How to get more work done when you are overcommitted and overscheduled

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Taking control of your time and schedule enables you to increase productivity, and enhance your quality of life.

Many people are constantly overwhelmed by projects, goals, tasks, work notifications, emails and the constant demand on their time by everyone close to them. The good news is, you can cut back, simplify, and de-load.

Some people thrive under pressure and end up enjoying the adrenaline rush that can come with working on many tasks and projects — for many people, however, it can be a recipe for burnout.

Overloading yourself can backfire. Sometimes taking on too much affect the quality of your work — you switch between tasks, jumping from one to another, and become less productive in the process. The worst part is, you may not even realize it’s happening! You just feel more and more frustrated with yourself and your diminishing productivity.

“Overcommitment is often a consequence of “poor limit setting,” which is one of the biggest problems high-achieving women face. “Poor limit-setting” means that you have trouble setting appropriate boundaries on your behavior or the behavior of others,” argues Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. of Psychology Today.

Why you are constantly overwhelmed

The tendency to say “yes” to almost every demand on your time has a tremendous effect on how you live your life. James Altucher writes in his book, “Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance and Happiness”, “When you say yes to something you don’t want to do, here is the result: you hate what you are doing, you resent the person who asked you, and you hurt yourself.”

Overcommitment is often a consequence of poor limit setting. Set a boundary for yourself and stick to it. Maybe you’re too nice to say no or overly optimistic about how much you can get done. Others don’t want to look bad by saying they can’t do something. Or maybe you’re afraid to miss out on opportunities by saying no.

Saying “no” to any commitment you can’t handle would be ideal, of course, but as I said, we all have a tendency to say “yes” to more than we can actually handle. And we become overscheduled, overcommitted or overextended.

William Penn said, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst”.

You have more control than you think

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot,” Michael Altshuler once said.

You are in control of your time. Don’t yield this control to someone else. If you give control of your schedule to a boss, a company, a client, a spouse, or anyone else, that’s a temporary choice.

Even if someone else seems to control some of your schedules, this is happening with your consent. You didn’t have to consent to this, and you still don’t. People can’t have control over your time without your consent. If you feel overscheduled, you can cut back.

Anthony Robbins once noted, “Once you have mastered time, you will understand how true it is that most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year — and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade!”

No one controls how you spend your time. People can offer you tasks to do, and you can accept or decline those at will. Either way, there are consequences.

“Effective time investment begins with accepting the reality that time is a finite resource. This acknowledgement frees you to make choices about what you will and won’t do so you can invest more in what’s most important, feel good about what you do and don’t get done, and still have disposable time left to relax and enjoy yourself,” says Elizabeth Grace Saunders of Harvard Business Review.

You can start using your time differently and thereby get different results. None of us wants to waste time — but if you don’t actively, intentionally take control, time will leak away from you, in small increments throughout the day.

Take control, and make it count.

Simplify your commitments

How many projects are you committed to? How many extracurricular stuff do you do? You can’t do it all. You need to learn to say no and value your time. And if you’ve already said yes, it’s still possible to say no.

Just be honest with people and tell them that you have a high number of urgent projects to complete and cannot commit to this any longer. Turn down new responsibilities if they would stretch you too thin or they’re not really worth it.

Slowly, you can eliminate your commitments to a very small number — only have those commitments in your life that really give you joy and value.

Cut back on your commitments
People who are overwhelmed are likely to work even harder to get everything done that needs to get done. They think that taking a break or cutting back on their workload will make things worse.

1. If you are caught in the cycle of overcommitment, step back and think! Stop whatever you’re doing, and take some time to think about everything you have going on. Take a walk if you have to.

2. Make a list of all your tasks and projects. Put everything on there to make it easy to visualize how much work and commitments that require your input and time.

The idea is to break the cycle and refocus on the important tasks that will bring you the results you actually need.

3. Set limits and force yourself to choose only the essential. Start with just the 3 important tasks to accomplish today.

4. Prioritize and choose which ones you’re going to focus on.

5. Eliminate. delegate. automate (I call it the EDA Principle). Of the tasks and projects you didn’t choose as your top priorities, separate them into three categories. Those that can be eliminated, delegated or automated.

6. If you can’t apply the EDA principle, renegotiate your commitments. Go to the person or people you’ve committed yourself to, and tell them honestly that you just cannot do everything on your plate right now, and ask for a different deadline or timeline.

Can they wait a week? A month? Set a new date, and try to stick to it. Give yourself enough time without feeling overcommitted or overscheduled.

7. Consider taking time off. This step is optional. If you can possibly take a day or half a day or even several days to relax, recuperate or refresh, that would be awesome for your total well-being.

Create more open periods of time in your life. It’s not necessary to schedule every minute of our lives. Keep wide open blocks of time where we either work on our important tasks or batch process the smaller ones.

8. Start planning your day on purpose. When would you work on your most important tasks? When would you start and end? When would you take breaks, hold meetings, answer emails or make phone calls? Map out your ideal workday, with blocks of time for certain types of tasks.

You must deliberately build margin into your life, or your busy seasons will become permanent.

Taking back control of your time is about determining how you want to balance your time, where your personal priorities are, and what will best help you manage your stress.

Before committing to something new, think about its implication on your time. The first few times you have to turn down an exciting opportunity may feel unsettling. But it pays to do a few things exceedingly well, than a lot of things in a mediocre way.

Examining your current activities with respect to your goals will allow you to focus on your most important things that advance your career.

This article first appeared on Medium.