The cascading effects of overcommitment at work

Overcommitment syndrome emerges when everything on your to-do list is “urgent and important.” New priorities are added to the list every day. Everybody is competing for limited resources, human resources, first and foremost.

As you and your colleagues all get more and more overcommitted, the chances of things going wrong, for all of you, start increasing. Delays become inevitable. Communications slip through the cracks. People misunderstand each other or lose track of specifications. Everybody has more delays and mistakes to deal with, so everybody’s overcommitment just keeps getting worse.

Ultimately, siege mentality sets in

When you are drowning in other people’s competing urgent and important priorities, and you have a hard time getting what you need from others, and it feels as if nobody is in control of these interdependent relationships, then pretty soon every interaction feels like a battle. You feel as if you are always under siege.

You and your colleagues start to resist each other.

Siege mentality is a response to feeling out of control. The paradox is you lose control even more. You say no to everything, but not for the right reasons. You say no because of your workload and your mindset—not based on the quality of the opportunity or your ability to add value in relation to that opportunity.

Instead you’ve got to make choices about what to do, why, when, and how: Align with your boss regularly so you know what is require and what is allowed. Tune in to every request. Ask good questions and take notes. Say no when you cannot do something or are not allowed or when it’s really not a good idea for you … at least right now. Say not yet or, yes, “in two days” or “two weeks” or “two months.”

Whenever you do say yes, set up every yes for success with a concrete plan of action and then work smart, finish what you start, and follow-up to build the working relationship.

Want to read more? Check out Bruce Tulgan’s book — The Art of Being Indispensable at Work


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