7 Ways to Stop Overcommitting Yourself

‘Tis the season to be …overcommitted. The question is, why? Why do so many of us allow ourselves to be in a perpetual state of being overwhelmed and overcommitted?

For some, it’s that people-pleasing inability to say ‘no.’ For others, it’s driven by fear — fear of upsetting or hurting the feelings of friends and neighbors or the fear of not being a team player or a pillar of the community.

The trouble is, when we give that knee-jerk ‘yes’ to every request, we’re constantly valuing the happiness of others over our own. Ultimately that’s a recipe for resentment, exhaustion, and burnout.

As we head into the New Year, it’s the perfect time to start your personal pushback plan — one that will enable you to truly enjoy the days to come by opening up room for the activities that matter most to you. The mission: to start using ‘yes’ strategically instead of as your default setting.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Embrace the Negative

‘Yes’ is easy to say. It puts a smile on people’s faces. ‘No’ is harder, but it can put a smile back on yours – so it’s time to start getting comfortable with it. Try to always have a few standard ‘no’ lines at the ready, and don’t be afraid to use them – nicely, of course. Let people down gently with a polite but firm, “I’d love to, but I’m overbooked right now and there’s just no way I can make the party/school-volunteer gig/etc.” Graciously thank them for thinking of you and leave it at that. Keep it simple. No need to elaborate further on the specifics of why you’re busy. If the asker keeps pushing, don’t fall for it. Stay strong, repeat your ‘no’ and change the subject. Remember, they’ve got nothing to lose — you do.

2. Plot Your Course

Whether you do it ‘old school’ on paper, or type it all into your phone, most of us live by our daily, monthly and yearly calendars. Typically, our days follow a fairly busy pattern as we work hard to keep the show on the road. There is a rhythm to life, overscheduled as it may be. So why, then, when the holidays roll around do we delude ourselves, thinking we can add even more activities to the already filled-up mix? Fact is, you really can’t do it all — something’s gotta give! When you say ‘yes’ to one activity, you’re making the choice, conscious or otherwise, to bump something else off the list, like time with the family, going for a run, meditating, or reading a book. As you make choices, you have to ask yourself, Is this truly the best way to spend my time? Which commitment ranks higher in importance? Keep asking yourself this question and over time, saying ‘no’ to time-sucking, non-essential activities will start to get a whole lot easier.

3. Do the Math — And Get Real

Still thinking, ‘Oh, come on, I can squeeze in a few more commitments this week?” Then you’re probably not doing the math. Like it or not, you really are limited by the actual number of hours in the day, the majority of which are already spoken for. For example, here’s a common daily schedule for many Americans: sleep (7 hrs); shower, breakfast, get ready for work and get the kids out the door (2 hrs); round-trip work commute (1.5 hr); work (8hrs); exercise (.5 hrs); dinner, tuck the kids in (2 hrs). Total time elapsed: 21 hours, leaving you, with at best, 3 un-booked hours in the average day. Are you sure you want to spend them on something you said yes to months ago in a weak moment? Didn’t think so.

4. ‘NO’ Is Time Management for Your Life

Learning to say ‘no’ more often than ‘yes’ takes some getting used to, but when you do, you’re establishing your priorities and boundaries. Saying ‘no’ is a reminder that, you’re in charge, not the person presenting you with the time-consuming request or last-minute invitation. Sure, there will be times when helping a friend or neighbor is the right thing to do, but unless you can do it without dropping an important-to-you activity from the list, then ‘no’ is the way to go.

5. ‘NO’ Is Kinder Than You Think

Saying ‘yes’ to a party or an occasion long in advance and then spending the weeks leading up to it stressing out because you know you’ll likely bail at the last minute is far more stressful than just saying ‘no’ at the outset. Why prolong your pain? Rip the band-aid off and let the host know from the get-go that you won’t be able to make it. Saying yes and then texting that you can’t make it a few hours before the event is not only rude but is likely to cause far more ill-will than saying no up front. Why? Simple. You’ve cost your hosts time and money. The table is set, you’ve been counted into the food and drink calculations, your seat at the fundraiser has been bought. If, despite your best efforts, you’re having trouble saying no face-to-face, then politely decline via email, long before the due date, to avoid prolonging your stress for you and inconveniencing them. Better yet, no hurt feelings. Everybody wins!

6. ‘NO’ Is Better for Your Physical and Mental Health

Even if you enjoy social engagements, performances, and exhibits four or five nights a week, it’s going to take a toll on your body. Between weakened immunity from not enough sleep and too much alcohol and the poor food choices that go along with an overstuffed schedule, getting sick is virtually inevitable. One way to keep immunity strong with multiple obligations is to divide and conquer — trade off events with your partner so one of you can have a night off, and let the host know in advance that your attendance will be brief. Another option: stick to a schedule where no matter what, you give yourself every other night off to hit the sack early instead of running on empty for months on end.

7. Commit  — To No More Overcomitting

The bottom line? You’ve got to take control of your personal time bank so others cannot. If you find yourself backsliding, keep the following quick tips in mind:

  • Have your standard ‘no’ lines always at the ready so you’re not caught off guard.
  • Take advantage of email and use it to graciously decline nonessential requests as soon as they arrive.
  • Remember your time bank is limited, literally, by the hours in the day.
  • Budget your time and determine where and how you will spend it.
  • Avoid long explanations and spinning tales — just say ‘no’.
  • As the saying goes, ‘shut it down’ (politely, of course).
  • Be selective and say ‘yes’ to only the things that truly matter to you and are worth the time spent.
  • When you want to say ‘yes’ but time won’t permit, offer to help out in some other way.
  • Don’t lie and say ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’.

Remember, in the end, all that over-promising, over-extending, and overcommitting adds to your stress load. Do the opposite — and start living a freer, more balanced life! It all starts with ‘no.’

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