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4 Important Lessons I Learned From Overcommitting

I have always tried to build my skills during long stretches of time, whether that means listening to a podcast while doing household chores or avoiding becoming a couch potato by volunteering my skills as a means of ensuring I continuously improve. The pandemic was no exception; almost immediately after I returned home from abroad, I set about looking for jobs and volunteer opportunities to ensure that I kept myself busy. Along the way, I learned a few important lessons from overcommitting.

During the fall, I found myself with one too many commitments on my plate. I was volunteering my communication skills for an unpaid fellowship, teaching a Japanese language class for 2 hours once a week for that same fellowship, in addition to job hunting, and volunteering as a marketing manager for an upcoming conference. I was working the equivalent of overtime without any sign of financial compensation, something that I have since vowed never to repeat.

While I certainly would not recommend the experience, it was a lesson in slowing down and focusing on fewer commitments.

4 Important Lessons I Learned From Overcommitting

1. Set Yourself A Commitment Limit

When we want to move forward in our careers, we can be tempted to say yes to absolutely everything and anything in the hopes that we can help put ourselves in good stead with our co-workers even if we don’t want to do some things. I am certainly guilty of this, a tendency that I am working on.

Putting yourself in good stead with your co-workers should not come at the cost of your mental health; while it can be difficult to set boundaries, not setting them can lead to burnout and lower quality of work among other major issues.

Setting yourself a commitment limit ensures that you have the time to prioritize your own health and any other priorities you may have. That limit may look different for everyone; for me, that limit is two commitments outside of my existing priorities. 

2. You Teach Others How To Treat You

Say yes once, and people will continue coming back to you expecting the same answer. I learned this the hard way. Somewhere between my childhood and now, I picked up the belief that saying no made you a bad employee. 

That belief has allowed others to guilt me into committing to things that I was uncomfortable with, largely because I never learned how to say no as a child. Learning how to say no is a process, but I have learned that your actions teach others how to treat you. 

From this point forward, I am planning on asking myself the following questions prior to committing to anything.

  • Do I want to do this?
  • Will this experience help me move forward?
  • Do I have the time to do it considering my pre-existing commitments?

Honoring yourself and your limits, regardless of what they may be, will allow you to prevent burnout, enable you to continue to produce quality work, and teach others what you will say yes to and by extension, what you will refuse.

3. Overcommitting Slows Down Productivity

I overestimated how much I could actually do, which meant that my productivity slowed. Getting back into the practice of setting Pomodoro timers helped, but that didn’t change the fact that I was perpetually mentally drained.  

It is no secret that multitasking slows down productivity, so I’m not sure how I managed to convince myself that balancing multiple commitments like a clown balancing multiple plates on its nose would somehow make me more productive.

None of us are superhuman. You can force yourself to do things, but consequences will show up in some form. I lost my voice and was bedridden for nearly 2 weeks, which left me unable to make money. If you don’t care for yourself, you’re unable to provide services to others. The quality of your work will also decrease the more you stretch yourself, which means that you will ultimately end up creating more work for yourself than you originally intended.

4. Saying No Doesn’t Mean You Are A Bad Person

At a very early age, I learned that being liked was essential to your survival; as an adult, I now know better, but learning how to say no comfortably has been a journey for me. This is especially true in work settings. I am cognizant of the fact that someone’s impression of you can have a huge impact on you later on in your career. You might need a former supervisor to write you a recommendation; a co-worker of yours might know someone who works in your dream job. It is a small world, and networking is crucial, regardless of your field of choice.

During my time working in Tokyo as an independent contractor, I was often asked to open my availability to teach lessons for clients. I felt powerless to say no, especially because the company was sponsoring my visa at the time. 

The fear that this company would not sponsor my visa the following year prompted me to say yes to nearly every request asked of me, especially if it came from the manager. Eventually, I became their go-to person because they knew that I would not say no, a realization that made me increasingly uncomfortable. However, once I established a strong client base and gained confidence in my teaching style, I learned what worked for me schedule-wise.

I used that understanding to speak to new managers, who would often make identical requests of instructors. I would simply express regret before explaining that I was unavailable to teach at the requested time if I was unable or unwilling to teach.

You do not exist to ease the worries of whoever you work for. You are not a cog in a machine; you are human. Honoring your commitments is important, but it is equally important to achieve a good balance between the things you commit to in order to do your best work.

This post was contributed anonymously.