Overextended is a word used regularly in the business world today. In the markets it means taking on too much financial risk. At work, it means taking on too many projects and not being effective enough at any of them. And in business school it means taking on more work, classes, and activities than you can actually handle. Despite this though, people in all those environment continue to overextend themselves. The question thus becomes, why?

The technical definition of the term by Webster’s is “to extend beyond reasonable limits or beyond one’s capacity to meet obligations or commitments.” By definition, this happens all the time in business. Companies get greedy and put their names in too many places. They sell too many products. They engage in too many commercials. And in the end,  people get confused by the brands.

Likewise, in business school you see the same thing happening with students. Many of us get involved in too many clubs, recruit for too many industries and sign up for too many social events. As a result, they don’t always have time to do their best work, and at times actually do pretty bad work.

This is especially important in recruiting because you lose track of your goals, don’t have precise answers for a company or industry, and you find it harder to persuade the masses of your ability to add value.

What’s interesting though is that many people know that they do this, but continue to do it, sometimes at their own peril.  From a logical standpoint, this suggests that people see benefit in overextending. And not only in the short term but that they also project a benefit in the long term. Whether the benefit is a larger network of friends, experience with more activities and positions, or simply enjoyment from partaking in more activities. All valid benefits.

On the other end of the spectrum is the notion of not extending yourself enough. Where you block off extra time in your calendar to ensure its not taken up. Or you take measures to ensure you’re not tired at the end of the day. And you don’t go to events in the evenings because you’re just too tired.

Here’s the thing: on paper neither of these options sound perfect. You either end up not working hard enough or don’t have enough time to do your best work. But on the other hand, business school still creates overextension. So what’s the reason.

From experience, one reason is that so it can push you to do more than you can do otherwise. Take on more activities. Get involved in more things. Find new ways to contribute. And  learn to do more in a shorter period of time.

But perhaps the trick is to learn to do that while maintaining quality and still producing a superior work product.  Easier said than done. Sure. But if an organization (or school) can provide a platform for people to push further and teach them to do more, while still maintaining quality, perhaps everyone will be better off for it.

In sum, if you overextend in a reasonable way, you’ll be able to accomplish more than you could when you began.

Sunday, June 5th, 2011 Business School

3 Comments to Overextended

YS Kim
June 7, 2011

I suppose going to Kellogg probably provides a good chance for FOMO (fear of missing out). But at this age, a student should know how to manage his or her time. After all, isn’t delayed gratification the definition of maturity? (That’s from an old “Sex and the City” episode.)

Jeremy, what have you been involved with this year? Can you tell us in which clubs you’ve taken significant leadership roles? I’ve become the president of the Transportation Club and Co-Leader of the Improv Comedy Club, the Laughing Stocks. I hope your readers join these great organizations if they decide to attend Kellogg 🙂

Jeremy C Wilson
June 11, 2011

@YS Kim Hi Yei,

From my perspective, Kellogg students have FOMO early on but get a lot better at managing their time over the course of the year. At least on average. I think I probably fit into that category as well.

Personally, I’ve scaled down my involvement in clubs this spring and for next year. I’m working on a few projects, including one really big one, that I want to devote some serious attention to. But maybe I’ll also come by to check out your Improv Club. Definitely sounds fun/interesting/useful, so I’d just have to carve out some time for it.

Either way, I hope the readers will join your clubs as well. I’m sure you’ll be great at leading both of them.


[…] in MBA programs is that most people get involved too much in the beginning and end up becoming overextended, as many of us get involved in too many clubs, go to too many events, recruit for too many […]

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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