October 23, 2013
Are you spread too thin? The danger of overcommitment
Part of the problem with overcommitment is that instead of doing one or two things very well, you end up doing half a dozen things badly or in a mediocre fashion, at best.
Recently, I've seen several examples of overcommitment in action. In these cases, people overextended themselves in their time commitments, both personally and professionally.
A few weeks ago, while I was conducting interviews for a high-level role, the key decision-maker canceled on an interview loop at the last minute. It was the second time that had happened for the same role, but, fortunately, with different candidates.
Then, a chapter of a nonprofit for which I volunteer had to shut its doors because the officers were too busy doing other things. Events they agreed to undertake were poorly attended because they weren't well planned or advertised.
I often see signs of overcommitment on resumes, too. Candidates sometimes include their interests, professional affiliations, volunteer and civic projects along with their professional work experience. The truth is, one or two things can create a well-rounded profile. But if you have too many different activities concurrently, it can give the impression that you tend to overcommit and be a "yes" person -- a signal of poor boundaries.
College students may try to cram a ton of activities into their spare time and on their resumes, but if I see five extracurricular activities, I'm going to wonder how you could possibly manage your workload and prioritize study time effectively.
It isn't just about too many activities; it's also the type of activities. I'd rather see that you play one musical instrument or sport and belong to one professional organization than that you have 10 volunteer activities and 17 hobbies. That's a sign of self-discipline and a well-rounded personality.
Research on the effects of multitasking backs up this theory. Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor, published a research paper on the effects of multitasking; his findings show that heavy multitaskers suffer from their efforts, including the very real possibility that it kills creativity.
Ohio State University assistant professor Zheng Wang's research went a step further and showed that "media multitasking" gives illusory feelings about feeling productive.
Before you list your umpteen commitments, activities, hobbies and interests on your LinkedIn profile and your resume, think about what is truly important to share. Highlight things that promote you professionally and show that you are able to complete projects on time, manage resources, prioritize effectively and finish what you start.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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