Runaway Commitments: A young professional’s pitfall
For many young professionals, overcommitment is an endless and stressful time sink.
It can start out innocently enough. You may be in an area with a strong market for bilingual workers, so you get a Rosetta Stone subscription to stay competitive. After the initial burst of motivation, but before you establish your study habits, you find a great volunteer opportunity and sign up. A fellow volunteer connects you to a young professional’s organization, and you figure joining as a board member would look great on your résumé. Soon, you are spending all your free time trying to maintain the bare minimum for all these commitments.
There is nothing wrong with committing yourself to extra learning and networking opportunities; we have even highlighted some excellent tools for young professionals to further their skillset. The problem is when you take on more than you can realistically handle.
If you find that your free time is starting to become more stressful than your work time, consider the following steps to keep your commitments under control.
Take stock of your commitments
A common symptom of runaway commitments is forgetfulness. You may be just remembering about a board meeting at the last minute, or maybe you realized you have been paying for a LinkedIn Learning subscription you have not used in the past three months.
If you find yourself losing track of your commitments, sit down and write out every extra project you have taken on. These can be courses, volunteer positions, network memberships or anything that goes above and beyond your schooling/work/job hunt. Include commitments that are likely to reappear, such as volunteering for an annual event or renewing a certification.
Do an honest reflection
Once you have an inventory of your commitments, ask yourself how you have been doing. How often are you practicing that second language, and is the information sticking? Are you an asset to the organizations to which you volunteer?
For this step, simply focus on the progress you are making within each commitment. You may even want to give yourself a performance rating out of ten for each commitment.
Weigh costs and benefits
Every informed decision we make considers the costs (financial, opportunity, time, etc.) versus what we stand to gain. Generally, we like to keep the costs as low as possible and the benefits as high as possible. Conversely, we want to avoid spending too much on something with little to no reward. Most of our decisions, however, will fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
Deciding where each commitment falls on this cost/benefit scale will give you an important perspective on how you are using your time.
How relevant is the new language to your marketability? How relevant is your volunteer work to your career plans? Are the people you meet likely to become valuable contacts down the road?
Weigh each of these potential benefits against what you are putting into reaping them.
It is OK to pursue personal interests outside of your career. If an unmarketable language or basic volunteering will enrich your personal life, it can be worth the investment. Just ensure you are keeping personal and work goals separate.
Respect your time
It is easy to romanticize a busy lifestyle. With today’s “hustle culture” in full swing, it seems like crammed schedules and sleepless nights build an inspiring story. Really, they just lead to burnout and poor performance.
If you can not maintain a balanced schedule that respects your work, home, and social lives, you are not respecting your time. Busy periods in life happen, but they should not be caused by fruitless overcommitment. It is OK to say “no” to something that takes up all your time and gives you little in return.
Narrow your focus
Once you have analysed your commitments and renewed your appreciation for your time, you need to decide what commitments are worth keeping. Putting something aside now does not mean you will never pursue it down the road; you are simply giving your most important pursuits the time they deserve.
Make sure that you can reconcile your remaining commitments with your home, work, and social lives.
Put habits before commitments
When you have the shortlist of commitments you are determined to pursue, integrate them gradually into your schedule. One way your schedule gets out of control is by you making multiple commitments without integrating them properly into your routine. Avoid this by building your habits before taking on new commitments.
If you want to learn that new language, get into the habit of studying at consistent times every week. This way you know exactly what periods in your schedule are earmarked for language learning and where you are free.
From here, you can slowly introduce your next commitment. Just as above, get into a consistent routine and gain an appreciation for its demands on your time.
Repeat as needed
This does not need to be a one-time activity. Periodically review how you spend your time and make sure what you are doing is helping you develop professionally while allowing you to live a full and fruitful life.