The “Yes-Damn” Effect

It’s a New Year!  A new semester!  The crisp white pages of your 2012 planner lay open to a world of possibilities.  Your Google calendar is filled with vast swaths of free time.  Are you free next Wednesday to volunteer for your sorority’s social?  Of course!  Wanna help your friend distribute flyers for a project next month?  Sure!  Some people are going to a hockey game in Raleigh this weekend—you in?  YES!

Then Tuesday night rolls around, and suddenly that sorority social conflicts with your midweek decompression time (i.e. Ben and Jerry’s and bad TV).   By Friday, you’re exhausted and that hockey game in Raleigh becomes a dreaded obligation…and WHY did you agree to help your friend with that project anyway?  DAMN!

Gal Zauberman of the Wharton School of Business calls this the “Yes-Damn Effect,” and he says that people overcommit for two main reasons.  One, we overestimate how much time we will have in the future.   Next Wednesday seems WIDE open, because we are not factoring in our down time or the things that may come up between now and then, like a make-up essay for English class or an impromptu touch football game with the guys.  Two, we overcommit because we want to please people; we want to be liked.  But spreading yourself too thin ensures that some things on your to-do list get glossed over, which does nothing to bolster your likeability.  Do you want to be counted on to always says ‘yes’?  Or to always do a good job?

So, before your planner becomes a war zone of scribbles and boxes, here are some ways to dodge the “Yes-Damn Effect”:

  1. Could I do this tomorrow?  Asking this question helps avoid the faulty perception that we will have much more time in the future.  If you would not be willing to re-arrange your schedule tomorrow to accommodate this request/event, then chances are you will regret committing to it in the future.
  2. Give yourself a day to think about it.  Reflecting separates you from that knee-jerk-need-to-please reaction.   Say, “let me check my schedule and get back to you.”  As you examine your schedule, be sure to double the amount of time you think things will take so that you leave yourself some breathing room.  If you think recruiting volunteers for that charity fun-run will take 2 hours, book at least 4 hours in your calendar.   
  3. Say “no” and mean it.  If you decide to say “no”, then stick to it.  Don’t say “maybe” or “I could if…”, because these things usually turn into a “yes” in the end.

What about YOU?  Tell us about YOUR “Yes-Damn” experience.   What other strategies have you used to avoid the “Yes-Damn”?


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