, saying “yes” when we mean “no” only results in double the disappointment. The people we commit to get let down and we let ourselves down because we’re not meeting our commitments. Better to be clear up front with a “no” or even a “maybe, depends” than to commit and then stress out and fall short anyway. So how can you set effective boundaries? Follow this proven four step process:
1) Let the person know what your boundary is
2) Inform them if/when they cross that boundary and ask them to stop
3) If they do not honor your request, demand that they stop (and do the demanding in a neutral, non-emotionally charged tone)
4) If they still don’t honor your demand, simply walk away
We treat others how to treat us. By overcommitting, we let them know it is ok to run us over and demand more than we can reasonably offer. The answer lies in letting them know your boundary and then making sure you and they honor it.