Overpromise, overextend, overestimate, and overdo. We’ve all done it. It's an easy trap to fall into especially in regulated environments where unplanned safety issues or recalls may require change notifications to get out the door quickly.
So, what do you do then if you’re a technical writing services contract writer, hired to work on-site for a client on a specific project with an already tight deadline, and another boss gives you an important assignment that has the potential to wreak havoc with your already tight deadline? Would you feel pressured to accept the challenge?
It's easy to see how writers who are in a corporate setting can fall into the overcommitment trap. "I can't handle it" is the last thing you want to say to a boss.
Even when everything is important, you still have to decide what to do first, second, and third. On a scale of importance, you need to know where this new request fits in. Does it preempt your primary project? And if so, what are the concessions, both professional and personal, that have to be made to accommodate it?
Check before you accept:Never commit yourself without first checking the following:
- Know exactly what needs to be done for this new assignment, including an estimate of the time involved to complete it.
- Include some flexibility in your project plan for tasks that might take longer than anticipated. If a task takes less time, that’s a bonus!
- Clarify in advance if additional resources (more writers or money for overtime) will be available if needed.
- Consider how overtime might affect your commitments outside of the office.
- Provide a complete overview of your current workload to your immediate supervisor.
- Identify how this new request on your time will affect your current project and deadlines.
- Know how conflicts with your current project will be resolved.
- Agree with your immediate supervisor and the requester on an acceptable plan for implementation if the new assignment is accepted.
Document agreements:Develop a tactic to eliminate problems caused by misunderstandings before they can arise:
- While your memory is still fresh, summarize in writing everything that was agreed upon in the meeting with your supervisor and the requester in an email and send it to them.
- Invite your supervisor and the requester to either "sign off" or get back to you if your summary is either incorrect or incomplete.
- Copy stakeholders not at the meeting that may be affected by decisions to avoid "blindsiding" them further down the road.
- If you know that you cannot deliver on time, alert the stakeholders as early as possible so additional writers can be assigned or overtime can be authorized.
When to Tweak Your Plan:
You have professional plans in place for your work projects. Now what? To avoid overcommitting, you still need to look at the BIGGER picture. Work and life outside the office often impact each other so this plan will be for your eyes only and will be a combination professional/personal plan. Its purpose is to show you everything that puts a constraint on your time.
Conflicts will arise, but it’s how you manage and respond to them that will determine if they sap your energy or turn into a positive experience. If you see that you’re overcommitted, discuss the options with your supervisor. Sometimes it ends up that it can’t be done and the project manager is OK moving the requested date out.
Delegate, negotiate, or postpone:
If commitment has already transitioned to overcommitment, ask the following questions:
- Is it possible to delegate some responsibility?
- Is it possible to negotiate another deadline?
- Is it possible to postpone?
What would happen if this project was abandoned? Would anyone be hurt? What goals might be missed?
6 Tips for Taking Control of Your Priorities
Never commit until you have cleared it with your immediate supervisor. Simply tell the requester that a new deadline could be a challenge with your current deadlines and that you need to confer first with your supervisor and project team and will get back to them as soon as you have an answer.
Know what’s on your plate. Using a calendar, document your schedule and available time. List all of your professional and personal responsibilities, identifying everything that puts a constraint on your time. Include even routine activities such as gym classes or walking the cat.
Take a hard look at your existing obligations. Be realistic about what you can and cannot take on. Are you already overcommitted? Maybe you can eliminate a few things and free up time for new opportunities?
Prioritize what needs to be done. Consider not only your own priorities but also the priorities of those you work for, those you work with, and those you live with. This may turn into a struggle between what you want to do and what others want you to do.
Plan new activities around your desired goals. Decide what is most important to you. Before committing to an unexpected additional work obligation, understand what the assignment entails, how much time is involved, and how it will affect your current workload. Consider also how the new assignment will contribute to your development and if it's in-line with your goals. Be sure to assign time in your overall schedule for rest and relaxation. Designated "me" time is extremely important for your own health and well-being.
Learn the power words of a graceful decline. Saying "this doesn’t fit my priorities right now" sounds a lot better than "I can’t handle it." Learning to say "no" by respectfully declining an opportunity that doesn’t fit with your desired goals will serve you much better than taking on a project, not finishing it, and letting people down.
Finding the right balance in your life is an ongoing challenge. Take time on a regular basis to reflect and refocus. Doing this will reduce your stress levels, make you more effective, and make your life more enjoyable.
Audrey Anderson, Are You Committed or Overcommitted
Marshall Goldsmith, Overcommitment: A Happiness Killer
Do you find yourself overcommitting and losing control of your life? Share your personal experiences in the comments below.