How to kill your mojo: Over-committing

By Marshall Goldsmith

There’s a wise saying, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” It makes sense up to a point. A busy person is well organized and not inclined to waste time or get distracted. But there’s a fine line between taking on a lot of work and taking on too much.

It’s easy to see how corporate leaders fall into this trap. If you’re good at what you do and like your job (in other words, bursting with Mojo), everybody wants to rub up against you in some way. They want you in their meeting. They seek your opinion of their idea. They ask you to run a project. People with high Mojo are assaulted with opportunities. It’s how junior employees advance quickly; their ambition and enthusiasm lead bosses to pile on the work….and the young employees never stay “stop” until it’s too late. That’s when the quality of their work…and their Mojo…fall into a predictable but vicious circle.

It’s even easier to see how self-employed people fall for this. When you don’t have the cushion of a steady paycheck, every opportunity looks like your last payday. So you say yes to everything.

I’m also guilty of this; when someone invites me to talk to them or their organization, I get paid when I show up. If I say, “no, thanks,” I’m tossing money down the drain. So I fill up my schedule in advance. Then I know when the quiet periods are in my calendar, those times I can read, write or chill out.

But then temptation appears: someone calls to hire me. I tell them no, but they persist. These nice people will work around my schedule, they say, and they say flattering things about me. This makes it hard for me to say no; plus, I don’t really know how the economy or my bookings will look down the road. So I say yes, and that’s how I find myself on the road, unpacking my suitcase in another hotel, when I might be better served writing my next book.

I’m not whining. I’m very fortunate to have this problem. But the fact that I question my decision is a threat to my Mojo. And if during the year I say yes too many times when I should be saying no, this problem could compound into dangerous levels and turn into burnout. I’m the guy who wrote the book on Mojo and I still have a lot to learn about avoiding over-commitment! How about you?

If we chronically over-commit our sagging spirit inside may become obvious to everyone. Our formerly enjoyable job can become rote, our execution sloppy and half-hearted. The irony of all this, that our over-commitment of time can result in our appearing under-committed in spirit, is rarely appreciated by our customers or colleagues.

We can all benefit by realizing that we can fall into this trap. Many of us are afraid of looking weak, as if we can’t handle any challenge that comes our way. Maybe we can’t resist the siren call of being wanted; it’s a validation of our skill and proof that we are loved. Perhaps with all our Mojo we really do at times believe we have superhuman qualities and that nothing is too much. This explains why over-committing is one of the sweet but risky blowbacks of having Mojo…and why it’s a stealth Mojo killer.

Before replying with an enthusiastic “yes” to that next request, think of the long-term impact on your Mojo. Are you doing what is right for the long term? Or just saying what makes others happy in the short term? Is what you are about to commit to going to increase the long term happiness and meaning that you experience in life? It’s a question worth exploring.

Excerpted from Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, and How to Get It Back When You Lose It!.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith has authored 28 books including What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – a New York Times best-seller, Wall Street Journal #1 business book and Harold Longman Award winner for Business Book of the Year. Succession: Are You Ready? is the newest edition to the Harvard Business ‘Memo to the CEO’ series. Marshall’s latest book is Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, and How to Get It Back When You Lose It!