Don’t Make Promises that you Can’t Keep

We have all fallen into that all too familiar trap at one time or another – making promises that we just couldn’t keep.

But why do we do it?

We want to impress!

We want to show we can do something, so instead of jumping up and down with our hand in the air and shouting ‘I know! Pick me, pick me!’, like we would have done in kindergarten, we make impossible promises. The problem with these is that we make ourselves look worse when we can’t meet them, than if we had just given ourselves the extra time in the first place.

Now, we haven’t given ourselves a chance to properly plan.

Instead of asking for time to figure things out first, we jump in head first and then swim around aimlessly grabbing at sections of the work, until nothing is being done in sequence, or efficiently, or correctly. This leads to anxiety as the deadline looms and the project is in a shambles.

If we had just laid out a plan, from beginning to end – create a schedule or To Do list. Broken the project into sections – week by week, and delegated sections we did not need to do ourselves. Kept research for quiet times when we could concentrate and the finishing touches to an early morning when we feel awake and able to think clearly. Worked from home if the extra undisturbed time is needed.

Plus, we haven’t factored in the disruptions!

No matter what we do, there will always be disruptions.

It can seem like the perfect day. We wake up early, the sun is shining, there is hardly any traffic, we arrive at work with a smile and a, ‘I can conquer all’ attitude! Then, out of nowhere, a boss or a client drops a bombshell in your lap at literally the last second and expects solutions yesterday! Your plan for the day is out the window. Your calm has evaporated with the morning dew. You turn into a ball of nerves, as now the deadline you were going to finalise perfectly today will be missed, completely.

This could have been avoided.

Other disruptions to be factored in include:

  • Unrealistic expectations – sometimes the request is just not possible. Speak up, offer solutions, ask questions, negotiate how things are done if you know better.
  • Day-to-day tasks.
  • Walk in/unannounced clients.
  • Phone calls – especially those long ones you weren’t expecting.
  • Staff and colleagues dropping in to chat or vent.
  • Illness or a sick family member.
  • Unplanned meetings.
  • A family crisis.
  • Traffic delays and car problems.
  • Bad weather and office closures.
  • Technology down-times and crashes.
  • Misplaced/unsaved/lost work.
  • Inadequate time was given.
  • The instruction seems to change or even grow bigger towards the due date.

If there is even the remotest possibility that something won’t get done in the timeframe that you want to confirm it will get done in, then rather don’t make promises that you can’t keep.

Remember: Give feedback, extend the deadline where you can, do regular follow ups with your team and suppliers, be involved and if you manage to finish ahead of time, then great!

Promising and not delivering on time is worse.

Trying to impress, but falling short, is far worse than delivering earlier than expected or when you had hoped to have it done by in your head.

Keeping someone unexpectedly waiting creates a sense of unprofessionalism, poor communication, incompetence… Whether you mean to or not, whether it is out of your hands and control or not.

Eliminate the anxiety and frustration on both sides, be realistic from the outset, then get in there and get it done!


Cathy Haumann
| Virtually Admin
Virtual Business Administrators


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