On Overcommitment

A screencap of my calendar, indicating that almost all of my free time is taken up. The only real open time is on Tuesday afternoon.

My calendar looks like someone threw up on it.

This is not a complaint. It’s not a humble brag. It is a fact. I am an overcommitter. I’m even somewhat unrepentant about it.

My calendar, with its amalgam of colored blocks, color coding, electronics, paper, and bright-eyed hopefulness that each entry will be accomplished looks… scary. For whatever reason, my brain likens it to those mysterious, multi-colored surprisesĀ on the sidewalk you’d rather walk aroundĀ than step on.

A screencap of my calendar, indicating that almost all of my free time is taken up. The only real open time is on Tuesday afternoon.
This is a pretty light week, meeting-wise.

Zoinks.

So what to do? I could decide to emulate Peter from Office Space and “just not go anymore.” However, while Peter’s solution seems like a genius solution on the worst days, I genuinely do like my job, and love that I get to do all of the things that make my calendar weep. I’m pretty sure just not showing up because my calendar hates me and doesn’t want me to be happy is a bad idea. Thus, an impasse has been reached.

Terrible idea, indeed.

So, since working is important and keeps me in video games and student loan payments, I’ve worked out the following coping mechanisms for managing my overcommitting tendencies.

  1. Make sure the calendar is up-to-date and organized. Much like a lemming to a cliff, I follow that sweet, sweet life organizer to the second. If it’s not on my calendar, I am not likely to be there. So, it’s important to be disciplined when I put my calendar appointments on the books. Do I always? Hell, no. But then it’s on me when I miss something and I have to say “Um, yes, I am terrible at time management.” Trust me, you don’t want to say that.
  2. Keep an electronic and a paper planner. Seriously. I know it sounds crazy, but use the electronic calendar to plan your day and the paper one to scope your work, provide a navigable path through it, and ensure nothing gets missed. I think of my paper planner as my calendar/checklist, and my electronic one as my virtual life sherpa.
  3. Take it one task at a time. From time-to-time, my boss reminds me of this tactic. He’ll find me hunched over a pile of papers, twitching and mumbling, and remind me that I don’t have to have it all done in the next hour. I don’t even have to have it all done today. These helpful reminders lead me to:
  4. Build a support network. I am lucky to have management that empathizes and works with me to make sure I can manage my workload and still deliver high quality goods. I also have an excellent network of on-campus and off-campus professionals that I can bounce ideas off of, or ask for advice. Seriously, y’all, it takes a village to raise a middle manager.
  5. Finally, listen to feedback. People will tell you when you’re slipping. When you’re not meeting their needs, when you’re not executing your job duties, when you’re not turning in the quality of work they are used to. Sometimes they will be exact in their language. Sometimes they won’t. So, listen hard and listen well. In any given day, I can find SOMETHING that can be rearranged, shortened, or put off until later. It may not be an easy choice, but it’s always there. So, again, listen to those around you. And be kind to yourself if you miss the signals from time to time.
Listen to the feedback you’re getting. Or not getting.

Overcommitment. It’s a thing. It’s a thing I do to myself, and a thing that is sometimes imposed on me. I’m not sure I know how to NOT be overcommitted. What strategies do you have for managing the beast that is Outlook?