How To Stop Overcommitting Yourself

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One my worst habits is overcommitting myself on a regular basis. You know those times when you know you really need to catch up on sleep or take care of other personal responsibilities, but instead you say "yes" to another project, job, or hang-out that could totally wait until the weekend? I'm all too familiar with them — and they're textbook examples of overcommittment. Luckily, though, there are ways to stop overcommitting yourself — and while it can be a tough habit to break, it's definitely possible. Indeed, it's even necessary; our culture teaches us (especially women) that to be accommodating to the point of bending over backwards is both "polite" and "required," but the bottom line is that it's not. We need to take care of ourselves, too, and there's nothing "rude" about doing so.

It's important to point out, of course, that if you enjoy having a lot on your plate, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that; some people really thrive under pressure and deadlines, and end up enjoying the adrenaline rush that can come with working on projects around the clock. For other people, however, it can a recipe for burnout and nerves — and that's where the power of the word "no" can come in handy.

The key to figuring out the right level of commitment for you is honestly figuring out how you work best and where your priorities are: For instance, I don't have children, so that hypothetical commitment is something I never have to factor into my plans when taking on an assignment or giving myself some down-time. For my friends who do very similar work but do have children, however, they have to factor in things like the availability and cost of child-care and when they'll actually get to spend with their kids, too. I think when it comes to overcommitting yourself, it's really about determining how you want to balance your time, where your personal priorities are, and what will best help you manage your stress.

So, let's say you realize you've overcommitted yourself already, and you simply don't want to take on more. Or, you finally have your time sorted out and someone has just asked you for help on another project. How do you say "no?" These strategies might help:

1. Give Yourself A Commitment Limit

Especially when it comes to your weekend or vacation time, commitment limits can be useful: Once you've reached your cap, let that be it for you and stick your metaphorical guns about it. For example, you make two specific plans for your weekend (say, brunch with your friends and a movie with your partner), and then let the rest be free time where you can relax, catch up on sleep, or do something spontaneous. Setting up clear lines for yourself makes it easier to say, "Sorry, I'm swamped this weekend" when people try to add something more to your plate.

2. Remember That You Don't Owe Anyone A Lengthy Explanation

If someone tries to pressure you into agreeing to a commitment, or giving them a "yes" answer right in the moment, remind yourself that it's OK to take your time to decide, and even when you do get back to someone, you don't owe them a play-by-play of your rationale. Sure, it's polite to say something like, "Thank you for thinking of me, but I don't have time in my schedule this week," rather than just saying "No," but at the end of the day, the nitty gritty of your decision process is your business and yours alone.

Keeping some things private can also prevent people from trying to pick apart your reasoning and convince you to agree anyway. It's easy for people to argue against something like, "Sorry, I need to clean my room that day" ("Oh, you're just cleaning your room? That won't take long at all..."), whereas it's much harder to argue with, "Sorry, that just won't work for me." They can ask, "Why?", but repeating "That just won't work for me" is all the reason you need.

3. Talk It Over With Someone You Trust

If you're not sure whether you can take on another commitment, it's OK to consult a third party for some outside perspective. Sometimes simply talking through something and knowing that someone is listening to your thoughts and validating your experience is enough to solidify your answer in your mind. It's also OK to "practice" having a conversation turning down a commitment with a trusted person, like a friend or a therapist, so you feel more prepared to tell someone "no" later on.

4. Stay On Top Of Your Organization

When life gets busy, it can become simple to feel like you're always working on one project just to begin another. If you keep track of your long-term deadlines and commitments, sometimes it can really open your eyes to just how little you're able to focus on yourself and your personal needs. When was the last time you got a solid night's rest or had time to cook yourself your favorite dinner, for example? Using a monthly calendar or keeping a yearly journal can help you keep track of your long-term commitments and make it easier to tell someone that, frankly, you don't have the time to add another thing to your plate.

5. Remember That This Expectation Can Be Based In Gender Norms — And That You Don't Have To Follow Them If You Don't Want To

This one is a real bummer to consider, but I think it's definitely true: When it comes to women, there's an expectation that a "yes" is the only appropriate answer, whether it's taking on another project at work, picking up the kids from school, or doing someone an extra favor around the house. Especially when it comes to the workplace, many women feel pressured to say "yes" to additional tasks or jobs in order to remain competitive when their male counterparts. Overcommitting yourself in the workplace can really backfire, though, as Brent Beshore, founder and CEO of, explains in his Forbes article. How is that possible? According to Beshore, by taking on more than you can handle you’re opening yourself up to a potential blow up at work.

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