Posted by: Nicholas Davis | November 10, 2009

On having “too much” to do

I realise that this is an ironic and likely procrastinatory post at this stage, but I woke up this morning wondering how different people manage those times when multiple opportunities collide and produce a maelstrom of tasks in an ever-shrinking timeline. The way I see it there are four possibilities:

  1. Take too much on, get incredibly stressed out while juggling competing obligations, and hence risk failing at one or more of the tasks you promised to do.
  2. Take too much on, be pretty relaxed about it but therefore spend too much time at the pub, thus almost definitely failing at one or more of the tasks you promised to do.
  3. Take too much on, work like a machine by being as targeted and as productive as possible, making sacrifices in your personal life in order to deliver to quality, but live to fight another day.
  4. Only take on as much as you can, turning down great future opportunities in order better to enjoy (also pretty great) current opportunities.

Is this list complete or have I missed something? Because lately I’ve been straying too far into number 1 and have now very consciously switched to number 3, which involves focus and long hours in the library but probably has a better chance of working than either 1 or 2.

Nevertheless, number 4 seems to be what “people” recommend – the old “work-life balance” paradigm. But I have two concerns with the idea of turning down exciting new opportunities: first, do you know your limits? How can you continue to improve your productivity if you don’t keep pushing the envelope? Second, as long as these overwhelming new challenges aren’t thrust upon you by fiat, or even by social expectation, perhaps your desire to do them represents both current pleasure (via learning and creating value for someone) and future pleasure (through possible future opportunities).

Anyway, I’d better get back to my work. I’m planning on being at the pub later tonight so I have to have a mind like a laser for the next 6 hours.



  1. Isn’t there something between “take too much on”, and “only take as much as you can”? To me this would be another option worth looking into, and it’s essentially what you’re saying in your last paragraph. We should take on more than “only as much as we can”, and stretch our limits. The more we take on, the more we learn to work efficiently and productively, and subsequently grow. My sense is that we should take one as much as we can, without hitting the “too much” mark.

    • Thanks Sarah. I agree. I guess the challenge is having some idea of what your buffer is so that you don’t wear it all the way down and hit the “too much” mark. However knowing the buffer probably includes getting pretty close now and again. Perhaps I have a better idea now!

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