5 Ways to Get Back on Top When Overcommitted

Ever gone to a job interview and been given the “what is one of your greatest weaknesses?” question?

Most people blank out and struggle to find an answer that won’t sabotage their chance of getting the job.

It’s not easy coming up with something you (or the interviewer) may consider a character flaw, but the sooner you admit your weaknesses, the more quickly can you work on overcoming them.

Let me tell you what I have found to be a serious weakness in just about every hard-working American.


The Strength Turned Weakness

Yes, you read that right. One of the worst habits many people have is actually what some others would consider a source of strength. You may hear it called multitasking or “just helping out,” but the truth of the matter is that dedicating your energy and efforts to doing too many things is a serious problem.

The result of overcommitment is a human candle that has been burnt at both ends, out of fuel and out of options. Life becomes one monumental task after another when you have given all you have to help others succeed or be more productive.

With your habit of always helping, you zap your life of the energy it needs to accomplish personal goals and dreams. You fail to prioritize the most important piece of the puzzle.

In fact, many times, your busyness puts the puzzle back in the box and up on the shelf with the hope that one day you’ll find the time to think about you. You avoid blaming others for your failed aspirations, turning to self-guilt and accusations of laziness.

Let’s be real.

Laziness isn’t the problem.

If anything, the pace at which you live your life is the problem. The driving need to do it all for everyone else is the problem. By why do we have this problem?

The Importance of Boundaries

When you think about all the things you are in the middle of, whether it be at work, with your family, or for your friends, what are your motivations for helping everyone or stepping in?

Before you can learn to come back from the desolation of overcommitment, you need to uncover why you struggle in this area.

There are several reasons that experts present for these tendencies, but you need to do the evaluation yourself.

Take a moment and yourself the following questions:

  • Why am I afraid of saying “no?”
  • Do I worry about what people will think of my actions or inactions?
  • Do I say “yes” to people out of feelings of guilt?
  • Do I make a commitment hoping to get a favor in return?
  • Do I associate my own feelings of abandonment or helplessness as a motivation to get involved with the needs of others?

If these questions seem a little personal and you feel like you should be telling a shrink your answers, you can reasonably assume that you are overcommitting to strengthen your identity or sense of self.

While you may think that joining the PTO will help people think you are a better parent, all it will really show is that you are good at compartmentalizing your time and energy (and not in a healthy way).

Though volunteering to stay late to run the inventory reports may seem like it will put you in line for a promotion, you are only setting the stage for an increased workload.

Without being able to say “no,” your life becomes anything but your own.

You are at the mercy of the ones who need help the most.

By setting up boundaries for yourself and making sure that others understand those boundaries, you give yourself the chance to succeed in things that matter the most to you.

As Warren Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

You aren’t doing yourself or the world a favor when you neglect your personal needs and desires. Your successes may be a way to help lift others up or provide opportunities for more people.

The Emotional Ties To Overcommitting

Even if you only agreed to pet sit the neighbor’s dog, there may be an emotional element that prompted you to say “yes” when you were asked.

It is natural to want to be accepted or liked, and doing things for others often leaves you feeling good about yourself.

It is a good thing to create value in another person’s life, but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of your own peace of mind, your own stress levels, your other priorities, or your personal desires.

The emotional connection is one of the hardest things to move past when breaking out the overcommitment habit, but it must be done.

You weaken your own emotional health when you focus solely on others.

The power of saying “no” can be both liberating and healing.

The Solutions for Coming Back From Overcommitment

Now that you know it isn’t rude to decline a request or turn down an invitation out, you need to figure out how to get back to a position where you are in control.

If you have been overcommitted for a while, you may have to wriggle out of some projects or reduce the amount of effort you put into a task to get back on top.

Start by figuring how much commitment is okay with you or what priorities can’t be sacrificed, then evaluate the rest of your time accordingly.

Here are a few ideas for pulling back on the reins of other people’s demands.

1. Remember that this is your life

When someone is asking you to agree to help or make a commitment, don’t feel that they need an answer right away. It is your life, and you are in control of what your decisions are. Take some time to consider the impact the activity would have on your schedule, family, or social life. If it doesn’t bring joy, takes away from your priorities, and doesn’t have any meaningful return, then simply decline to participate. You don’t have to give anyone a reason why. It might ruffle some feathers or cause questions, but you don’t answer to others for decisions that are in your own best interest. Come up with a polite response, such as, “Thank you for thinking that I would be able to handle the situation. I just don’t have the time right now to get involved.” When they ask for more details, hold firm to your answer. “It’s just not going to work with what I have going on.” They aren’t owed an explanation.

2. Use measurable limits for your commitments

Your time is valuable, and a lot of it can be wasted helping others with projects that you have responsibility for. If you are on vacation or you have approached the weekend, use time or incident limits to reduce using up all your energy on someone else. If your neighbor needs help painting or your coworker wants help double-checking the inventory, you could offer an hour of assistance, but let them know that you have other things that need your attention. A measurable limit lets both you and others know that your help is temporary.

3. Reorganize your life

Over time, your constant jumping in here or helping out there has gotten your schedule all out of whack. You don’t have a handle on what things are priorities and what things can wait. Instead, you choose to get everything done as quickly as possible to avoid missing something. It’s time to focus on yourself and organize your life. Use a calendar to plan important self-care items, like date night, time at the gym, or making your favorite meal. When your calendar is full of “you” things, you have a harder time finding room for all the other requests.

4. Confide in someone you trust

You might need some backup or a little nudge to remind you to say “no.” Talk to someone you can trust for advice on where to draw your line. You may be looking at the situation from a narrow lens, and a friend or family member can see the bigger picture. You can always use your confidant as a way to practice saying “no” politely but firmly.

5. Always consider the meaning behind the commitment

You may find that people ask you to do things because of your history of always taking part. You may also find that you feel obligated to take action because of gender norm expectations. You can avoid slipping back into the habit of overextending yourself when you stop and look at the meaning behind each request or feeling of expectation. With this knowledge, you can be more selective in your commitments.

Final Thought

Once you’ve figured out why you are so intent on helping everyone but yourself, you can slow down and figure out how to extricate yourself from overcommitment. You will be happier and more fulfilled in the long run when you choose to put your energy into your goals and priorities. Not that you shouldn’t help a neighbor or friend every now and then. Just learn how to keep a balanced approach to your kindness.