How to Stop Overcommitting


If you’re reading this, chances are—like me—you tend towards over-committing. Whether it’s a juicy opportunity you hadn’t planned for but can’t pass up, the result of a bad case of FOMO, or a symptom of difficulties with the word “no,” you recognise you have a problem and it’s time for something to change. A common trait that most over-committers share is over-optimism.

Of course I can start training for that 10K race, overhaul my diet, and begin meditating for an hour every morning and evening!

I’m confident I’ll still be able to devote time to my writing and art now I’m working 50 hours a week, doing salsa classes and volunteering at the food bank!

I’ll definitely be able to complete the first draft of my book even though I’m pet-sitting my friend’s high maintenance and un-housetrained puppy!

Over-commitment usually seems like a good idea in the moment but, as we soon discover, it creates more problems than it solves.

Here’s the truth you probably already know but bears repeating:

You can do anything but not everything.

So now you’re in over your head, how do you untangle your commitments, hone your priorities and gracefully back out of everything else to restore equilibrium?

1. Identify your internal over-committment buttons

If we untangle our current commitments without noticing what got us into that situation in the first place, we’ll just repeat the same pattern over and over again. This kind of self-reflection isn’t always easy or comfortable, but it’s necessary to break the over-commitment cycle.

Think about your latest spell of over-commitment and ask: What got me here? Why did I say “yes” to all of these things? What was my biggest fear and worst-case scenario around saying no?

Did you feel unable to say no (because it would be rude, because you worried they wouldn’t ask again, because it was a client or superior?)

Did you experience the pull of FOMO?

Did you decide from a place of scarcity (either of money, or of worthiness)?

How did you feel when you heard the request? Where did that feeling show up in your body? What thoughts came to mind as you were deciding whether to take this commitment on?

Once you’re aware of what your hot buttons are, you’re better equipped to stop the slide into over-commitment as soon as you recognise it’s happening.

2. Decide what your current priorities are

What are the most important things for you to focus on right now? If you notice your over-committing is limited to work, focus on work projects. If you find it spills over into other areas of life and is impeding basic self-care, quality time with loved ones and so on, your priorities list might contain more general categories (for example 1. Health, 2. Relationships, 3. Work).

Although it’s a simple exercise, getting clear and conscious about what’s most important in our life helps make decisions around commitment much easier. Whenever we’re faced with a future commitment, we can check in with this list and ask: Where does this fit in with my list of priorities? Would I have to forgo anything that’s higher on my priorities list to get this done? How am I going to feel about that in the future?

There are no right answers to these questions: sometimes it’s in our best interests to shuffle our priorities temporarily. But it is important to decide as consciously as possible, without being driven by fear, scarcity, or any of the other hot buttons you might have identified above.

3. Use the 3 Ds

The 3 Ds are a useful framework for ensuring we’re spending our time on the things that are most important to us. The process is simple: each week, write everything that’s on your plate right now, all the unfinished tasks you still need to do, any unresolved situations you need to address, the things you haven’t been doing but want to do, and any projects lingering in the back of your mind. Get it all down on paper.

Some of these things will be “someday/maybe” projects: ideas you can shelve until later. For everything else, put each item into one of three categories: do, delegate or delete.

Return to this check-in on a weekly basis and repeat this process. By using the 3 Ds, you’ll not only get used to the idea that certain commitments can be delegated or deleted (something a lot of over-committers forget), but it will become more natural for you to question each new commitment you take on and ask: Why is this important right now? Could someone else do this instead? Is it really necessary to do this at all?

How do you deal with over-committing? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Do you often feel overwhelmed? Learn how to stop overcommitting, minimise stress & make time for what really matters.