Have you ever felt like an overworked hamster running tirelessly on a wheel, without making any real progress? You’re constantly pushing your boundaries at work, and when you return home, an equally daunting set of responsibilities awaits. Your mind never rests, you’re constantly tired, and yet you can’t pinpoint the reason for this unending fatigue. You might be trapped in the grip of overcommitment, taking on more than you can handle in both your professional and personal lives.
A study by leadership training company VitalSmarts reveals this habit of overcommitment isn’t rare. The majority of us are persistently overwhelmed. The survey found that 60% of us routinely agree to undertake more than we can realistically achieve. A significant 20% admit they’re already at their limit.
Moreover, this tendency isn’t a one-off thing. Many of us have more tasks than we can feasibly accomplish and this trend continues unabated. The study also revealed that most people have an astonishing number of tasks on their weekly to-do list, and even more on their lifetime to-do list.
This overcommitment wreaks havoc on our mental state, causing stress, worry, and feelings of being overwhelmed. What’s more, it hinders our ability to be fully present in our lives. The study reported that a considerable number of respondents were rarely present due to their overwhelming to-do lists.
Life shouldn’t merely be about ticking off tasks from a checklist. Recognizing overcommitment and taking steps to control it can help regain balance in our lives. And we will dive into it in this article.
Table of Contents
- Signs of You Are Overcommitted
- The Root Causes of Overcommitment
- How to Stop Overcommitting
- Final Thoughts
Signs of You Are Overcommitted
It’s not always easy to spot when you’re teetering on the edge of overcommitment. But if you know what signs to look for, you can course-correct before your work-life balance spirals out of control. Here are some common symptoms of overcommitment.
Feeling constantly overwhelmed and exhausted.
It’s one thing to be busy, but another entirely to feel like you’re perpetually swamped and drained.
For instance, you might be juggling multiple projects at work and in your personal life, leading to this sensation. Imagine a working parent trying to balance a demanding career with family duties, feeling like a juggler with too many balls in the air and too few hands.
Neglecting personal well-being and self-care.
Overcommitment often leaves us ignoring our basic needs. You might be missing meals, skimping on sleep, or letting your regular exercise routines slide.
For example, an office worker who consistently burns the midnight oil to meet job expectations, and subsists largely on fast food due to lack of time or energy to cook a healthy meal. Maintaining this lifestyle over the long term isn’t sustainable and can eventually result in severe health issues.
Having little to no free time for relaxation or leisure activities.
Another red flag is when every minute of your day is packed with obligations and commitments, leaving you no time to unwind.
Consider a young professional who spends their weekends hunched over a laptop, catching up on work instead of indulging in a hobby or simply relaxing. This constant grind without any respite can quickly lead to burnout.
Frequently missing deadlines or making mistakes.
When your plate is too full, the quality of your work can suffer, and deadlines can start slipping through the cracks.
An example could be a freelancer who’s over eager to please clients and ends up accepting more projects than they can handle. The end result? Disappointed clients, missed deadlines, and a stressed-out freelancer.
The Root Causes of Overcommitment
What’s driving this epidemic of overcommitment? According to the same VitalSmarts research, the reasons people overburden themselves can be boiled down to a few key factors:
- Most respondents (73%) overcommit because they want to be helpful, accommodating, and polite.
- More than half (56%) have a tendency to dive in and fix problems, even if those problems aren’t really theirs to solve.
- About 39% are caught in ambiguous situations with unclear boundaries on what tasks they should accept or reject.
- Working with authority figures who make non-negotiable demands is a factor for 38%.
- About 32% have a hard time saying “no” or renegotiating commitments.
Broadly speaking, these reasons for overcommitment can be grouped into three categories:
1. Fear of missing out (FOMO) and people-pleasing tendencies.
For instance, someone might feel compelled to attend social events more out of obligation than interest. Consider a person who finds themselves at multiple parties and gatherings, not because they enjoy them, but because they fear disappointing their friends if they don’t show up.
2. Underestimating the time and energy required for commitments.
Often, people overestimate their productivity or their ability to multitask. For example, a well-meaning volunteer might sign up for a host of tasks, sincerely believing they have the capacity to handle them all, only to find themselves swamped and unable to meet their commitments.
3. Difficulty setting boundaries and saying no.
It can be tough to turn down requests for help, especially when it induces feelings of guilt or anxiety. Imagine a professional struggling to decline extra work responsibilities for fear it might hamper their career progression.
Once you know what’s driving your tendency to take on too much, you can start developing strategies to manage it effectively.
How to Stop Overcommitting
Overcommitment might seem like an overwhelming issue, but it’s a problem with a solution. If you’re struggling to get off the never-ending hamster wheel of overcommitment, here are some strategies that could help.
1. Prioritize and Evaluate Commitments
The first step to overcoming overcommitment is to evaluate all your current commitments. Ask yourself:
Are these tasks genuinely important? Do they align with my personal or professional goals?
Some commitments might sound appealing, but they might not necessarily contribute to your long-term objectives.
Let’s say you’re juggling multiple roles at work while being active in community service. Although community work is fulfilling, it might be taking a toll on your work performance and personal well-being. In this case, assessing your commitments can help. You might decide to cut back on community service hours, or delegate tasks, to better focus on your job responsibilities and self-care.
The important thing is to weigh the value and relevance of a commitment before agreeing to it. Prioritizing and evaluating your commitments can help you reduce overcommitment, and channel your energy towards tasks that are truly important to you.
I’ve written a guide on how to prioritize, check it out here: How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important
2. Monitor and Adjust Commitments as Necessary
Overcommitment isn’t a one-time issue, but a habit that can creep back into your life if left unchecked. Therefore, it’s necessary to regularly monitor and adjust your commitments as circumstances change. You might find that an obligation which was once manageable is now causing stress due to changes in other areas of your life.
Freelancers probably know this well. Freelancers typically handle a certain number of projects each month. If they suddenly find themselves grappling with a personal issue or a particularly challenging assignment, they might need to reassess their workload and scale back on accepting new projects. By continuously keeping an eye on their commitments and adjusting as needed, they can prevent themselves from overcommitting and maintain a sustainable workload.
Remember, life isn’t static and neither are your commitments. Being aware of your limitations and adapting your commitments as needed is key to managing overcommitment.
3. Learn the Art of Saying No
One of the most potent tools in combating overcommitment is a small but mighty word: no.
We often feel obligated to agree to every request or opportunity that comes our way, but learning to say ‘no’ to nonessential requests can dramatically reduce stress and free up time for more important commitments.
For instance, a working parent might find their weekends filled with invitations to social events, leaving little time for family. By mastering the art of politely declining nonessential engagements, they can clear up their schedule to prioritize quality time with their family.
Of course, saying ‘no’ is easier said than done, especially when you’re worried about disappointing others. Read Leo Babauta’s article The Gentle Art of Saying No for a Less Stressful Life to learn how to make the process easier.
Every ‘yes’ you give is a ‘no’ to something else – maybe even something more important.
4. Set and Stick to the Boundaries
Boundaries are like invisible fences that help us delineate where our responsibilities end and where others’ begin. They keep us from taking on tasks that aren’t ours to carry, freeing up our resources to focus on our genuine commitments.
Take the example of a professional who often gets pulled into meetings or tasks outside of their job scope. They might feel obligated to help out, but this can lead to an overloaded schedule and declining performance in their actual job role. By setting boundaries, they can clearly communicate what they can and cannot take on, thereby preventing overcommitment.
It’s essential to set and communicate these boundaries in a respectful manner. Explain to colleagues or superiors that while you’re eager to assist, taking on additional tasks might compromise the quality of your work. It’s about protecting your capacity to deliver on the commitments you’ve already made.
Setting boundaries isn’t about being selfish or uncooperative. It’s about understanding your limits and ensuring you can fulfill your responsibilities effectively. It’s a sign of self-awareness and respect for both your own and others’ time and effort.
It might feel uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier with practice and can help prevent overcommitment in the long run.
5. Seek Support and Delegate When Possible
Often, we shoulder more than we can handle because we’re reluctant to seem weak or incapable. But seeking support isn’t a sign of incompetence – it’s an acknowledgment that everyone has limits, and it’s essential to respect those limits for a balanced life.
Think of a professional managing a major project at work. If they try to handle every aspect alone, they’ll likely become overwhelmed and the project’s quality might suffer. Instead, if they delegate tasks to team members or request additional support, the work gets distributed and the project can progress more effectively.
The same principle applies in our personal lives too. Whether it’s asking friends for a hand with moving, requesting family members to share household chores, or even seeking professional help for certain tasks, it’s about sharing the load so you’re not overburdened.
6. Practice Self-Care and Nurture Personal Well-Being
A common barrier to self-care is guilt, especially among caregivers. For those who provide care for a loved one, they might feel guilty about taking time for themselves.
However, it’s crucial to remember that their ability to provide quality care relies on their own well-being. Acknowledging this fact can help them manage expectations and dedicate time for self-care, ensuring they can continue supporting their loved ones without burning out.
A part of self-care is also finding activities that help rejuvenate you. Whether it’s regular exercise, meditation, pursuing a hobby, or simply unwinding with a good book, it’s essential to incorporate these activities into your routine.
I often find peace when I meditate in the morning. By setting aside time each day for this activity, I start my day energized, improving my productivity and mood for the rest of the day.
Self-care isn’t an indulgence – it’s maintenance. It’s about recognizing that you, too, need nurturing and care.
Overcommitment is a widespread phenomenon in our fast-paced, always-on society. It can take a significant toll on your overall well-being, leading to stress, worry, overwhelm, and a constant state of distraction from the present moment. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Take a good look at your commitments, evaluate what truly matters, and begin the process of reducing your load.
By employing the strategies discussed above, you can start to regain control over your life and create a healthier, more balanced way of living.
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Overcommitment is a widespread issue affecting people’s work and personal lives, leading to stress, worry, and a sense of constant overwhelm.
Common signs of overcommitment include feeling consistently overwhelmed, neglecting self-care, having little to no free time for relaxation, and frequently missing deadlines or making mistakes.
Root causes of overcommitment often stem from fear of missing out, underestimating the time and energy required for tasks, and difficulty setting boundaries or saying no.
Prioritizing and evaluating commitments can help individuals align their obligations with their personal goals and maintain a manageable workload.
Regularly monitoring and adjusting commitments can prevent overloading and allow for better time management.
Learning to say no and setting clear boundaries can help individuals avoid unnecessary tasks and maintain focus on their priorities.
Seeking support and delegating tasks can alleviate pressure, spread workload, and improve overall task management.
Practicing self-care and nurturing personal well-being, including regular exercise and hobbies, is crucial to managing stress and preventing burnout.
Recognizing and addressing overcommitment is vital for overall well-being and achieving a healthier balance in life.