Five Tips for Working Through Your Over-commitment
Most of us come to work wanting to do a good job. Most of us intentionally sign up for, commit to, and engage in things we expect to succeed at. Most of us have a desire to get involved and be an active participant, for the betterment of ourselves or our organization. But sometimes this means we take on more than we can handle. Sometimes we commit to one too many things, and as a result we find ourselves over-extended, over-committed, and overwhelmed.
This can be especially true during the busy seasons. With so much to get done, we try to fit as much as we can into each waking minute. None of us ever really mean to get over-extended or over-committed. It just happens.
Knowing that it happens to so many of us, what do we do about it? Let me offer five quick tips.
1. Acknowledge it.
When you realize you’re overextended, you’re too busy, and you cannot possibly get it all done, the first thing to do is to acknowledge it. It’s so tempting to hide from and ignore the things on our list that we know, deep down, we won’t have time to get to, but I promise you, that will only make things worse. Especially when someone is counting on us and our results, it’s important to acknowledge our overwhelm, to ourselves and to them.
Starting with an acknowledgement allows us to continue to steps two through five. If we don’t start by naming our overwhelm or the things that will suffer because of it, it will be nearly impossible to rectify. This is an important first step in all situations, at home, at work, and everywhere in between.
When we get overwhelmed it can be tempting to crawl back under the covers and say, ‘no thank you’. But, just because we can’t do all of it, doesn’t mean that we should abandon it altogether. We should prioritize.
You might have heard the analogy about the rocks and the jar. To demonstrate the use of space to his class, a professor attempted to fill a jar. They started with the largest rocks, then added smaller rocks, then sand, and then water. The jar appeared full after the large rocks, but it turns out there was still room for the small rocks. Again, the jar appeared full after the small rocks, but there was still room for the sand. Once again, the jar looked full, but there was still room for water. In this order, the jar could hold all of the objects. But had the professor added the water or sand first, there wouldn’t have been any room for the large rocks.
The same is true for our to do list. Once you figure out you can’t fit everything in the jar, take a moment to identify the things that are most important, those big rocks, and put them in first. Our big rocks are the things that have to get done and/or they have to get done by you. Our important tasks are the ones that are mission critical to your organization, your family, or your social life. Schedule time for them, prioritize them, and protect them.
Once you’ve got your big rocks in the jar, you can start to find room for the smaller ones, the sand, and the water.
3. Ask for help.
This can be a hard one for so many of us, but sometimes it’s a very necessary step. It’s likely there are people around you who are willing and able to help. It’s entirely possible they don’t know you need help or they don’t know how best to help. One of the best things to do once you’ve realized you’re in over your head is to specifically ask for help on those things that don’t need to be done by you.
When you ask for their help, be sure to give enough specificity to explain the expected outcome. This might mean giving a little bit of background information or giving specific instructions for how the task should be accomplished, but don’t let that keep you from asking for help. Even though you will have to invest time handing the task over to someone else, you will still find more time for yourself to complete something else. From family members, to friends, neighbors, or colleagues, there are people all around who would be happy to help. So let them do so.
At some point, perhaps not in the busyness of this day, but at some point soon, take time to reflect on what went wrong. How did you get so overextended? What was the point where you took on too many things? Where did you go sideways in your risk mitigation or risk response planning? What weren’t you prepared for that put you behind?
What accountability can you take for getting in over your head? I don’t mean to imply all of our busyness is our own fault, but I think some portion of it is likely something we have ownership over. I chose to clean my oven instead of working on my master's thesis. I chose to stay up late working on that deliverable and made myself groggy the next day, which required a nap, which caused a delay in another thing I was working on. I chose to prioritize stakeholder A over stakeholder B. Take a moment to reflect and see what you can own out of this.
Once you’ve identified what you can own, adjust your approach so you don’t do it again. Make some sort of guideline, rule, or decision filter for yourself so you won’t get caught in that same dilemma again. Do something intentional to commit to not making that same mistake again or not getting caught in that same overwhelm again. You don’t have to do this in some big production. It can be quiet and to yourself. But make a commitment to adjust your approach so you are more prepared for next time and less likely to end up in an over-extended or overwhelmed situation.
How about you? What do you do in these situations? Join us on social media!