There is this story about Warren Buffett and his pilot. As the story goes, the pilot is talking about his goals and dreams, and Buffett gives him a three-part exercise. The first step is to write down his top 25 goals. The second step was to select his top 5 from the list, the ones that he wanted. When he finished, Buffet asked him what he was going to do about the other 20 goals, and the pilot suggested he’d work on them when he could. Buffett explained that that strategy was precisely wrong, that he should avoid the other 20 at all costs.
Buffett is also famous for this quote: “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
One of the challenges for people who are capable and who enjoy different projects is that they are easily seduced by the opportunity to participate and contribute to an endless parade of “opportunities.” When you know you can create value for other people, it’s difficult to refuse to help, especially when it makes you feel good to do so. And then, there is the fear of missing out.
Over is Under
The willingness to say “yes” to the 20, or 30, or 257 things that you might enjoy and that might be fun, interesting, and maybe even valuable means one ends up being overcommitted. Saying “yes” to the requests for help and potential opportunities is how you end up with so many commitments that it is difficult to manage them all, and difficult to do your very best work. As negative as those things might be, they are not the real negative outcome that comes from saying “yes.” What makes saying “yes” detrimental to your success is that it indicates that you are uncommitted.
Imagine you have a metric that it made up of your time, your attention, and your resources (think money, energy, favors and help you need, etc.). Let’s call this Metric E, with the letter “E” representing your effort. Each day, you have 100 percent of Metric E to do the work to move all your projects forward, completing the most important tasks. Because you have agreed to participate in this project and that new initiative, none of which are anywhere near making the list of your top 3 priories (I have removed 2 from Buffet’s list), you start the day with commitments that account for about 50 percent of Metric E. You are, sadly left with only 50 percent for what you know to be the most critical projects, goals, and tasks.
All these commitments that are not your own mean you are uncommitted, not overcommitted.
Uncommitted to Your Goals and Dreams
Without meaning to, you can wind up overcommitted on your calendar and uncommitted to your goals and dreams. You can end up investing your time, energy, and resources in things that, while being fun and exciting and potential opportunities, strip you of the resources you need to move your own goals and projects forward. Your commitment to your goals and dreams is something less than your commitment to all the things that you might do that are not your own.
Shifting your results here requires that you say no to the many other things that you might do, even the ones that you want to participate in so that you can devote yourself to what is most important. The way to make this shift is to increase your commitment to your own goals and dreams and to make that commitment so great that it crowds out your willingness to agree to devote any significant portion of your Metric E to things that don’t move you closer to what you want.
Of course, you can still help others. You can still participate in things that might be fun and interesting and provide new opportunities, but not before you do what is necessary to keep the commitment that you owe yourself and your goals.
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