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Is your commitment burning you out?


1.   Introduction

Commitment is a key characteristic of business mental toughness, however how we perform and the actions we take impact the commitment of others.  If we are to delivery projects on time, inspire teams and execute our business strategies we need everybody involved to be committed.

 

When I first started out in business development many years ago, I was told that strong customer relationships were built on commitment and trust and over the last 30 years my experiences would confirm that hypothesis.  But what I also observed is that we can often mistake involvement for commitment both in our own approach to work and that of others.  Many people will say they are committed to a cause, an event, to your product or your company when in fact they are merely involved, and the commitment is lip service.  In this TACS episode I am going to look at commitment as an adjective and a verb, how we can commit, be committed, and avoid the dangers of false commitment and over committing.


2.   What is commitment?

When I hear people saying they are committed I often challenge them to see if it’s real or just involvement.  It’s the Ham and Eggs question, where the chicken is involved but the pig is committed.  The litmus test isn’t to confirm what they are committing to, but more what they are giving up or not doing as a consequence.  When we commit to something it requires an engagement or obligation that restricts some freedom of action, i.e. we forego things we might also want to do because of being committed.

 

Commitment also requires focus and dedication to an activity, event, or person.  It is often time-bound but can be unrestricted.  In business it might be that we give up opportunities to focus on one key area or perhaps we give up a level of profit to demonstrate commitment to a client relationship.  Account managers are a commitment to a client relationship which is usually reciprocated by the client committing [being loyal] and resisting offers to switch to other vendors.


3.   Can we be more than 100% committed to something?

We often hear sports people claim that they are “110% committed” to their chosen event, sport, or team, but it is rhetoric.  It may be part of their positive self-talk or simply a way of demonstrating to others that their commitment is guaranteed; well until a better offer comes along. 

 

It can be argued that we can commit no more than 100% of our effort, time, or energy to something but we can be over committed.  In sport an athlete splits their commitment into three basic elements, training, performing and their non-sporting life. A lack of commitment to training results in a long-term deterioration in performance whilst a lack of commitment when performing will result in a short-term reduction in performance or potential injury; as a rugby coach I’ve seen many players get injured due to not committing to a tackle or pulling up injured because they didn’t commit to the warmup routine.


4.   Team commitment

A great example of team-based commitment to training and performance and its impact on life outside sport can be found in the book; Will it make the boat go faster, by Ben Hunt-Davis & Harriet Beveridge.  It tells the story of Team GB’s men’s 8 and their quest for a gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the extraordinary lengths the whole team went to for their cause.  In contrast another athlete in Sydney in 2000 for her first Olympics was Marion Jones, the multi-world champion US sprinter, who’s commitment levels were used as a shining example to young athletes right up the point she was caught taking the banned performance enhancing drug, THG.  Whilst Team GB gave up family weddings and maintained a moral compass, Ms Jones gave up her moral compass and committed to a course of action that would see her receive a world anti-doping and Olympic ban with her results erased.


5.   What happens when we over commit in work?

When we turn up for work there is an expectation that we are 100% committed in everything we do.  We rarely work for multiple employers at any one time and so accepting a contract of employment is a commitment that describes or attempts to describe what is expected of the employer and the employee.  However, when fulfilling our contracts of employment, we can on occasion find ourselves distracted by life events and under committed, perhaps barely being involved as a result.  We can also find ourselves overcommitted usually due to saying yes when we should be saying no i.e., we commit to more hours of work than our allotted 37-hour week.  This super or over-commitment is what leads to sub-optimal performance, stress, and burnout as we can either under commit to the work to fit it into the timescale or reduce our non-work commitments to ensure we deliver the 44 hours, taking time from our leisure or family time.


6.   Commitment and burnout.

One of the key drivers of overcommitting and burnout is our eagerness to say yes.  Recent statistics suggest that over 80% of people have experienced some form or burnout in the last 12 months and many people I have spoken to would agree.  I’ve been there myself not just accepting work, but committing to work, when I know there isn’t enough diary to accommodate the demand especially as we try to balance work and life commitments.  And what fails, well at first, it’s usually the leisure and family commitments, but then as that becomes a problem work fails also.  It becomes a vicious circle and before we know it we are burning out.  Being committed and committing to too many things is a dangerous combination which results in being overloaded, then overwhelmed and ultimately being pushed overboard.


7.   Why we say yes so easily.

There are several reasons we can become overcommitted, but the common ones to watch out for are:

 

·       Peer pressure or social norms - we say yes because we want to fit in.

·       Feeling valued - we say yes because it gives us a dopamine hit.

·       Fear of missing out – we want to avoid the anxiety associated with missing something.

·       Performance Bias – we believe we can do all the tasks in the time required.

·       Conflict avoidance – we say yes because we don’t want to disappoint.

·       Low confidence – we are not assertive when given the opportunity to say no.


8.   Learning to say no.

So how can you identify when we are over committed and what can we do about it?

 

1.     Recognise the behavioural signs.  You may be tired, irritable, have headaches, a lack of focus, disturbed sleep, or feelings of resentment.  However, it manifests either ask someone to point it out or be more self-aware. Journaling can help us spot overcommitment or setting aside some time each week to review your commitments and how you feel.

2.     Prioritise your time.  There is no right or wrong answer as we all have different priorities however when you cannot do everything, being able to prioritise what is important is essential.  Consider writing a list of your commitments and scoring them on an Eisenhower matrix.

3.     Be honest to yourself.  When you say yes, make sure you commit and when you say no, stand firm.  Don’t say no, then collapse minutes later (like I do whenever my daughters ask me to do something for them). 

4.     Plan everything. Fill your dairy with everything you do not just work.  Ensure you have allocated time for work, for exercise, for leisure, for rest and reflection and for family.

5.     Practice saying no before you have to say it.  If you are attending a meeting or expect someone to request your time which may lead to overcommitment then prepare and practice your no response before you meet.

6.     Be time smart. When ask to support meetings consider attending for only your part, make meetings shorter and build in 15 minute increments.  Consider attending virtually especially if your slot is to inform and for only a small percentage of the meeting.  Travel time can be a significant commitment and adds no value.

7.     Inflate time. We all underestimate the time it takes to do things so be realistic, add in time buffers and be honest in what you can and cannot do.  Sometimes it is quicker and more effective to delegate rather than doing.  Even if it is something you enjoy doing it.

8.     Practice self-compassion. We all need to rest, reflect and reset.  You have to commit time to you and your family.  Succeeding and having nobody to share it with because they got lost along the way isn’t a success at all.

 

One way to address your commitments is to complete a commitment log to see where you need to change your levels of commitment and involvement.  I did this with American Express several years ago in their new product development team and we took over 30% of meeting attendance out of every project.

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