When I go to a buffet and have every choice available, I can’t decide if I should start with the appetizer or dessert, so I take everything. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach. I can hear my mom saying, “think of the starving children…” and that voice in my head still has me clean the plate and eat far beyond my capacity.

When every option is available, we may say yes to all and push beyond our usual limits. We eat a lavish buffet instead of a normal lunch or dinner and this leaves us feeling uncomfortable, sluggish, and too big for our britches (literally). We consume twice as much, and the only way to recover is to lie on the couch, relax, and vow never to do that again.

When I was little, I used to eat off sectioned plates so that my food would not touch. I didn’t like a mess and preferred logic in my dining options. I would eat in a clockwise motion and was happy with this sense of order in my life. This gave my mom peace and quiet during meal time. The only food choice that did not make it on the plate and defied logic were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that were consumed multiple times each day. As a kid, I learned limits and when I went out of those limits it had consequences.

You may be asking, what does this have to do with me or my business?
When you eat too much, you get an upset stomach;
When you take on too much, you get anxious and feel stressed;
When you feel stressed, you miss details and make errors.

These outcomes leave an impression on you and your intended receiver. What prompted this post? A lasting impression!

I am assisting a company with interviews for a senior level position. As the first point of contact, I interview for culture match and qualifications to ensure the company is using their time to interview the best possible match. A candidate sent a resume and I responded that the hiring manager was in process of interviewing several other candidates and I would keep him/her posted as to next steps. The candidate responded with an email that included typos and missing words and I had to assume intent. The final line of the email read, “We should talk, as I am sure you will be unimpressed”. I was stunned, and reread the last line 10x to be sure I was reading it correctly. Yes, I was! I felt sorry for this candidate as I know he/she would have been embarrassed by the unintended content. As the receiver, it left an impression that included a lack of professionalism, attention to detail, and too much on his plate.

As much as I hate to admit, I have made mistakes. I am human! The cause is “too much on my plate” and the result is a lack of focus on the details. Bottom line, this is a wake-up call and an opportunity to change my strategy, mode of operation, and process

What can you do to prevent this? Know your limits and be honest about them. When I overcommit, I burn the candle, and the lack of sleep leads to fuzzy brain and inability focus. When asked to take on something that will push my limits and potentially result in an outcome that is not my best work, I say “No, thank you” and identify alternatives that will achieve the desired goal.

How can you help your team through overload and overwhelm? As a leader, be observant and constantly communicate with your employees. Understand what is on their plate with specific timeframes and due dates. Imagine this situation. You meet with an employee prepared to delegate two projects that have just come across your desk. Your employee says, I am working on a report for customer x and it is taking hours to research and write. They need this by Friday, so I am head down. This is a mid-course correction, you now have information that will impact your delegation decision and potential results.

Let employees know it is acceptable to ask for help prioritizing or completing a project when they identify that there may be a need and their plate is full. It is not okay to ask for help at the 11th hour when it may be too late to respond. This may seem obvious, but many people believe they must scale the mountain on their own, or they are considered weak or unsuccessful.

Here are some steps to consider when faced with the buffet and a full plate!
Know Your Limits Detail all that you need to accomplish and the timeframe for each task. You know that a 20-minute project may take 45 minutes to accomplish with research, conversation, distractions, etc. Plan for the “real timeframe” and be realistic about what you can and cannot do and eliminate what is not necessary. Superheroes were born in cartoons!
Short Term vs. Long Term – Determine if the overload is temporary, seasonal or an ongoing problem that requires additional staff.
Negotiate Alternatives – There are always options that include due dates, scope of work, who completes the task, etc. Think of alternatives as the space between yes and no.
Start with an Appetizer and Push Away from the Table.