How to Keep Your Commitments, Part 1

Even in our technologically advanced world, an individual’s reputation is worth its weight in smartphones. Get-It-Done Guy has 5 tips to keep your commitments, maintain (and improve) your reputation, and get ahead in life.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #223

commitmentIf you want to be respected and taken seriously in the work world, you need to get back to basics.

The 21st century has revolutionized technology. We have smartphones, tablets, streaming this, and streaming that. But humans still interact the same way. Well, almost. Now we glorify psychological disorders by giving them cool marketing names. “Narcissism” becomes “sharing.” And “padding your resume” is now the friendlier “personal branding.” Long ago, we simply called it “reputation.”

But there’s a deep truth here. Regardless of what you call it, reputation is important. If people know you keep your commitments and get things done, that reputation makes you valuable. Not as valuable as if you were made out of solid platinum inlaid with rubies, but valuable enough that you’ll have many more options as you proceed through life.

Some people seem to keep commitments effortlessly, while others struggle. The secret isn’t willpower. Willpower, no matter how much we glorify it in movies and mythology, doesn’t work well to get things done except in short sprints. What does work is creating systems that make sure you fulfill your commitments.

In part 1 of this 2-part series, we’ll cover 9 tips on how to fulfill your commitments. Here are the first 5:

Tip #1: Only Take on Commitments You Can Fulfill

You’ll never fulfill commitments if you take on too many, so start by building a system to keep out all but the ones you can handle. Before making a commitment, make sure it fits into your schedule. If you won’t have time to finish it, don’t start. Also make sure you know how to deliver on the commitment, and that you can get the resources—money, equipment, contacts, etc.—to get it done. If any part of the puzzle is missing, you’re in danger of taking on a commitment you can’t deliver and that can harm your reputation.

Sometimes we take on commitments without knowing exactly how we’ll deliver. “I’ll be glad to bring a homemade cake to movie night!” Only, I’ve never baked a cake in my life. How hard can it be? Surely I can whip one together in about an hour, including the trip to the grocery store.

When a lot is unknown, schedule extra time for getting the missing pieces—both learning and ingredients. And clear upfront that you’re making a commitment you don’t know you can deliver on. Recognize that your ultimate success depends on whether you can gather what’s needed to fulfill the commitment.

Tip #2: Track Your Commitments

Keep a list of commitments someplace you can review regularly. For each commitment you’ve made, note what you’ve committed to do, who you made the commitment to, when you made it, and when it’s due. Also note whether it’s due at the start or the end of the due day.
Just imagine telling Bernice, “I absolutely promise I’ll get the engagement ring to you on Tuesday.” You think you mean end-of-the-day. She thinks you mean morning, in time to show it off to her Bridge Club. Trust me; you want to get it to her in the morning. There’s a reason they call it a Bridge Club.

Tip #3: Declare Your Commitments

Part of your system for keeping commitments is to engage yourself psychologically. Yes, I’m suggesting you be sneaky, Machiavellian, and manipulative. Only this time, not to your evil Office Nemesis, but to yourself. Social psychologists tell us that we’re much more likely to keep a commitment when we put it in writing or when we make it public. Send the person you committed to a little recap of the commitment. Send it on paper, and sign it. In ink. That alone will make you more likely to keep your word.

In fact, right now, grab a piece of paper. Write down “I will write down my commitments, sign, and send them.” Then sign that. Whew! Now you’re on your way!

Tip #4: Add New Commitments Into Your Schedule Immediately

Commitments take time. Right now, you’re using 100% of your free time. You work, eat, sleep, watch streaming video, spend time with friends, post on Facebook, zone out, and knit exciting underwear. Any time you add a commitment, you have to take time away from something else.

When you make the commitment, decide how you’ll find the time for it. If it’s a regular meeting, like volunteering to run the local prison’s literary book club, Prose and Cons, put it in your calendar immediately. If it will take substantial time in your schedule, get it in the schedule now. Otherwise you’ll never find the time.

If the commitment is something that isn’t easy to schedule, add a reminder about it to your task list. For example, once he started dating Bernice, Melvin added to his task list, “Shower regularly.” Every time it comes up on the list, he showers and rewrites it at the end. Bernice and I often sneak into his office and add it a few more times scattered around the list. Some commitments can’t be committed enough.

Tip #5: Know Who Depends on You, When, and Why

Take the time to find out who depends on your commitment. One of my clients promised to deliver data from the secret surveillance camera to an analyst in his company every month. Er, I mean, weather data collected from the rooftop. He was pretty casual about when he sent it. After all, he figured, what difference does it make if we analyze the, er, clouds, today or tomorrow?

Turns out, it makes a great deal of difference! His analyst friend needs several days to analyze the data, dry it off if it gets moist, and must have it ready for the monthly report back to the client, Bad Horse. Once he understood what was needed and why, he was much more motivated to fulfill his commitment on time.

Keeping commitments is important to your reputation, and to making sure that your pesky conscience doesn’t bother you too much. Only say “yes” to commitments you can take. Track your commitments, schedule them, and know who’s depending on them.

You’re depending on me, and I promised 9 tips. Our time is up for today, however, so listen next week and we’ll cover the rest of the tips.

This is Stever Robbins. I mentor high-potential leaders in developing strong leadership skills. If you want to know more, visit http://www.SteverRobbins.com.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!


Commitment image from Shutterstock

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

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