I am a big fan of doing what I said I would do. I consider that to be a sign of trustworthiness and reliability. Interestingly, if you fail to meet your commitment once it is not that big of a deal, but a trend means people discount your word completely.

Always Keep Your Commitments

I think if we start with the attitude of always keeping all the commitments we make, we will all be better off. The keys to being successful at that include

  • Consider Carefully – Before you make any commitment, regardless of how big or small, truly consider whether you can pull it off. Given everything you know right now, can you really do that? Can you do it well and on time? It is great to take risks or have “stretch goals” and please make them at least a little realistic.
  • Accept Inconvenience – When we agreed to this, it might have sounded easy. Now that you are neck deep in it..not so much. “This is such a mess, I didn’t realize how much I would have to clean up before I could do my work.” The other day, I agreed to do a small house project that would involve cutting some baseboard material, painting it and installing it. No problem – should take an hour, tops! As it turns out that one hour estimate was poorly informed. When I went to the garage to start, I realized I had not cleaned up my last project (or seven). As a result, the first hour of this one hour project was spent organizing the work bench so I could get to the saw. The effect is the job did not get done in an hour, so I was not able to do the next thing I really wanted to do. However, rather than weaken my word, I kept at it and finished, even though it was inconvenient for me.

Except When You Should Renege

If keeping all our commitments is a starting point in our thinking, that is great. However, it is not reasonable all the time. So, when should you bail out?

  • The World Changed – In 2006, Seth Godin did a TED Talk called This is Broken. I have watched it several times and I like it more and more each time. The point he makes that is relevant here today is some things are broken because the world changed. My friend recently (casually) agreed to do some balloon work for me in May. He is very talented and a great fit for the job, and he was more than happy to do it. Last week, he got a new job that is a 10-hour drive away. His world changed, and I think it is OK for him to bail on my job.
  • Your Health is at Risk – Although I believe accepting inconvenience is a good idea, there are limits. When you have been working tons of hours and the kids are all sick and the dishwasher is broken and you have had a raging headache for three days…you might need a break. With as much warning as possible, you should cancel your commitments and take care of yourself first. If you are not healthy, you are useless. Remember, this includes mental and emotional health. If you ignore your emotional health on a regular basis, I encourage you to watch this TED Talk with Guy Winch.
  • You Should have Said No – Back to that Careful Consideration thing. When you immediately have buyer’s remorse over an agreement, bail out quickly. You go to lunch with a friend and they ask a favor. Through guilt, care, or habit you agree. Moments later you get in the car and ask yourself, “Why did I agree to that, I can’t do that.” Call your friend quickly and renege. Sure, that might be a tough conversation, but it is better to rip off that band-aid quickly instead of letting the decision fester.

Your Next Move

Are you overcommitted?

If so, it is time to change your habits about committing in the first place, then go back and evaluate what agreements you can get out of. In my experience, it took about six months before my calendar was markedly different…and it was worth it.