Over/Under: I'm a Serial Over Committer

Series: reflections November 02, 2011

Over committing - taking on too many things at once - is a pretty established anti-pattern.

When you have too much work in progress, you start to lose focus. You might be able to keep your head above water, but you end up just doing an okay job on everything, instead of doing a great job on anything.

Taking on a bunch of extra work and then not delivering is a big hit to your credibility. Crunch time comes and you feel the pressure; you start getting stressed and everything is on the verge of falling apart.

Okay, so I’ll avoid over committing to a bunch of stuff, you might say - I’ve got this all figured out!

Well, not exactly.

Suppose your manager comes over and asks if you want to work on a speculative new project - it’s interesting technology but it’s going to require some extra work on your own time. You decide to pass on the opportunity. No problem.

Nothing undesirable happens immediately as a result - except that maybe your manager is a little bummed out. But maybe the next time one of these projects comes up, they’ll ask Bob first. Maybe that speculative project turns into a full fledged project and you missed your chance to work on it.

What if you said yes to the initial offer, but didn’t follow through? You were gung-ho that afternoon but 2 weeks later, you’ve lost all interest. How is that perceived? Do you lack the ability to be a finisher?

With that in mind, do you go back in time and agree to the project even though you had 20 other things on your plate? The desire to not under commit and miss an opportunity has caused you to over commit!

Maybe this isn’t an issue for anyone else - feel free to chime in and tell me I’m way over analyzing - but as a young developer trying to improve my craft and move up the hierarchy at work this is something I struggle with frequently.

I am a serial over committer.

I start new side projects when I find something that excites me - I hype myself up, maybe I start a series of blog posts but then it fizzles. I sign up to give talks almost every month, often with nothing more than a basic idea of what I’m going to be presenting about two weeks later.

Right now, I’m working on two extra work-related projects, helping organize a friendly blogging competition, finishing a book club and I signed up to pitch an idea for a new series of internal projects at the end of the month. This isn’t a badge of honor or something to brag about; I’ve committed myself to way more than I should have and it’s not sustainable.

“But you never finish anything!” is a meme that co-workers jokingly needle me with.

It’s a flaw of mine that I’m trying to work on. I’m starting to learn why I do it - I don’t want to miss out on any opportunities. I want to be that go-to person, that expert, that guy who Gets Shit Done. And I’m impatient. And I have this irrational fear that I’ll miss that one magically project that I’ll love and another one will never come.

I need to find the right balance of over/under committing. And striking that balance is a hard problem. Like cache invalidation hard.

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