A dear friend used to talk about the “elasticity” of time. That was his way of describing his cultural perspective on time, which was in stark contrast to mine. I think of time as finite and concrete. (“You’re either on time or you’re not.”) In his culture, time is more flexible and flowing. (“Late? No, it’s only 30 minutes after the start time.”)

One thing about time that is universal: People only have so much of it. It seems that many people operate as if time truly were endlessly elastic – piling more and more on their (and others’) plates. It is as if there were a contest to see who can work the most hours or take on the most responsibilities. Overcommitment is too often worn as a badge of honor.

This overcommitment can have disastrous results.

The Hard Side of Change Management, an article published by Harvard Business Review, outlines four critical factors that can make the difference between failure and success in a change process. One factor is effort – how the impact on people’s schedules is managed. It notes that adding more than 10% to people’s workload may doom your project. Multiply this effect by the sheer volume of projects underway in many organizations, and you have a recipe for failure.

I like to think that if I were a better manager of my time, I could do everything. However, even with the most ruthless time management, there is a limit to what one human being can do. Capacity is not unlimited, even if I were willing to sacrifice my family, friends and health.

So, is the answer never saying “yes” to anything new? No. You don’t want to miss out on an assignment that will sharpen your skills and expand your capabilities. As Stephen Kreider, a Wall Street Journal blogger wrote, “If we don’t sign on for too much, we may miss that one thing that stands above the others.”

Maybe the answer is to be thoughtful and intentional about what you commit to and how you use your time. Consider the fact that there are a wide range of possibilities – from saying “OK” to everything to living a relatively commitment-free existence.

Believe it or not, there are professionals who strive to operate without a calendar, like Teresa Basich, a guest blogger on the Life Without Pants: Perspective on Life Less Restricted blog. (In spite of the ultra-provocative title, this blog actually contains a lot of thoughtful content.)

Folks like Teresa want to live a full life that isn’t part of the fast lane. They strive for balance and question taking on more obligations. She says, “When is it enough? I’ve asked this before and I’ll continue to ask it until people actually consider it for more than the two seconds they have to actually think freely about a question.”

Take your two seconds (and preferably more) now to review your commitments. Can some be given away or discarded altogether? How will you decide what new challenges to take on? In other words, do your daily choices about time align with your life’s priorities?

Want to make better choices about your commitments? Contact Humanergy.

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.