Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew!”. I really dislike that expression, yet I hear it all the time.

We all know about not overcommitting ourselves. We’re all learning to say “no” when we need to. But at what point does the fear of reaching beyond our limitations, of biting off more than we can chew start to hold us back?

I suspect that, for most of us, that fear is pretty real. And as a result, we aren’t getting as far as we’d like.

When someone sends you an email or calls you up with a request of your time, energy, or experience, what’s your first reaction? For a lot of people, they immediately think about all the reasons they can’t do it. There’s no possible way this could fit into my schedule. I don’t think I have the experience to do a good job. I’m too tired/broke/busy. I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew.

To which I respond…why the heck not?

Is it possible that, by not biting off more than you can chew, you’re not achieving the things you want? Is it possible that you aren’t working on your side business venture because you are afraid that, at some point, it will become bigger than you can handle? Or that you aren’t getting involved in that cause that matters to you because you’re afraid it will take too much time? What if you haven’t really done what you want to do with your social media efforts because you’re afraid you’ll fall flat on your face?

So, you just bite off little bits. You play it safe. You dabble. You only apply a small amount of time, or energy, or brain power to that thing you want.

And then you wonder why you’re not getting anywhere.

A piece of the pie.
Of course, I am not advocating that you just start saying yes to everything you’re asked to do. That’s a recipe for disaster. But what you think you can handle and what you likely can handle are two different things. So how do you go about figuring it out?

It’s all about learning your limits.

I tend to chunk things up, and then prioritize. I’ve got family commitments, my company work, teaching, speaking engagements, causes, and a social life. Each thing gets allotted a certain percentage of time. I like to visualize it as a pie chart. Some things take up more of the pie than others, but it swings around too (e.g. I have fewer teaching commitments at certain times of the year). Once I’ve figured out what my pie chart looks like at that moment, I take a look at all of the tasks in front of me (goals, must-do’s, and requests), and slot things into their respective places as they come up.

For instance, if I’ve got 3 big project deadlines for my company, I’m hosting my nephew’s birthday party, and a new course starting in one week, I may have to forego that speaking gig I’ve just been asked to do that happens the following week, because I won’t have enough time to prep. However, if school’s out for summer, I can probably stand to load up my speaking schedule a bit more.

To know your limits, you need to really, REALLY understand all the parts that make up your life. You need to know how much of each you can handle at any given time. If you can slot things in to their respective places, you’ll see where the gaps are, and you’ll know you’ve still got room left to fill them. Using this method, you’ll find that you can take on much more than you first thought, and not only that, you’ll be able to more easily strike the right balance.

What are you waiting for?
You have things you want do do. But nothing…and I mean NOTHING….will ever get accomplished by only taking small bites of things. You need to figure out what you really want to achieve and then take that big bite. Will it be hard? Sure. Will it make you tired? Yes. Will you have to put in the hours? For sure. Will you be scared? Yep.

But nothing worth having in this world comes without a certain amount of challenge, hard work, and fear.

So go. Take a big, huge bite, and savour every morsel.

[photo by isox4]

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  • May 20, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Hm, I’m going to agree with both. I believe if we *never* bite off more than we can chew, we don’t push ourselves, and we don’t ever improve our {fill in the blank: minds, skills, bodies, whatever…}.

    BUT. There are some days when I’m so overwhelmed — not just with things to do, but with various situations — that sometimes all I can do is one *tiny* thing to keep me in motion. And those are the days I do a couple of small things, and call it a day.

  • May 20, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Love this. It’s hard to find the balance between happily busy and overwhelmed, and most of us don’t find it until we reach the latter, but it’s so worth finding that limit.



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