Keeping commitments

Oct 04, 2020

When you don’t meet your commitments, you disappoint people and they remember it. If people can’t count on you, they won’t hire or promote you.

Whatever time management system you follow, whether it’s a fancy app that tracks your minutes or the back of a napkin, it still needs to do one thing: help you keep your commitments.

To understand why this is important, think about how you would explain wealth building to a 4-year-old. First you have a piggy bank. Now you put money in, so you make deposits. You don’t take any money out. You don’t make any withdrawals. And over time, you’ll have more money. In all of our relationships we maintain an emotional bank account, based on how we feel about someone and how they feel about us.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re either making deposits or withdrawals in your emotional bank accounts. How do you make deposits? With clients, it’s being on time, being reliable, responsive, helpful, personable. What are withdrawals? Just the opposite: being late, unreliable, not following up or being unresponsive, just being difficult, coming up with problems, being negative or combative. Over time, deposits build trust and cooperation. Withdrawals undermine trust and cooperation. The choices we make have a big impact on how people feel about us. How you manage your time affects your emotional bank accounts. This is the easiest way of thinking about it: Keep your commitments. Maintain your balance. That’s it. Listen to this story to see how Patti, a project manager, keeps her commitments and decide if she’s making deposits or withdrawals.

Patti’s day starts at 7 a.m. She forgot to check her calendar the night before and it’s her turn to take the kids to school. She yells at the kids to hurry and get in the car, and during the drive she curses at the slow moving cars in front of her. She’s late to a client meeting, and spends time texting people on her phone during the meeting. She gets back in the office, but waves staff off who have legitimate project questions, saying she doesn’t have time now and that she’ll meet later. Patti gets so wrapped up in the rest of the day that she forgets to get back to staff. She chooses not to respond to an impatient client about the status of their project because she doesn’t have the answer yet, instead telling them, “I’m working on it, just wanted you to know.” She misses dinner and her kid’s soccer game, and falls asleep at her computer trying to catch up on her email.

Count the withdrawals? Any deposits? Does any of this sound familiar? The universe has a perfect accounting system. We know who’s making deposits in our account and keeping their commitments and maintaining their balances and who’s not. When we don’t meet our commitments, we drop the ball, we disappoint people and they remember it. They can’t count on us, they don’t hire us, they don’t promote us, they don’t include us.

Think about this the next time you say yes to any new demand on your time: to whom are you saying no? Everybody that I know is so busy with demands on their time that if something new comes along, something else needs to move off the plate. We’re just swapping out commitments. If you’re saying yes here, to whom are you saying no? Are you saying no to another client? Are you saying no to colleagues? Are you saying no to family? Friends? Or even yourself? Maybe skipping lunch, not taking a walk or exercising. It’s typical for people to burn out because they’ve prioritized other people before themselves. So what do you do about this? Here are some tips:

  • Know your current commitments. Be aware of what you already have out there. Get it out of your head and into your calendar or some other way of keeping track of what you said you were going to do by when.
  • Don’t overcommit. Instead of saying yes and then making a withdrawal somewhere else, be honest and polite. Say something like:
    • I wish I could
    • I want to be realistic about my commitments.
    • I’m sorry
    • Let me look at my calendar
    • Work with folks but don’t just automatically say yes.
  • Be realistic. Be realistic about how long something actually takes. It’s easy to plan out your day and be overly ambitious and say, “Yes, I can get all that stuff done.” Realistically, how long does it take to get things done? With interruptions and the inevitable stuff you don’t factor in, things usually take longer than you think. Factor that buffer in.
  • Don’t drop the ball. Don’t forget about people. All it takes is a quick email, text, or phone call saying, “I’m working on it, I haven’t forgotten about you.” This is the easiest way to avoid a withdrawal.
  • Monitor your balances. Know where you’re at. If you’ve made a withdrawal with someone, find ways to make deposits.

If you’re mindful during the day of your commitments and manage how well you’re either making deposits or withdrawals, you’ll not only keep your emotional bank accounts up, but you’ll feel more at ease and get more done.

Leo MacLeod is a leadership coach in Portland, Oregon, and creator of Pocket Tools for Project Managers. Click here to view a 5-minute video on this article. He can be reached at

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