Career & Money

What to do when overcommitment sneaks up on us?

Lauren Midgley
By Lauren Midgley |Colleyville, Texas

overwhelmed business woman sitting at her desk surrounded by many male hands holding different objectsDo we just wake up one day and realize that we have crossed the line into Over-Commitment Land?   The stressful place where our schedules and to-do lists make us feel like we are drowning – double booked appointments, running from one side of town to the other with no time cushion, the email inbox of over a thousand and back to back meetings and no time to clear the junk. Does this sound familiar?

I have been there.   My clients have been there. My job is to help them modify their behavior and stop the tendency to over-commit. It is difficult and requires effort, yet it can be done.

Over-commitment sneaks up on you

My experience, and that of my consulting clients, is that it doesn’t happen all at once.

Initially, we say yes to a single request because it sounds like something we are interested in and have the time to do.

A colleague reaches out to ask, “Can you be president of our association chapter? You would be so good at it!”

You respond: “Yes. I think I will like the visibility of that role and being able to contribute more than I currently do.”

A few days later the next request, “We would love for you to head up the fundraising committee – no one else has ever come close to the level that you, as a leader, raised five years ago.   You are SO good at building the team and making it happen.”

You think, “Yes, I did do an awesome job before so I can do it again. It will be easy. I know how to do this.”   Be wary of flattery – flattery will get the “yes” more often than not.

The snowball gains momentum

The next request comes in, just a week later – “There is an open position on the School Board. You would do such a great job for the community. You will likely run unopposed, so you won’t have to spend time running a campaign.”

You say to yourself, “Yes, I have always wanted to be part the leadership for our school district. Here is my chance.”

Sigh… More requests keep coming… You have not said “No” in forever.


The avalanche of yes’s add up, and then reality sets in: “Uh oh, I am truly over-committed. I said yes without considering my capacity of time for my family, my church, my job, and even myself.”

busy calendar with a "Help" sticky noteNow what do you do?   How do you reduce your number of commitments and still save face?

Why can’t you say “no”? Why do you want to please everyone? Are you an idiot for doing this to yourself?

We have many unkind words for ourselves when we’re stretched thin and unable to perform each duty to the best of our abilities. We try to keep up and do it all, and in the end we are exhausted.

You are not alone

Over commitment happens every day, and is a common occurrence (especially for those of us who are people-pleasers). We want to help others, sometimes even to the detriment of our families and ourselves.

What do you do?

There are four steps to be mindful of and implement immediately:

  1. Each requester sincerely wants you to take on the specific task or role. However, most will understand if you say no. They simply want an answer of Yes or No from you. If the answer is No, they will likely (and easily) move onto the next likely candidate and ask them to do that role or task. Say no and let them move on. Do not say “maybe” to them. That is not fair or nice.
  2. Establish a rule with yourself that before you say YES to any future requests, that you fully understand what is involved with the commitment: time, focus, and mind space.   If those details are not clear, then say No.
  3. Take time to create a Criteria List comprising 3-4 items that a request must pass before you say Yes.   The statements on the Criteria List must honor you, your family and your life.   Your loved ones will thank you for (finally) taking a stand on how you use your time.
  4. Do a Calendar Review once a month to see how you are progressing on minimizing over commitment.   To do this, rate yourself on how over-committed you feel inside on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being out of control. Looking back on the previous month, highlight calendar entries on where you spent time that contributed to over commitment. Decide how to “unhook” that commitment.*

An example of a Criteria List:

I am willing to dedicate up to 2 hours (your number of hours may be different) per week if:

  • It is an organization I am passionate about –cause, leadership, members
  • I can use my natural talents, easily and without added drama or strain
  • I have reviewed my calendar and have the needed capacity of time
  • I will commit fully and show up consistently

A great example of the impact of the Criteria List is a client of mine who volunteered to be Treasurer of a service organization for one year. It was an organization she believed in and wanted greater visibility.  She did not have a Criteria List to help her decide whether to do this or not.   If she had one, she would have immediately said No, because point #2, 3 and 4 did not fit. She is in her peak season in her job, not proficient at numbers, and knows she will have a hard time fully committing.

antique alarm clock time managementBe intentional with your time

The overall message is that before we say “Yes”, we think about how it will impact other areas of our life.

How we use our time does matter.

We don’t save time; we substitute time.   If we are over-committed in our life to serve others, then we have chosen to substitute our sacred time that might be best used for family, self or our job.

Being aware and intentional will save you from the curse of over commitment. Don’t let it sneak up on you again!

*Lauren can help you with a Calendar Review. Reach out to her.

Lauren Midgley
Lauren Midgley |Colleyville, Texas
Lauren Midgley, Speaker, Author and Business Coach Lauren Midgley, a proven productivity expert, author, professional speaker and business strategist, knows using time productively can mean the difference in profits and promotions.  She works with individuals to maximize their efforts and...Read More
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