How to Avoid Taking On Too Much Work

Make sure your idea of a day's work is realistic.

Stever Robbins,
March 29, 2010
Episode #126

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Bernice is ambitious. Her goal is to be CEO (Chief Enlightenment Officer) of the company by the time she’s older. She thinks the way to do it is by making everyone happy. She makes people happy by doing things for them. No project is too big for her go-get-‘em attitude. Unfortunately, she overcommits, and she’s stressed about it.

How to Avoid Taking On Too Much

Bernice’s plight is common. Even for those of us who aren’t very ambitious, it’s easy to say “Yes” when someone asks us to do something. Be in charge of arranging the holiday party for the office? Sure! Arrange for all 219 branch managers to attend? Sure. Seat them and their husbands, wives, significant others, or polyamorous family units so each person is next to one person they know, and one person they don’t know, but who has a common interest. Er, that sounds like a lot of … Yeah, okay. And make sure each dessert is … you get the picture: stress-fest a la mode.

Do You Take On Too Much?

Sometimes, the problem is that we can’t say “No.” You can beat that problem in the Get-it-Done Guy episode on how to say “No.”  Sometimes, though, the problem is that we genuinely mean “Yes,” because we foolishly believe that taking on an extra 15-hour-a-day project in addition to our existing 19-hour-a-day project is perfectly feasible, as long as we really buckle down and give it the old college try. What they never tell you is that the “old college” was a college in England for rich kids who all had servants they could order to do their extra homework.

Why Being an Overachiever is Bad

I fall victim to this overly-optimistic thinking all the time. My coach Michael Neill, author of the book SuperCoach, once asked me, “Are you a high achiever?” I proudly puffed up my chest, sucked in my abs, and flexed my bicep. “Yes,” I replied, in my best manly-man voice. “Oh! That’s the problem,” he exclaimed. Overachieving is a problem? That sure burst my bubble. My bicep flopped back down to the underside of my arm, where it usually lives. My abs followed closely behind.

He explained that many of us hold ourselves to unrealistically high standards. We believe we can do far more than we can, we overcommit, and then we stress out when we can’t get everything done. He recommended I hold myself to a new standard: have an average day. Don’t be a supergeek. Don’t be overachiever-boy. Just be average.