Over-Commitment Syndrome

Business comes down to planning and executing. Small business owners in particular must be able to plan well and execute well, and both of these things depend heavily on making commitments you are able and prepared to follow through.

Saying “no” to committees and meetings can be hard to do, especially when the person asking is a friend or important client. But saying “yes” and not following through is an even bigger crime.

So, before you sign up for one of your clients’ annual cross-city marathons, promise you’ll have a week’s worth of work done for a customer by the next business day, or agree to a meeting at 6 a.m. on the other side of town, ask yourself:


  1. Is the commitment realistic and attainable?
  2. Do you have the resources and time available to meet the commitment?
  3. Do you understand what you’re getting yourself into?
  4. Are there consequences associated with not fulfilling the commitment?
  5. What does the person you’re making the commitment to have invested in the commitment? Do they genuinely believe that you will deliver?


When you commit to something, it’s important that you have an interest in the final outcome, no matter how long it will take to see the project finished or whether its impact will be tiny or huge. Otherwise, it’s too easy to put off doing it until tomorrow, next week, next month…

At first, your failure to fulfil the commitment might go unnoticed, particularly in a larger company. But often with small business owners, the buck stops with you.

Consider the following scenario. You own a small painting business. Under pressure, you promise a family that you can paint their house in one week, even though it’s a big job and your instincts tell you that it will take at least two weeks. As it turns out, your instincts are right. The family are irritated because they had organised a big party on the weekend it was supposed to have been finished and now they have to change all of their plans. You finish the job, but you never hear from them again, and they write a negative review on your website.

Now, wouldn’t it have been better to have been upfront from the start? Over-committing may have secured you the job, but you’re worse off in the long run.

Small business owners often think that they can do everything. Running a business is hard work – if you can do that, why can’t you work every day of the week (yes, including weekends) then volunteer at the soup kitchen every Saturday night and take the kids to soccer and trombone practice every other weeknight?

The truth is, you can do all of these things, just not all of the time. In other words, you can have it all in moderation. The secret is to delegate and set realistic expectations of yourself. Otherwise, you’ll only end up letting people – or yourself – down. Is that how you do business?

It’s all too easy to blame your inability to fulfil commitments on a host of rational and irrational events. From the outset these excuses might seem valid, but if they are in fact valid, why didn’t you do something about them when they first manifested?

There’s nothing you can do with excuses except accept or refuse to accept them. They’re very much ‘after the fact’, like belated birthday wishes. It’s much better to think commitments through before you agree to them, and if you realise at a later date that you’re not going to make that commitment, be upfront. It is not only ethical but it might save you and your business a lot of face!

We’re all guilty of it. What’s your worst case of Over-Committing Syndrome? Do you think small business owners are more prone to it?

1 thought on “Over-Commitment Syndrome”

  1. Over-committing absolutely! Easily guilty of that, there are many aspects of the business that need to be constantly attended to and updated.
    It’s like a tree full of branches and every branch on this tree needs a constant sprout of new leaves for the tree to survive and revive, given that the conditions are right.
    Personally, Social media even in moderation a hefty task! Another one that’s seems to be a constant would be over-committing financially which seems to be a crucial for all the essentials in the business.

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