Overachievers and high-performers have a hard time saying “no.” That’s why we find ourselves engaged in so many activities, projects, and board positions. And we have high standards for ourselves, so we work hard to live up to our ideal. What’s worse is that we tell ourselves there’s an end in sight. If we can just get through the workload on our desk, there will be a respite. Instead, our work begets more work, and it mushrooms even further out of control leaving us exhausted at the end of the day.
If being an adrenaline junkie or a workaholic is working for you, you’re on the right track. But if you’re interested in breaking the pattern, you’ll need to try something more radical than pushing yourself harder or plowing through to the other side. You’ll need to set boundaries by applying these three rules:
Rule #1: Pare down.
A modern to-do list resembles an overstuffed drawer, with little order and no consideration for its capacity. Clear out the clutter in your life by paring your commitments down to four projects. You can’t do your job and be a good spouse and raise the kids and save the whales and start that novel you’ve always dreamed you’d write someday. Limit yourself to four major domains. (The novel can wait.) Then, reassess your active projects every three months.
Rule #2: Distribute wisely.
You have a finite amount of energy in a given day. You can either spend it on tasks that deplete you or rejuvenate you. Forcing yourself to attend a meeting with an irritating colleague will drain you whereas lunch with a trusted mentor will leave you encouraged and inspired. So to the degree you can control it, eliminate activities that tax you and replace them with daily interactions and projects that recharge your battery.
Rule #3: Prioritize.
”Get it all done” is not a priority. You’ll never complete every task on your list, so you’ll need to divide it into sections. How you do that is up to you. The time management matrix from Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People" is an effective tool for prioritizing tasks. Perhaps dividing tasks according to your personal values is more your style. But whatever system you use, stick to it consistently. Because it will be far too easy get swept up in the current of a hectic day where the emotional impulse to feel busy trumps whatever rational planning you did ahead of time.
Overachievers push themselves to do more and more because they want to feel accomplished and successful. Somewhere along the way, they find that they’ve said “yes” too many times and overcommitted their resources and energy. But the fastest way to feel successful is to manage yourself effectively. Spend the time to clarify your priorities and be more discerning about the activities that earn your “yes.” That way there will still be something left over for you at the end of the day.
Rebecca Nassi, JD, MA, is a Senior Advisor on Ackert's coaching faculty and facilitates at both the associate and partner levels. With a background that includes the practice of law, the entrepreneurship of two companies, and a Masters in psychology, she brings a unique perspective to the nuances of legal business development. Prior to her coaching work, Rebecca practiced law in the private sector, most recently as a Partner at Libertas Law Group. Connect with Rebecca on Linkedin.