Overcoming Overcommitment: Causes and Solutions

A person sitting on a couch with their hand on their forehead, stressed. This is to demonstrate the necessity of overcoming overcommitment

Why are we always overcommitting ourselves? We take on extra assignments, work extra hours, and accept responsibilities on top of the ones we already have. We push ourselves to our limits, and sometimes beyond, to show our value, to prove ourselves.

Who benefits from this all-too-common practice?

If we’re constantly biting off more than we can chew, whether that be at work or in our personal lives, we’ll find ourselves exhausted, unsatisfied, and in poorer health. That’s not good for you, your coworkers, or your family members.

Today, I want to talk about overcoming overcommitment: why we do it and how to reevaluate our priorities and schedules to avoid it.

What is Overcommitment at Work?

Overcommitment at work can take on several forms. It could look like someone who regularly stays after hours, often long into the night, to get everything done.

It could also be someone who’s flitting from project to project to make sure they’re contributing to everything they said they would.

Employees who are overcommitted may become easily distracted and lose focus since they’re being stretched in so many directions. They may make silly errors when it comes to grammar or simple math. You may even notice that they forget to eat during the workday.

Keep in mind that different people experience overcommitment in different ways. Some people are better at hiding it than others, making it crucial to check in with your coworkers every so often to see how they’re doing.

Reasons for Overcommitting

There may be no one reason for someone deciding to take on more than they can handle.

Sometimes, people may feel inadequate or like they don’t do enough. They might feel like they aren’t innovating enough for the company or driving results like they want to. So, they agree to take up more work to feel like they’re making a difference.

If an employee is new to the workplace, they may feel like they need to say yes to what everyone is asking them to do to be well-liked and to seem like a team player. They’re trying to start off on the right foot but end up digging themselves a hole right from the very beginning.

Or maybe the person loves starting projects but has trouble seeing them through to the end. This makes it so they have a lot of loose threads that pile up all at once.

It’s worth mentioning that different workloads will affect people in numerous ways. While some people enjoy having five or six projects they’re working on, others get stressed and overwhelmed by having two or three. Each person’s mental capacity is different.

A Culture of Overcommitment

In the American culture that many of us live in, it’s normal to see people working 50 or even 60 hours per week instead of the standard 40.

In fact, America is one of the only industrialized countries without a national legal limit on the number of hours a person can work each week.

Because of this, many employees may see their coworkers doing so much more than them and feel inadequate. The American workplace has, in many ways, become infectious for overworked and overwhelmed employees.

Overcoming Overcommitment

The first step to overcoming overcommitment is realizing you’re overcommitted. Here are a few key warning signs:

  • You consistently feel like you aren’t getting enough rest.
  • Important things in your personal life are falling by the wayside.
  • You aren’t exercising or eating properly because you don’t have time.
  • You feel like you’re constantly working, but still not getting enough done.

Another red flag might be if you feel like you don’t have time to reflect on whether you’ve taken on too much.

Thankfully, if you do come to realize your overcommitment, there are some ways of coping with it as you move forward.

1. Say No and Mean It

If your coworkers and managers are constantly coming to you with more and more work, you must be able to set a boundary. This is extremely difficult and may take practice. Still, being honest about what you can and can’t do is much more valuable than saying yes to everything.

The bottom line is, you’ll do better work if you’re well-rested and energized. If the people around you aren’t willing to respect that, it may be time for a culture shift in your organization.

2. Prioritize

If you don’t already, write down everything you get done during the day at work. Then, sort these into four categories: must get done today; must get done tomorrow; must get done by the end of the week (or next week); delegate to [insert person’s name]

Anything that doesn’t fall into one of these categories may be crossed off the list entirely.

3. Get to Know Yourself

What are your limits? How will you know when you begin to feel overwhelmed? Take some time to understand what stresses you out and when you know you’ve overcommitted.

Then, get to know your coworkers. Will they be willing to work with you to help take some of the weight off your shoulders? How can you be honest and respectful toward your boss to let them know that you’re overwhelmed?

Clear communication will be the key to resolving this problem. Sometimes the added benefit of a coach can help you better know yourself, your coworkers, and how to deliver clear communication.

In Summary

It’s easy enough to succumb to overcommitment; there are more outside pressures that force us into doing more than there are for doing less. If you feel like your workplace has a culture of pushing people into biting off more than they can chew, it might be time for a culture shift and learning how to overcome overcommitment.

I’d love the opportunity to work with you to create a healthier, happier, and more productive environment. Get in touch with me to schedule a meeting.