How to Avoid Overcommitting Yourself

Episode 11

Overcommitting yourself in your business affects the quality of your work, the relationships with your customers, and really puts stress on you and your team. In this episode, Scott and I will be talking about overcommitting yourself in your business and some strategies that can help you prioritize the task that you need to complete.

Thanks for listening to this episode of The Stretch Goals Podcast! We'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode and answer any questions.

Find us on Twitter @The_Scott_Davis or @RobDickersonJr

Transcript

Robert: In this episode, Scott and I will be talking about overcommitting yourself in your business and some strategies that can help you prioritize the task that you need to complete. This is the Stretch Goals Podcast where each week, we’ll share insights and lessons learned based on our experiences as entrepreneurs. We’ll challenge you to create ambitious goals as you start and grow your business. I’m your host, Robert Dickerson.

Scott: And I’m Scott Davis.

Robert: Over committing yourself in your business affects the quality of your work, the relationships with your customers, and really puts stress on you and your team. If you go back and listen to Episode Seven: Managing Your Time, we discussed how priorities can quickly shift on a daily basis and unexpected issues and problems can arise. So how do you compensate and leverage your team to avoid overcommitting yourself in your business? Scott, before we dive into this, I just want to take a minute to thank our listeners and you in particular, listening to this episode, thank you for tuning in. If you enjoy this podcast, we’d really appreciate you giving us a review on iTunes, five-star review, and you can also check out other episodes on stretchgoals.fm if you haven’t done that yet. Scott and I have really appreciated you listening to episodes, and we’ve even enjoyed creating these. We always are interested in hearing your feedback on the episodes.

Scott: Yes, thank you so much. We started this for fun, we’re really enjoying it, and we want to hear from you guys. So let us know what we can do better, let us know what you’d like to see on the podcast, share it with your friends, share it with people who you think could benefit from some of our experiences and insight. Yeah, thanks again.

Robert: Yeah, and if you got ideas for topics too, shoot 'em to us and let us know. We always are interested in adding things that our community is interested in hearing about. So let’s jump into this. How do you leverage your team and really avoid overcommitting yourself as a founder? Just to start off, as a founder of your company, as a leader within your company, it can be hard even on a daily basis just to avoid overcommitting yourself and really being the blocker for other people to complete tasks in your team. That’s something that I struggle with every day, is trying to remove myself from the mix.

Scott: Yeah. I laugh because it’s true. I won’t say that every founder is exceptionally brilliant or a good worker because it’s definitely not the case, but what I know about you and myself is that we like to do things and we’ve got a skill set that’s really good. We like to go and write software, but when you’re trying to run a business, you may not be the person doing the work all the time and you’ve only got so many hours in the day and so much time to allocate. So that means that you’ve got to be able to not spread yourself too thin. I want to take a step back for a second and say that I posted a tweet this week about the differences between freelancers and entrepreneurs. It basically said, “Freelancers get paid for their work. Entrepreneurs use other peoples’ money to build a business bigger than themselves so that they can get paid when they sleep.” That’s a little bit of a play on words and making people have a big dream, but the point is, a freelancer uses their time to make money and an entrepreneur and a business owner uses their time and other people’s time to make money.

How does that relate to what we’re talking about? You don’t want to spread yourself too thin. If you do spread yourself too thin, it’s probably time to allocate your resources a little bit differently, use your team to your advantage, and maybe in some cases, get additional people. This is the thing, and I think this episode really came off of a comment that I made at one of our previous chats, Rob. I see all the time, and I’m sure you do too, and we’ve both been participants in it as well, you get too many projects, you don’t know when to say no, or maybe there’s just too much going on, unexpected bugs, delays in various aspects of the project. Maybe a design didn’t come to you in time and now you’re two weeks behind schedule. So that’s the thing, how do we not over commit? Do you have an example you can talk about or some tips?

Robert: I think first, I want to make a comment on what you were saying, is that as the founder, you’re really passionate about your business, maybe the most so of everyone on your team. So you want to dive in, you want to be involved in everything, and that can be difficult to step away, step back and let other people have control, especially if you’re starting out and you’re the only person working on the company, and then you start bringing on team members. It can be hard to make that transition, but you want to make sure, as you start growing your team, that you learn to prioritize those commitments and decide whether or not those commitments really align with the goals of your company, the goals that you’re trying to do for that day. Not everything has to be a business alignment too. It could be personally fulfilling as well too, as you prioritize these commitments.

Scott: Yeah. I think as an owner of the company, that’s usually the case. You want to align yourself with those projects that are cool or those opportunities that really resonate with what you are as a person. If you allocate your resources properly and your time, then you can focus on just those instead of every single project that comes to the door, but you did hit the nail on the head. You’re passionate about your idea and you want to be involved in everything, and you can’t always do that.

Robert: Yeah, and going back to your question, talking about projects that have really affected me and overcommitting myself, I know when I was first getting started out within consulting, I was trying to bring on a number of different jobs. I was building products for companies. So I had about three different projects that I was working on simultaneously. I was juggling all three of those things and the deadlines associated with them, but I didn’t want to give up anything because I was worried that some projects would phase down. So you try to keep in the backlog more projects than you can handle just to make sure that during those times where things slow down that you still have enough work in the backlog, but then I ended up overcommitting myself because I had just too much stuff to do at that time.

Scott: Yeah. I think when people are transitioning from the 9:00 to 5:00 corporate environment, you see that a lot. They’ve got all this business built up, and they’ve potentially over committed, and they’re stressed. That makes them back away from their goal of converting it into a full time business. They don’t know how to stop that, but I think really, if you do good work, if you get things done on time, and you do quality work when it pertains to software and other jobs too, people will come back to you. You don’t necessarily need to be constantly trying to pull in new work. I think the biggest thing that I see is people just need to know when to say no. Sometimes you have to turn away projects for your own sanity, for your team’s sanity, but sometimes you just have to say no.

Robert: See, that’s the hardest part for me 'cause I’ve had customers that I’ve worked with for a long time that I have a vested interest in. I genuinely care and like working with them. They’re great customers and so it’s very hard for me to say no to those types of people when they want work even though the work doesn’t really fit into the overall scheme of what I’m trying to do. It really becomes hard and I don’t do the best work for those customers just 'cause I’ve put them on the back burner, so to speak. It can be really hard because you want to make sure you’re investing all your time and energy in the work that you’re trying to do for your customers, but if that work doesn’t align with the direction of your business, you need to be upfront and say no. That’s something that I struggle with a lot as well.

Scott: I think it’s not necessarily it doesn’t align with your business, but sometimes you can just set the expectation and say that, “Hey look, I’ve got a lot of other projects going on, and I would really love to help you, you’re a great customer,” or “This is an interesting project, I really would like to help, but it’s gonna take me two to three weeks before I can start on it,” or “It may not be me working on it, maybe one of my guys.” The point is if you set the expectation of what those timelines will be, then if they really want to work with you, they’re gonna accept it unless they’ve got a tight deadline that they can’t. Really, just sending an expectation is gonna relieve some stress from you and from your company. That’s what I’ve started doing the last couple years. “Hey, I really want to work on this. Timelines are tight. I need about three weeks until I can help you out with this.”

Robert: Yeah, that’s a really good point. The other thing I like about what you just said too is that you’re removing yourself sometimes. They’re hiring your business, not you personally, to do the work. So then you’re able to bring in other people to do the work where you might supervise. You might make sure that the final deliverable is correct, but you’re not gonna be, say, writing the code or doing the day-to-day work to get the product done or the work completed.

Scott: Yeah. If you’re a software agency, or a design agency, or something like that, a lot of times, you are the brand and they think they are working with you, but in some cases, your time is not available. If you set the expectation that you’ve got handpicked resources that are under your mentorship and that they will be working on this task because you are otherwise fully allocated, then I think they will still want to work with you. Sometimes they’re gonna say, “Okay, well we really need it in two weeks so we’re gonna have to go elsewhere,” and that’s fine too, but try to plant the seed when you have that communication. “Look, I really respect you guys, I value you as a customer, timing is just not right, but hey, let us know when you’ve got the next thing. I’d be happy to pencil you in,” or “Let us know, maybe we can work something else.” Maybe I have another customer who has a flexible deadline that you could go over to and say, “Hey, can we slip this deadline by a week or two so I can pick up this other customer?” That’s always a possibility too.

It really depends, but if you’ve got a team that you can trust, hopefully you can allocate projects across those. You’re still gonna get to a point, though, where you’re gonna reach full capacity. What do you do in that scenario? Really, just being honest with yourself first about your capacity and don’t always just say yes. Let’s say no to drugs, kids. Don’t always say yes.

Robert: Yeah, you really have to think about where this project fits. I like what you said about allocating the time and saying, “Hey, I might not be able to do this now, but I can do this down the road.” Also, I think the point you talked about was really about making that transition when you start thinking about how you can grow your business to do the work for customers as opposed to just yourself. You’re transitioning from basically a freelancer to starting to run your own business and remove yourself from the process.

Scott: Yeah, and it’s a process to do that. It’s probably a top that we could discuss a little bit.

Robert: Yeah, it definitely is.

Scott: We’ve already touched on it before, but yeah.

Robert: You could start off slow with an existing customer. That’s something I’ve done, is take an existing customer and say, “Hey, I don’t have time to do this work personally, but I can bring on somebody from my team to take care of it. I’ll supervise, I’ll watch over 'em to make sure the deliverable gets done,” and really, a lot of customers just want to get the work done. They want to have somebody that they trust and they know. They can call you, Scott, and say, “Hey, why is this not done,” or “What’s the status,” and you’ll have that information for them. It’s not necessarily that you’re doing the work, it’s just they have the point of contact.

Scott: They want a relationship.

Robert: Yeah, that relationship.

Scott: It’s just like anything in life. We’re all humans. Well, most of us are. No, I think you said it right. Really, what I would do, depending on your scenario, what customers you have, what resources you have, people you know, et cetera, if you’ve got a customer that’s maybe been a long term customer that you could go, “Look, here’s the situation. We’re really trying to expand, we’re really trying to do these different things. We’ve got a great project opportunity. I’d like to shift some of that work for myself over to someone on my team, and we’d like to try it out with you first.” Let them feel they’re a part of it, but also emphasize that the quality of what you’re doing is not gonna change. If you do that, you’re gonna get a mixed response, but I think more often than not, you’re gonna get acceptance of that idea. You emphasize that you’re still the point of contact, but this other resource is gonna become their hands-on-the-keyboard guy. I think that’s a good way to approach those types of scenarios.

Robert: Getting your team involved too, with your customers, I think is really beneficial. You’re not relaying information through you to your team. I’ve seen that done a lot of times, especially in the corporate world, and I really hated it because you had this intermediate person that it goes through. One, it wastes your time as a founder that you have to now be the relay, but also, things can get lost in translation, and it’s better if your team is talking directly to the customers. You want to be copied on all that information. You want to know what’s going on, but it’s very helpful to have them. Then the team members build a relationship with that customer as well. So they’re invested in the work that they’re doing and it’s not just some work that they’re doing, they don’t know where it’s going, right? They’ve become invested in the customer and making sure that’s successful.

Scott: Yeah, I think that’s a very valid point. It’s one of the things that I struggled with the most when I first started down this path. I am, a lot of times, the person that companies want to talk to. So I sit in on those meetings and then I’d have to then go transpose my ideas and things like that to somebody else, which was a waste of time. If I had just brought them in with me, I could save that time, so that’s a very, very valid point. Bring your people in too. It’s not gonna change your relationship with your customer. Having another extra set of ears, and eyes, and whatever is always, always beneficial.

Look at some of the most successful people in the world and please don’t throw darts at me, but Donald Trump is one of those people. He brings in people he trusts, his family in this case. Bill Gates, Richard Branson, they all bring in somebody who they trust and is important to them into their most critical meetings, and probably most of their meetings, so that they understand it, somebody else has some backup information, your yin to your yang, whatever. They’re gonna pick up things that you didn’t pick up on, and at least things aren’t lost in translation. So yeah, I agree 100%. It’s a very helpful tip, Rob.

Robert: I think it’s also important to set the context for your team and not micromanage them on a day-to-day basis because that can also lead to stress and overcommitting yourself when you’re trying to figure out what your team is doing and trying to settle these micro deadlines and things like that. You really need to set the high level context for your team. Like we were talking about, if you bring them in to start, to meet the customers, they’re gonna know the goals, and the strategies, and what you’re trying to accomplish. Then you can really just let them run with it and let them complete the tasking as opposed to you trying to set every single deadline, every single milestone. That way, you’re empowering your team to really lead for you and you’re kind of removing yourself. That’s really the benefit of having a team, is that they can put in their ideas. I’ve found in my businesses that a lot of times, their ideas are better than my own because they’re very skilled. I just don’t have good ideas.

Scott: Well hopefully, that’s why you hired them to begin with.

Robert: Yeah, exactly.

Scott: You want to hire somebody that’s smarter than you.

Robert: Yeah, let them do what they’re good at and get the hell out of the way.

Scott: Exactly, exactly. I will say, though, that I see people who hire people who are not as smart as them for a purpose, because they want to control them. That’s your micro manager, that’s your egotistical types, but you’re probably not headed anywhere fast in that type of environment. Yeah, I agree, Rob.

Robert: Yeah, that happens all the time in the corporate environment. They keep information from them. They’re afraid that they’re gonna pass them up for a promotion or something like that, but really, you’re only hurting everybody by doing that. It doesn’t make sense.

Scott: That’s right.

Robert: So let’s talk about some business stressors and things that can cause you to over commit. One of the things is customer deadlines. Let’s say you need to complete a project by a certain date. One thing you mentioned before, which I did this as well in a previous episode, was you talked about creating flexible estimates when you’re determining when a deadline needs to be met. Sometimes, the customers already have these deadlines. It needs to be completed by a certain date because they’re doing a product launch or whatever, but a lot of times, they’re looking to you to give them an estimate of how long work will take.

Scott: Yeah.

Robert: So you can build in flexibility into these estimates so that you have a little bit of extra time to make sure things are done properly. Maybe talk a little bit about that.

Scott: I think it depends on your scenario. What’s your business? If you’re a clothing manufacturer, you’ve got different variables at play, but our bread and butter’s obviously software development, and startups, and things like that. The thing is is if you’ve got investors involved, your timelines are always as quick as possible, and that affects your ability to do what you just said. Maybe you’ve got a product that’s already out or you’ve got a customer who is trying to make enhancements to a project or a product and their deadlines are just … It would be nice to have, but sometimes they’re associated with financial goals and things like that. It just depends on the scenario and the ability to set deadlines, and expectations, and things like that.

I think you always have to add a fudge factor of some sort. Industry standard is usually 33%, add one third on top of whatever you’re thinking and then maybe add a little bit more on top of that. You generally have an idea, after you’ve been around for a while, how long things take, but there’s always, always, always unexpected issues, bugs. The clients always change the scope three quarters of the way down the path, and that impacts it too. When they do that, oftentimes, they don’t see that as something that should add to the timeline or the costs. That’s probably an episode there that we can talk about. That always happens. You gotta give yourself a little bit of a buffer for multiple reasons.

Things come up. Maybe a new project comes up and you need to onboard a new employee. That’s gonna take some time away from you, some time away from other resources. We’re talking about overcommitting and like I said, if another project comes up that you are able to accept, it’s going to impact your other projects in some way. All of these factors, always add a buffer. Don’t say two weeks to everything, don’t say yes to everything. Be realistic, add a little bit of buffer, and it’s always better to deliver ahead of time than late. If you tell them January first is your deadline and you give it to 'em December 15th, they are going to love you and there might even be a financial benefit to that. You might get a bonus for finishing early. Who knows? The point is, always, always, always give yourself the time, especially if it’s a hard deadline, to meet it or at least be as close as possible to it. Just give yourself time. That’s all I can say.

Robert: What about public deadlines? Do you do that for your products? I really try to avoid that whenever possible, but sometimes you can’t.

Scott: Yeah, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes it’s not in your control. If you’re working with a company and they’ve got a PR agency or something, that’s not in your hands.

Robert: Right.

Scott: I think in those scenarios, and I have been involved in those scenarios many times, really communicate frequently and early if know of deadlines or potential impacts. Be clear about it. There’s nothing wrong with going out and saying, “Hey, we’re running a little bit behind.” You just have to communicate that as frequently as possible. Usually what happens is, let’s say you’re two weeks behind on the project, it’s got a public deadline or some key financial fiscal year impact with investors or something, and you’re not gonna make the deadline. So what do you do? You can either throw more resources at it, which usually doesn’t make since mid-project, or you can back down on some of the features and the scope. What is really critical to what you’re trying to get launched? Pull out those bells and whistles that aren’t necessary. Reduce a little bit of that scope and that’ll help you to at least meet the deadline and then people are more forgiving.

If you got a software product, especially these days, as long as you’ve got the main features, people are fine with one or two things that aren’t really there being added in and trickled over time. In fact, it’s actually better for you in terms of SEO and things like that because you’re trickling out these updates over time, it gets more exposure, brings people back into the app, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s my recommendation.

Robert: It’s important to communicate that transparency, like you mentioned, as soon as possible and during the whole project. Don’t wait 'til the end to say, “Oh, we’re not ready. We’re not gonna be done on time.” I hate when I’m working with people that do that and I think it’s better that you communicate up front and let them know ahead of time on the progress than to wait until a day before the public launch and say, “Hey, we’re not gonna be done.”

Scott: Rob hates when I message him the morning of the podcast recording saying I can’t record today.

Robert: The other thing I want to talk about too is don’t set your deadline to their deadline. Think about how you can complete the project prior to that and so you leave yourself that buffer that you were talking about, maybe a week, maybe two weeks. Set up your schedule so that the end date doesn’t correspond with the public launch 'cause there’s always gonna be things that happen between when you’re done and when the customer launches. So give yourself some flexibility there.

Scott: If you’re in a software based market, especially the App Store, you’ve got review times and things like that that you need to account for. Your app might be perfect but subjectively, you may not meet some requirement if you’re going to the iTunes store. Now you’ve got your app kicked back and you’re at the last day of your deadline. Get that app submitted early.

Robert: Yeah, don’t wait like you did 'til the last day to launch your baseball apps.

Scott: Actually, they were submitted well in advance, but that was back when timelines were two to three weeks to approve apps.

Robert: So let’s wrap up this episode. We talked about some strategies during this episode to avoid overcommitting yourself in your business. Really think about, as a founder of your company, removing yourself as a blocker and learn how to prioritize things, and also to offload stuff to your team and really help them be accountable and interact with your customers in a way that can help grow your business. I hope you found some of these things useful. Let us know some other strategies that you’ve found that are helpful to avoid overcommitting yourself.

Scott: Absolutely. Thanks again for listening. We really appreciate it. Send us a note on Twitter, post a comment on SoundCloud, iTunes. Wherever you’re consuming this podcast, let us know what we can do better, give us a rating, reach out to us. We’d be happy to help, and thank you so much for listening.

Robert: Thanks. See you next week. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Stretch Goals Podcast. You can access the show notes for this episode and listen to other episodes by heading over to stretchgoals.fm.

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Each week we'll share insights and lessons learned to help you create ambitious goals for your business.

Robert Dickerson

@RobDickersonJr

Robert Dickerson is the Founder and CEO of Mapout a mobile learning platform that uses video courses to educate customers and train employees. He helps companies develop and launch their products.

Scott Davis

@The_Scott_Davis

Scott Davis is the Founder and CEO of MobX, a mobile development software agency. He has 20 years of experience developing software for Government, Finance, Sports and the Telecommunications industry.