Why We Overcommit and 5 Ways to Stop
I’m guilty of it. You’re guilty of it. Having had a discussion this weekend with several other like-minded Millennials, we came to the conclusion that we are the generation of the “more work, less sleep” mentality. What’s probably more interesting is that we don’t have that reputation. If you asked the generation before and (shudder) the generation after us, we have the stereotype of the overly entitled, self-absorbed, environmentally conscious, avocado-toast eating job hopper. We’re the generation of the participation trophy, working from home, and tech obsession. But, would it really surprise you to know that we are also work obsessed? This new survey, conducted by Project: Time Off suggests that Millennials are more likely to become “work martyrs,” effectively giving up more vacation days and working longer hours than their counterparts.
This research transcends the idea of the “lazy Millennial,” showing that Millennials are more concerned about “being away from the office” than other generations. This has created a culture of work-obsessed minions, eternally searching for the next promotion or job accolade.
So, therefore, it comes as no surprise that we find ourselves completely, and utterly, overcommitted. Let’s see a show of hands. Raise your hand if you’ve said “yes” even when you didn’t want to. Raise your hand if you have felt guilty for saying “no.” Raise your hand if you felt that "yes” was the only acceptable answer. Raise your hand if you agreed to something even if you didn’t think that you had the time or mental capacity to accomplish it. If we looked around this fictional room right now, it’s likely we would see everyone’s hand in the air. Maybe even some people with two hands raised.
So, why do we do this?
Overcommitting does not equal productivity
For many of us, myself included, the idea of overcommitting comes directly from the idea that “more is better.” Can you finish one project? Then, two must be better. Our work culture has been created such that an empty minute is a wasted minute. Or, rather, we’re not successful at our job unless we are swamped. Let’s think about a post-work happy hour. It becomes a measuring contest to compare how busy each person is. If someone said that they finished their work early and left the office for a nap at lunch time, you’d like consider that person lazy. But are they? Perhaps they’re simply more efficient.
Efficient time management comes from the simple reality that all time is finite. There are 24 hours in the day, regardless of how busy (or not) you are. Realizing that there is only X amount of time frees you to the possibility of accepting what you can and cannot finish. By looking at these constraints as a whole, it’s actually possible to strategically allot time to invest in the areas that you find most important and say “no” to the things that would not be a valuable use of your time.
So how do we stop?
#1 - Start saying “no”
One of my favorite quotes comes from Steve Jobs, who famously prided himself on his ability to say “no.” At a press conference in 1997 he said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
Saying “no” refers back to our idea of a finite amount of time. By saying “yes” less, you’re able to focus on the projects at hand in a more constructive manner, without outward pressure or distractions. Saying “no” to quantity also translates into a focus on quality, which most people would agree is a far better thing.
#2 - Listen to your gut
When I’ve talked to clients and friends about feeling overcommitted, a very common line of reasoning that comes up is guilt. Many feel guilty about saying “no” and therefore, feel obligated to continue with plans or work assignments that they feel overwhelmed by. These feelings are highly valid because often, societal pressure dictates that we say “yes” to spending time with family or having a “full” social calendar. However, because the feeling of “overcommitment” may vary from person to person, it’s important to listen to your gut.
Do you feel that taking on an additional project at work or social obligation would compromise your mental health? Ask yourself:
Would I feel anxious/nervous or overwhelmed by saying “yes”?
Would I rather focus on something else?
Are my personal needs being met?
Does saying “yes” work towards my end goal?
Answering these questions honestly is one of the first steps towards listening to your gut.
#3 - Put yourself first
The idea of feeling guilty when overcommitting comes up again here. Far too often, we put the needs and desires of others in front of our own. Just like when you’re on an airplane and you’re instructed to put your oxygen mask on before helping others, such is the same here. Your needs matter. You matter. By putting the needs and desires of others over your own, you sacrifice your own mental health. I’m a big believer in personality tests (such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Enneagram) as a way to identify your specific ways of coping, recharging, and energizing. You are an energy container. You cannot serve others if you are empty.
#4 - Prioritize Self-Care
Self-care has to come first. Are you looking forward to a big night out? How disappointed would you be if you suddenly came down with a cold? By sacrificing self-care, we’re putting our immunity as risk by under sleeping, under eating, and simply under resting! And self-care doesn’t have to imply rest. For some, they find themselves recharged by being around people (that’s the extroverts among us!). But for others, it’s much more recharging to be home alone, with a good book. What you do for yourself is self-care and that might look different than your friends. Prioritize the items that fill you up before you focus on others. When I find that I’m struggling with anxiety from being too busy, blocking out an hour of my day for “me” time makes a tremendous difference.
#5 - Cut yourself off from distractions
Put down your cell phone. Today’s culture of being an arm’s reach away from your cell phone only fuels your anxiety. By being so accessible via phone or email, it sets a precedent that it is always okay to reach out. “Oh, it’s okay. She’s always near her phone….” even when it’s past work hours. Being constantly available also includes the presumption that you’ll respond quickly. Allowing this to happen translates into more opportunities to feel obligated to take on an extra work commitment or feel overwhelmed. Setting boundaries for yourself goes back to my initial point of saying “no” and putting yourself first. If your office hours end at 5, set the boundary that you will not answer emails outside of work hours. While it might not always be realistic to distance yourself from your phone, being mindful not to check your phone every 5 minutes goes a long way in freeing yourself. I like setting myself a phone “bedtime” - after a certain time, my “Do Not Disturb” kicks on and I don’t check my phone. Simple, but it works!
How often do you feel overwhelmed? What are your tips and tricks? Leave them below!