How Not to Become an Overachiever

There’s something to be said about being too productive, which my WorkAwesome colleague, Mark Garrison, alluded to in a recent article, I’d say that the old adage “less is more” is the best practical approach to any workplace situation.  We’ve all heard the quality usurps quantity time and tie again, yet it seems as if we’re always trying to do more…better.  The problem is, you can’t do “more” better if you first don’t learn to do “less” best.  The practice of doing more stuff adequately is classic underachievement.  You take on so much and even if you manage to pull it off and appease your superiors you know deep down that you’re capable of much better.

“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” – Abraham Lincoln

Here are some of the things you can do to ensure you never become an overachiever.  Bear in mind that some of these you can do to a point where you never become an achiever, period.

Shift Priorities. Constantly.

Priorities can and will shift from time to time and it’s either us or someone working with us that does the shifting.  Rarely, however, is it anyone but ourselves that shifts them on a regular basis, allowing little time to focus on anything.  So if you want to ensure that you’ll end up rushing around near deadlines, causing yourself undue stress and giving yourself a headache instead of a “head break” then write down each of your priorities and put them in a hat.  Every hour draw one from the hat to find out what your top priority should be, and repeat this process until your work day is done…which (bonus!) could make for very long days as well.

Check your email. Constantly.

Since email will flow into your inbox throughout your day, make sure you check it at least every 5 minutes.  Ideally you should check it every 2 minutes, but this will generally apply only if you end up drawing “Check Email” from the aforementioned “Priorities Hat.”  As you’re checking your email, isolate any tasks that seem rather long and let them sit in your inbox.  Do the same with anything that will take little time to accomplish.  Review these items when you next check your email to see if they match your current top priority and set out to do them – but only if you feel you have enough time to get it done.  If not, wait until it comes up again and resume your quest for accomplishment!

Indecisively Plan.

You’ll need to either have no planner or get too many.  Keep things in different spots, too.  Rarely bring your planner (if you have one) with you.  Update one planner but not the other.  Keep an electronic one (preferably one for your computer and one for your mobile device – and try to get one that doesn’t sync between the two versions) and a paper planner.  Or two.  Then try to balance them all.  At once.   Have fun with that.

…and if those three are done effectively (which means you’re being ineffective) then you’ll naturally be able to do this…

Call in sick.

The stress will build and you’ll physically start to feel ill.  Don’t worry; this is bound to happen when you have no clear focus and are twisting in the wind.  Go with it.  The additional by-product of this is that by calling in sick you’ll be even further behind than you were before.  You may come back recharged from a few days’ rest, but when you go back to your old habits (as outlined above) you’ll be back to classic non-overachievement once more.  At least you’ll be consistent, right?

I feel it is important here to point out what you need to avoid doing in order to reach your goal of ultimate “achievelessness.”  Make note of these in all of your planners.

  1. Identify your priorities and focus on them.
  2. Tackle the little things right away and set aside time for the big things.
  3. Check your email twice daily and deal with it then.
  4. Choose a planning tool and stick with it.  Don’t muddy the waters.

The most important thing to remember is that overachieving is hard.  Everyone is capable of it, no matter your intellect – it is drive and ambition that stokes the fire within.  Barely achieving or going “under and below” the call of duty is less difficult.  It may also be less fulfilling, but this is where I think one needs to remember that previously mentioned quote from a very wise man:

“Less is more.” – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Which is true in this case…more or less.

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how to become an overachiever, overachiever, how to not be an overachiever

Mike Vardy an editor on Work Awesome. We could tell you where his personal productivity parody site, Eventualism and all of his other projects reside on the web, but you'd be best served going to and following the trail of virtual bread crumbs from there.


  1. Tanja on the 31st December

    Interesting article 😀

    I found out over the last couple of years that people often use this “do more” to have an excuse why they canot do their best. My ex-boss is one of those: He starts a hundred things a day and does none of them good (or even full) and always says, this it’s because he has too much to do.

    Lame excuse, that’s it.

  2. jason on the 31st December

    Fantastic article – love the west coast humor

    To augment Tanja’s comment – I love it when folks have to start early and stay late, because they are soooo busy – yet personal phone calls and emails seem to be what they do between 9 and 5

    I’ll be laughing about this post for the rest of the year – unless i have to get some work done….


  3. Michelle on the 31st December

    Great article, Mike!
    Your humour really shines and you offer up some useful nuggets of wisdom here. Keep up the great work!

  4. Tracey on the 11th January

    This is a GREAT post. I think about the stuff you wrote all the time now. I see it in myself and I see it in the clients I need to forget about. I’m really glad you wrote it. THANK YOU!!!!

  5. Jorge Mafud [@mafudabogados] on the 26th January

    Loved the post…. I think I do have to change my email habits!

    Since I’m a lawyer and a blogger, I think I will write a post “How to write an awful contract”…. thanks for the cool idea!


  6. Anne on the 27th January

    Exactly what I need to do in order to stop getting stuck with all the extra jobs that are really someone else’s job!

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