Do you find yourself overwhelmed with things to do that you start wondering how it ended up that way? Then maybe, unknowingly, you have overcommitted. This episode’s guest identified overcommitment as a problem that is holding people back more than advancing themselves in their careers and even personal lives. Penny Zenker sits down with Don Davis, PhD, MBA an expert operations leader in Healthcare and Life Sciences with a 35-year career in delivering leverageable capabilities that scale their organizations while increasing revenue and controlling cost. Don dives deep into the consequences of overcommitting yourself and stacking tasks until they become too much to handle. Overcoming being overcommitted, he then shares some helpful tips to assess the tasks in front of you so you can be more productive and maximize your time and effort without stretching yourself too thin.
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Free Yourself From Overcommitment: On Gaining Control Of Your Life With Dr. Don Davis
The topic of being over-committed is such an important topic. Maybe I’m even there right now in being a little over-committed to myself. I’m excited to talk to Don Davis about this topic. Let me tell you a little bit about Don. He is an expert in operations leadership in healthcare life sciences. He has 35 years of experience in delivering leverageable capabilities that scale their organizations while increasing revenue and controlling costs.
He is dialed in and focused. He is an author, an executive coach, a keynote speaker, and a consultant in the life sciences areas. He received an outstanding leadership award from Health 2.0 in 2022. Without further ado, let’s invite Don and learn what he can do to help us with our overload, over-commitment, and over-stimulation. Welcome to the show.
Thank you so much, Penny. I greatly appreciate it. It is interesting to me to watch how many people are over-committed. We start with a bit of a definition there, but I wanted to say to anybody here that I have taken a look at a few of the episodes that Penny has, and it will tie in well with some of the topics that we are going to touch.
Let’s start with the definition because we often talk about these things that mean different things to different people. Let’s start with what is your definition of over-committed, and then I will add my two cents.
As I was writing the book, I took the Wikipedia version originally, put it in the book and said, “I’m going to refer back to Wikipedia.” My editor came back and said, “What is your definition? How would you define it?” It sent me down this path of looking at each one of the words that were in the definition. The way I define it is like this.
There are two aspects of over-commitment. One aspect is the one that I think most people will go to, which is your calendar is stacked full of meetings. You can’t seem to get from one clear thing to the next clear thing. With all of this stacking that happens, you have to make a decision almost every day in terms of what thing you go to and what thing you sacrifice. On the sacrifice side, there is somebody that is paying for that. The person that was expecting you to show up or whatever is not getting you. That is most of the definition that I took.
There is one nuance that I took in the definition also. The secondary part is, do the things that you are doing lead you to the place that you want to go? Do your goals, professional life and personal life all tie together in a way that leads you to where you want to go? To me, it is not just stacking. It is also, “Am I doing the things that proactively take me to the place that I want to wind up?”
That is the most important thing. I always say that all tasks are not created equal. Why are we creating them equally because they are not? If we look at the value that each one offers, it is going to make it easier for us to decide which ones stay and which ones go at the end. I want to add to over-committed. People would make a choice to be over-committed. It is a choice. Regardless of our schedules, being over-committed means we have accepted too many things to do for today or in general.
That’s an important aspect to discuss, who is responsible for that? If I’m going to point one finger at you, you are going to point two back at me. If we are going to relate over-committed to also overloading, people mistake overwhelm and overload. There is also something to discuss there on that side. What do you think about what I said?
I deal with each one of these issues separately inside the book. The way I break it out is the first thing that anybody who wants to get out of over-commitment needs to understand the problem. The reason why I wrote about it is I’m one of the most guilty people on the planet for being over-committed in the earlier part of my career. I would say now that I’m a lot more purposeful in the things that I take on. I’m also a lot more purposeful in holding my hand up and saying, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Sometimes it is uncomfortable to have to do that. At the same time, living the life of the uncommitted versus the committed is what’s guiding my decisions there. The secondary part is if you deal with your schedule today and you make sure that you have made clear decisions, one of the first exercises that we do in the book is you go through categorization. Categorization is deciding, on four categories in your life, you pick any four, what are the four most important things in your life overall? Rank them.
Based on those, you develop goals. Based on those goals, the next part is to start making purposeful decisions about the things that are on your calendar and schedule versus the things that are not. I would also admit though that it is not always easy. We are all professionals, and you have people throwing things at you all the time. Part of that is thinking through. How am I going to handle these things as they come in?
You said that, over time, you also have decided that there are things that you don’t want to commit to. You stop committing to or realize that it is not what you want to be doing anymore. I have also said that, and I do that all the time. It is healthy that as you check in with those four categories that you are talking about, you say, “Are these tasks or these things that I have committed to in line with those things that are most important to me?” If they are not, then I’m going to de-commit.
Find a way to gracefully bow out or push it off to another time when it is more convenient, or find someone else who can do it. There are many different ways to be creative. I find myself more creative when I give myself permission to say, “This isn’t for me anymore. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about that person or that thing, but if it is a person on the other side, I’m going to help them find a solution. It is just not going to be me.
Let me go back to two things that you said. The first portion that I would focus on is that in the book, I described this idea of having an over-commitment dare. DARE is an acronym for Delegate, Automate, Reschedule or Eliminate. It is one of those four things that don’t fit the categories inside of your life. My personal life is number one. In my personal life, I include things like family time and time to make sure that I connect with people that are personally important to me. Professional life is also important to me. Writing a book, spending time, and doing the things that I do as a consultant is very important to me. I enjoy what I do.
Number three on my list is my fitness goals. I have a gym that is about 100 feet behind my house. It doesn’t take me that long to get there, but during the pandemic, I was one of those guilty people that I got into this habit of not going to the gym. I was like, “I’m going to use some of these ideas of maintaining goals and things like that. I will every day put my gym clothes on. I will every day go at least to the front door of the gym. I can make the decision to go in or come back home from there, but I have to go to the front door. That is my main goal there. Financial is my last one.
Those are high-chunk categories. It is easy to say that, but they are high chunks. There may be several goals or pieces under professional or under financial. How do you account for that?
I try and provide some examples in the book in terms of ways that people could break it down for themselves. The high-level categories lead you to the goals that you are going to set under those categories that will show whether or not you are doing the thing that you need to do to support that. The secondary part is you then break it down even further into smaller tasks that lead you either closer to the things that you want or not.
I also stated in the book that if you are consistently not doing something, you shouldn’t feel guilty about that. You just need to reevaluate. You are making a choice on a routine basis. Is it important to you or not? You need to decide that. If it is not, let’s not feel guilty about it. Let’s reevaluate it and figure out how to make it work in our life.You shouldn't feel guilty about not doing something consistently. You just need to reevaluate. Click To Tweet
One of those things is that reserved time on the calendar for the workout or whatever it is that keeps getting pushed. Get it off your calendar. It makes you feel bad. It has no value anymore. It maybe even makes you feel like you are not consistent because it is there and you are not doing it. Commit to the things you are willing to follow through with. Those are the things that go on your calendar. If you are not 100% certain and you are not 100% decided if it is important to you, then don’t put it on your calendar.
I’m a big believer in two things. I strongly believe in time blocking. The chunks that you mentioned relate to this idea of segmenting your calendar into, “I want to start every morning with journaling. I want to start every morning meditating.” Also, if you are routinely not doing it, reevaluate whether or not you need to do it.
I have this calendar, this Couch to Marathon. I have had different problems with my knees. I cannot seem to get past a certain distance. I was running the other day and my knees started hurting again. I was like, “I’m not going to be able to finish this program. I’m going to have to change. I’m not going to feel guilty about it. I’m not going to judge myself for not being able to do it anymore.” It is the way life is. Sometimes you have to reevaluate and adjust.
You’re adapting. What I like to do with those blocks is not necessarily a sign exactly. It is going to be meditation or a block for well-being. You then have more flexibility. You know that X percentage of your time or this is going to be dedicated. Maybe one day, the best thing for your well-being is to sleep in, and that is okay. Maybe one thing for your well-being is to listen to a podcast on something that is important to you. It can vary from day to day. There can be some things that you say, “I’m going to do this on a daily basis.” If you feel like it is slipping, don’t let the category slip. It is okay to say, “I need a break from doing this.” It is got to be something in your well-being.
It is the same thing if you are connecting with clients. You don’t have to write down all the clients that you are going to connect with. It is high chunking. I’m going to spend this block of time prospecting, and then you will decide at the beginning of that session who exactly you are going to call and who is going to make sense to have on your agenda.
One of the other things that I described with regard to your calendar is that all calendars have this ability to color code things inside of your calendar. What I recommend to people is that you color code the things that are in there that contribute to the categories that you have chosen. That way, at least whenever you step back and at your calendar, you can see the things that you are doing that are contributing to things. You can also see clearly which things fall outside of those categories that maybe you still have in your life. To be honest, things like paying the bills. I have a financial one, but paying the bills isn’t high on my list of getting excited about going out and doing the task.
You better do it. Otherwise, you are going to have other problems. Don, what is your definition of productivity and why?
My definition of productivity is having efficient things that you do that are stripped of things that make you less efficient or less productive. I can give a quick example. One of the things that I’m a strong believer in is having things in your life that enable you to do things. The workstation that I’m sitting in front of for the interview has two monitors. I feel like two monitors make me extremely productive. If I use that other monitor as a television and let it distract me or whatever, I could make it less productive. These tools can remove waste in the overall process of things that we have to do on a daily basis.
Coming back to the word and the topic of being over-committed. We have real problems. We are just not over-committed. We are overstimulated, overloaded, over-scheduled, and over-meeting. I’m starting to wonder. There is all this talk about productivity and focus on productivity and being more productive. In many of the ways that many people define it, we define it in a way that is about being an efficient and effective type of thing. It is not about spending more time and doing more things. It seems like this obsession with the time that we have. It turns out that this focus on productivity is making us more time-oriented, making us do more, and feel like we have to be more. That productivity isn’t the point, and it is creating that over-commitment. What do you think?
One of the examples I use in the book is my daughter. My daughter is in the Marine Corps. She has three boys. She was going to school. She has a husband who is an officer in the Marine Corps. They are busy people and oftentimes find themselves over-committed. The pandemic contributed to this because all of a sudden, we had this virtual environment where people thought, “I can block every single chunk of every single day.”
Do you think it made it worse?
Yes. There were clients I booked half-hour meetings with during the pandemic. I have slowed this down now because a lot of the clients that I have are returning to the office. I remember going to one of the meetings and saying to one of my key stakeholders, “I booked this 30 minutes for you to think about our next meeting that is coming up in 30 minutes. I don’t want you for anything. All I want you to do is spend time thinking through things.” If you truly booked all of your days without trying to think about things, you are honestly leaving stuff behind, and you are not contributing the way that you possibly could be.As humans, if you truly booked all of your days without time to think about things, you're honestly leaving stuff behind and not contributing the way you possibly could be. Click To Tweet
I agree with you. I think this idea of, “Let’s use every minute of every day. That is what makes us productive,” no. Use the minutes effectively. Try and remove things that are friction for you to use things effectively. Try and make the world the most productive in that sense, rather than trying to jam every minute every day.
A lot of people think of time blocking as, “I can book up every 30 minutes every block.” That is not the point. The point is to block the things that are most important, but you still need space for the unexpected because it does happen, and there are things that come up that are urgent that you need to take care of. You need to have space to think, breathe and pause. What do you think is the most important thing that people need to address that you bring in your book? Maybe we have already covered it, but did we miss anything, like one of those most key points that we didn’t cover yet?
I will touch on a couple of things that I did in the writing of the book. I started to think about this idea of if I’m somebody that is over-committed. The book is 150 to 160 pages long. It is a decent read. You are going to have to somewhat segment time. I took the beginning part of the book mostly to talk about a lot of my over-commitments throughout life and things that I have done. In the second half of the book, I more or less get deeper into this. If you want to know why you should consider this and how honestly bad it could get, I give you some of my own personal examples in the book.
The secondary thing that I also started thinking about was I wanted to make it simple for anybody that will read the book to follow the steps that are in there. I came up with the concept of a five-day over-commitment cleanse. You go through the steps of DARE, the delegate, automate, reschedule and eliminate, inside of the five-day cleanse, but you also are asked to take a look at your categories, set goals, and things like that as a part of it. It comes out a little bit more than five days, to be honest, but the reality is to set you on a path where you got this stuff well underway. In five days, you have gotten the meat of what you should have walked away with from the book.
Out of all of those challenges that you had of your own personal over-commitments, what is the biggest lesson that you learned?
The initial thing for me was, for years in my career, I was fighting to be a senior executive in a large corporation with a corner office. That was the most important thing to me overall. The closer I got to being there, the more I looked at people that were in those positions, and I would say to myself, “This is not exactly what I want in my career. I wonder if I could do it differently whenever I get there.” The closer I got again, I discovered that no, more or less, you have to fit a certain mold to be in a lot of the larger corporations that are out there to be a senior executive. I decided to plot my own path outside of that.
I work with startups as a consultant. I work with companies that are brand new. I also work with companies that are fully funded and on their path. I have worked through a myriad of things to help support their overall growth. To me, that fulfills that same career purpose. The decision that I made along the way based on my own over-commitments was I don’t want to be over-committed in a way that leads me to a place that I don’t want to be in the first place. Why would I spend all that time and sacrifice my family and other things to get there?
It helped you to learn what was most important to you. Thank you for being here. How can people reach out to you and get more information from you?
Number one is going to be my website, which is www.DrDavidPhD.com. That is where you will see the book and reference to the over-commitment cleanse and things like that. There is a link there. Send me an email, and I will be happy to respond. The second way is to look for me on LinkedIn, but with such a common name, unless you see my picture in the book or somewhere else, it may be a little challenging to find me amongst the other Don Davis.
We will have all the links for the audience. You can go to those links to connect with Don. Don, thank you for being here.
Thank you so much for having me. I greatly appreciated our conversation.
It is my pleasure. Thank you all for being here because you took this commitment of time to read this and to see what you are doing that you could be doing differently, and get out of this maybe pattern of over-commitment. To close out this episode, I want to say, ask yourself, what are you over-committing for? Sometimes we are over-committing because we feel this need to please other people. We say yes even when the answer shouldn’t be yes or need to be perfect. You get it all done and do it all yourself. That doesn’t work either. Maybe it is this high pressure needs to achieve to prove yourself. All of those are traps.
If you find yourself in that over-commitment, get some clarity as to what is going on underneath because even though you might have gained some good ideas here in this show, sometimes, we know what to do emotionally, but we don’t do what we know because our emotions keep us from making those changes. Dig into the why a little bit. What is it that you think you are accomplishing? What excuses are you making? Look into those types of things to understand what is behind the over-commitment so that you can let go of some of those things.
Give yourself permission to say no, and permission to delegate, automate, reschedule and eliminate what doesn’t fit. Thank you again for being here and for putting some thought into it. Why don’t you reserve ten minutes at the beginning and the end of every day so that you can think about what your commitments should be, need to be, and where you want them to be? We will see you in the next episode.
- Don Davis
- Health 2.0
- Book – Overcommitted: How to Transform Your Habits and Achieve the Life You Desire
- LinkedIn – Don Davis
About Don Davis
Don Davis is an expert operations leader in Healthcare and Life Sciences with a 35-year career in delivering leverageable capabilities that scale their organizations while increasing revenue and controlling cost. An author, executive coach, keynote speaker and consultant in Life Sciences. Don received the Outstanding Leadership Award by Health 2.0 in 2022.
Author of the acclaimed book Overcommitted: How to transform your habits and achieve the life you desire. This book focuses on how to set a vision for where you want your life to go and how to achieve what you want most without being overcommitted.
After decades of working for companies like GE, BD & Roche in the fields of Healthcare and Life Sciences, Don helps others improve Operational Excellence, Program & Project Management, Analytics & KPI’s and IT Systems & Infrastructure that result in increasing profitability and improved ability to scale their organizations for growth as President & Principal of 5280 Life Sciences Consulting.
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