GTD Tips: Under-Promise and Over-Deliver

Well, it’s been quite a while since I haven’t touched my GTD tips folder. Yes, I do have a GTD tips folder, which is in fact a part of a journal. As you already may know that, I use Mac Journal to blog and, sometimes, to implement some GTD techniques for blogging. Today it’s time to talk about another GTD tip, and that should be: under-promise and over-deliver. If you haven’t read any of my GTD tps posts, you can always start by browsing the GTD category on the blog, find them on the top posts page, or just read my last GTD tips post.

And, now, about under-promise, and over-deliver. I found this simple 5 words statement extremely rewarding over the years. As you already understand, this might not be at all GTD-only, if you think a little bit. It might be applied wherever you feel you have to stretch your personal efforts. In business, in relationships, in creative writing. Every time I managed to do this, meaning every time when I under-promised and over-delivered, I created something out of the ordinary. Here’s what I learned by trying to apply this simple statement in business and in personal development.

1. Don’t Create False Expectations

First of all, by following this simple rule, you achieve something extremely valuable, and that is related to expectations. You won’t create false expectations to those who you relate, and that’s already a huge advantage. Because most of the people are driven by expectations. They create an inner universe, and then they try to adjust the reality to what’s inside. They have expectations they need to meet, in order to maintain an inner feeling of security. The more expectations they meet, the more secure they feel.

If you don’t push your words too far, and keep your promises under what you actually deliver, you will directly influence other people expectations. You will help yourself to adjust to what they expect from you, and help them enjoy the results of your work more. Not to mention the fact that, from my experience, you always work in a less stressful environment when other people expectations are on the moderate scale.

2. Don’t Play for Less, Be Generous

Most of the people I talked to about this approach had a question regarding faking. If you’re promising less, then why do more? It’s not something you fake here? If you know from the beginning that you can do more, why settle for less? Just to impress the other guy?

Well, you don’t know from the beginning you can do more, that’s the trick, and this is how the statement should be applied. It’s not about faking, it’s about a sense of commitment and support. You know what has to be done, you know you can do it, and you communicate that in a very transparent way. But you keep the game on the safe side. You keep your efforts only at 75% of your capacity and guarantee for this level. And then you deliver 100%.

Deliver over your promise it’s not playing for less than you can do, it’s about being generous. Every time you go over what you can promise you add some more energy to your actions, you influence in a very subtle way the energy field between you and the receiver. It’s like making little presents that people doesn’t expect. It’s about the simple fact that you can bring not only effectiveness in a dry and business related sense, but some joy and happiness.

3. Go Over Your Limits

Another interesting consequence of this statement, is that it can push you beyond your personal limits. Let’s say you’re in a context where you can’t settle for less. You’re somehow forced to take all the 100% of the job and to vouch for it. But then, stretch over your limits and deliver 110%. That’s where the beauty and power of this statement is. It makes you do more and more, in a generous and growing way.

Even if you promise 100% of something, take it internally as only 90%. You might not know from the beginning if you can do more, but somehow on the path of doing you’ll find a way, I assure you. Even if the current environment only gives you room for the initial promise, go over your limits and try to do even more than that. Even if you go over the promise with only one tiny percent, it will make a huge difference.

4. Don’t Lie

Telling lies doesn’t work. Never. Hiding your real capacity from other people will eventually lead to diminish your own capacity for real. This is not about lying, it’s about being transparent. To you, and to the one for whom you’re delivering. It’s like saying: ok, I know I could do more, but under this circumstances I can only grant for this amount. And then just do more. That doesn’t mean you’re lying, and I assure you it will not be perceived by the other part as a lie, It will be received, most of the time, as a gift. And valued like this.

And making gifts is one powerful way to express your generosity, your joy of life and your conscious growing to happiness. Getting Things Done is not always about business and closing the door to your office after a busy day. Most of the time, Getting Things Done will help you keep your promises to your closest ones.

And, if you’re following this simple tip, it will help you go beyond your promises and over-deliver.

4 thoughts on “GTD Tips: Under-Promise and Over-Deliver”

  1. Hi Bogdan,

    I guess your question goes down to the type if relationship you’re talking about, not to your general attitude. You know, when you’re in a normal, balanced relationship, over-delivering is happening naturally because there is some energy building between the involved parts: you give but at the same time your receive something. Most of the time you receive gratitude, which is like a sort of fuel for your future actions. So it’s quite easier to outperform yourself each time if you got more fuel for your actions.

    On the other part, on an unbalanced, abusive relation, gratitude is absent, making for a poor stream of energy between the involved parts. So it tends to become difficult to even perform up to your promises on those relationships, outperforming yourself being something rather unusual.

    So it’s not about what you do, but for who you’re doing this… Hope it answered your question 😉

    Have a nice spring day!

  2. Great post – thanks for that

    One quick practical question: how do you manage someone’s expectations, who already knows that you over-delivered in the past? In am talking about renewing your commitments: to be more specific, something like setting your next performance goals with your boss / wife /customer /whoever, in the context of him/her already knowing that you have constantly over achieved your past promises… Obviously they expect more, right from the beginning… so how to deal with the old “Com’on – you can do much more” reaction…



  3. I’ve always learned this as “tuning into WIIFM” What’s in it for me? By giving folks the benefits to them first and then over delivering they will return again and again, be it to your website, blog or business.

    I’ve written several posts that provide details about my experiences with GTD and the applications I use on my blog at John


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