How to avoid over-loading your plate

We’ve all run into this problem – over-committing ourselves and then failing to deliver what we promise. Our reputations suffer and a pall of failure hangs around our heads.

The best way to break out of the vicious cycle of overcommitment and underperformance is to manage carefully what you agree to do.

Here, according to Harvard Business Review, are some steps you can take to prevent overloading your plate.

1. Create a pause. Whenever possible, avoid agreeing to new commitments on the spot. Instead, slow down the decision-making process to give yourself the space to make a reasoned choice.

2. Say no early and often. If you immediately know that you do not have the capacity to take on a project, say no as soon as possible. A simple, “This sounds amazing, but, unfortunately, I’m already at capacity right now,” can suffice.

3. Think through the project. Consider what you would need to do to complete it. For a presentation, that might include talking to key stakeholders, doing research, putting together the slide deck and rehearsing. For a much larger project, the commitment may be more extensive and less clear. Map out what you know, and then make rough estimates of the amount of time you think the steps might take.

4. Review your calendar. In the case of the presentation, if you see that your calendar has open time, then you can commit with confidence and block out time for the project on your schedule. If your calendar has no time free between now and the day of the event, and the presentation would require preparation, you have a few options. The first is to simply decline. The second option would be to consider renegotiating your current commitments so that you could take on the new project.

5. Adjust your commitments. If you take on something new that will affect other projects, make people aware of what they can or cannot expect from you. Also, if you let people know what to expect as soon as possible, they are less likely to be upset. This gives you the opportunity to work with them on creating a new timeline or on delegating work to someone else with more availability.

© 2015 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp