By CareerActually contributor, Julie Preston

Julie Square

Ever heard the phrase “If you want something done, ask a busy person”?  This so often rings true – when we have more tasks to complete we are forced to be more organised, and more careful with our time.

However, simply agreeing to do more work isn’t the way forward. We can be particularly susceptible to the over-commitment trap at the start of a new job. Eager to please, and to demonstrate that the selection panel made the right decision, it is all too easy to say yes to every opportunity that presents itself.  I sometimes wonder if we are proving our worth to others or ourselves (I’ll write a little on the phenomenon that is imposter syndrome soon).

I have attended my fair share of career training workshops and seminars at which the presenters tout the benefits of saying ‘yes’. My own career has benefited from participation in a whole variety of activities outside the boundaries of my position description, as I have written in previous posts about the benefits of networking here and here. But when does it become too much? When does taking on extra work, be it a favour for a colleague or a chance to prove we are ready for new responsibilities, move from being beneficial to detrimental?


Source: net_efeckt on Flickr

Over-commitment is detrimental when it affects our health or our professional reputation. When there is too much to do tasks may be unreasonably delayed or remain incomplete. The standard of work may slip in order to tackle a seemingly endless pile of work. The level of commitment at work can also have a significant impact on your overall health and wellbeing. As the deadline approaches stress levels rise and fear of not meeting an agreement can become debilitating. In the short term over-commitment can be managed, but if it continues unchecked the end result could be the perception that you are unreliable, agreeing to tasks then not completing them as planned.

Of course there’s also the risk that we go too far the other way, doing only the requirements of the position description without taking on extra activities that demonstrate our availability to progress and be promoted, or participating in extra-curricular activities to enhance our professional network. We’ll never be seen if we don’t step above and beyond.

Do you remember the childhood story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears? We could all learn a little from Goldilocks, who tested the chairs, porridge and beds until she found the combination that worked for her. Finding a balance between maintaining good working relationships and avoiding the risks of over-commitment takes time, but it’s time well spent to maintain a strong professional reputation and good relationships with networks and colleagues.

Check out this post from the American Psychological Society for some ways to avoid over-commitment.


Source: kat a on Flickr

Is your level of commitment “just right”?