Over the weekend, I took a quick look at my schedule for the upcoming week. My immediate thought was “What was I thinking?!”. Ideally, I have a mix of work, some social activities, and some personal time each week. But more and more often, I’ve been noticing that my upcoming weeks seem to be triggering more feelings of overwhelm in me as opposed to excitement! This realization has been especially bizarre because even if I’m busy at work, I really enjoy the work that I do. Similarly, even if I have several social outings, I love spending time with friends and family! So shouldn’t that be enough of a protective factor to avoid feeling stressed by a hectic schedule? Sadly, it seems that’s not the case (at least not for me). So, the issue with overcommittment isn’t that you’re doing things you necessarily dislike (although that can certainly be part of the issue), but it also happens when we forget that we are not, in fact, the Energizer Bunny. Worse still, overcommittment has been shown to contribute to higher levels of stress and physical tension (Preckel et al., 2005). So, how can we better manage ourselves to more regularly take a peak at our upcoming week and notice a feeling of interest, excitement, or perhaps even calm?
Start to Prioritize
Each of us have a different combination of interests and responsibilities. Consider this when you begin to figure out how to avoid feeling depleted by overcommitting yourself. What matters to you? Family, school, work, art class? Team sports? Reading? Do you have family that you’d like to see regularly or is it only over the holidays that you’d like to spend time together? Do you have a friend circle that you can see altogether or do you prefer to see friends individually? Consider these, and many other possible combinations, when looking at what you’d like to fit into your schedule.
Make a schedule – that INCLUDES down time and track how it makes you feel
This step doesn’t have to happen each week, but begin by creating a schedule each week that considers your main interests and goals (see step 1) and plan it out so that those priorities are included, but so is time to just do your thing. Essentially, include several hours of non-scheduled, unstructured time into your week. This step has several benefits: 1) It helps you really reflect on how much time each activity you’re committing to takes, so that you’re more realistic in your goals, and 2) it helps to lessen the impression that “doing nothing” is bad! Free time is essential for our mind and bodies to rest, re-energize, and get in better touch with our creative and spontaneous side. With too much structure, we aren’t able to slow down enough to touch base with our passions, and our needs in the moment. In addition, creating a schedule gives you an opportunity to practice different levels of “busyness” – some weeks may be slower than others, or some may be focused on more social than work activities, or vice versa. By keeping track of these schedules and tracking how you feel at the start and end of each of these weeks, you’ll have some helpful data that lets you know what combinations work best for YOU!
Examine what lies beneath our need to overcommit
This part might be a little tougher. Often, if we find ourselves saying yes to everything requested or offered to us, there is an underlying reason that we may not be aware of. For some, it may be the belief that if we say no to a request, or don’t go out of our way to help someone else, we’re failing at being a good friend/partner/employee/etc. For others, overcommittment may stem from a fear of missing out on possible adventure, opportunities, financial gain, or connections. Whatever the reason, it may be helpful to ask yourself what need does overcommittment provide for you, or what does being overcommitted prevent you from feeling? Once you’re able to answer this, you’ll be better prepared to address those needs or fears in a more adaptive and sustainable way.
Get comfortable saying “No (thanks)”
As many of us know, it can be difficult to say no to an invite or a potential work commitment. We may feel guilty, or that we’ll be judged for not putting others first. Even though it can be hard, saying no is really the best way to ensure that we stick to our schedule that helps us meet our needs and goals without feeling overwhelmed. Plus, once you try it a few times, you’ll notice that people tend to respect when people set limits for themselves. The more we all do this, the more we normalize setting limits with our time and the more comfortable it becomes for everyone.
So, next time you notice your schedule giving you mild heart palpitations, take a step back, run through these suggestions, and see how you feel. Hopefully you’ll be well on your way to a more balanced and enjoyable week!
Tobey Mandel is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogs, podcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.
Preckel, D., von Kanel, R., Kudielka, B. M., & Fischer, J. E. (2005). Overcommitment to work is associated with vital exhaustion. Int Arch Occup Environ Health, 78, 117–122.
Allan, I., Campbell, B., Carter, T., Doyle, M., Goodchild, S., Henderson, R., …., & Postans, L. (2006). Balance: Real life strategies for work/life balance. New South Wales, Australia. Sea Change Publishing.
Breitman, P., & Hatch, C. (2000). How to say no without feeling guilty. New York, NY: Broadway Books.