In a recent post, I talked about how you can recognize signs that you’re taking on too many tasks at once. But once you figure out you’re in over your head, what do you do?
Some people are tempted to just keep working. They tell themselves, “Once I bust through this project, then I can back off a bit.”
I don’t know about you, but my to-do list never works that way. The moment I cross off one thing, I feel compelled to add two more.
But if you keep trying to bite off more than you can chew, you’re going to start slipping behind. Your productivity will suffer, and so will the quality of your work.
Eventually that’s going to bite you.
There’s also the concern that stress will eventually turn into burnout. There’s a point at which your body and mind say, “Hold up, I can’t handle any more of this. We’re going on strike.”
Trust me, you don’t want to get to that point.
So what can you do about it? How can you get back on track, reprioritize your projects and tasks, and figure out what you really need to be doing right now?
Here are six suggestions you can put into action starting today.
#1 – Recognize that not everything is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
It’s important to figure out the reason you’re overcommitted in the first place.
For students and entrepreneurs, there’s this constant need to seize every opportunity to get ahead. It’s hard to say no because every time an opportunity comes your way, a little voice inside your head claims if you fail to act, you’ll never get another chance..
Sure, there are those types of opportunities. Sometimes you have to grab them before they get away from you. But the key thing to remember is that you cannot possibly grab every opportunity.
Also, keep in mind, there are more second and third chances in life than you might think. Turning down an opportunity doesn’t mean you won’t have the chance to take advantage of it later when you have time, inclination and motivation.
And who knows – the next opportunity waiting for you down the road might be better than the one you’re considering acting upon.
#2 – Use a rifle, not a shotgun
Let’s say you find yourself with three or four exciting opportunities. Each one seems promising. That being the case, you’re tempted to act on all of them.
The problem is, you’re unlikely to spend the necessary time, energy and attention to do a great job across the board. You’re going to miss things. Details are going to fall through the cracks.
Instead of jumping in with both feet, step back and evaluate each opportunity with respect to how it complement your goals. Then, compare them side by side. You’ll find that some will accommodate your goals better than others.
Moreover, there’s a good chance that one of them will stand out.
Pursue that one. Do an amazing job on it and you’ll be more productive and get more accomplished than you would if you were to spread yourself thin by pursuing multiple opportunities.
#3 – Create a detailed schedule
Grab a calendar and create a schedule for your workweek. Google Calendar is a great option, but there are many others that work just as well. The important thing is that you’re able to schedule the day, from the moment you start working until you call it a night.
Once you’ve scheduled your workweek, the calendar will reveal how much free time you actually have after accounting for your work and personal obligations.
You’ll know immediately if you’re taking on too many responsibilities. If you are, it’s time to reprioritize and drop low-priority tasks and projects.
Going forward, avoid agreeing to last-minute commitments, and never agree to anything without consulting your calendar!
#4 – Don’t be afraid to cancel
Whether you’re overwhelmed by work commitments or personal obligations, don’t think twice about canceling something if you need to. Call or email the person you made the commitment to and let him or her know you can’t do it.
You’ll be tempted to put this off. That’s understandable. You’re going to feel like a flake. But the sooner you send the email or make the call, the better. The longer you wait, the more you’ll inconvenience the other person.
Will the person to whom you’ve made the commitment be disappointed? Probably. Will he or she be angry? Maybe. But if canceling allows you to regain control of your time, you’ll be better off in the long run.
It’s also worth noting the other person may be better off. After all, if you’re feeling overcommitted and stressed out, you’ll probably do a poor job at whatever you committed yourself to.
#5 – Put your personal needs first
Remind yourself of the reasons you take on the projects and tasks on your plate. If you’re like most people, you do it so you can provide for yourself and your family.
Ultimately, you do it so you can be happy and live a rewarding life. But if you are overworked and feeling burnout, you aren’t happy. So what are you actually accomplishing?
You owe it to yourself to create a good life for you and your family. No one else is going to do it for you. But you can’t accomplish that goal if you’re feeling stressed out and on the verge of mental – and even physical – collapse.
Get the sleep you need to function well during the day. Eat foods that nourish your mind and body. Set aside time to relax and hang out with your loved ones.
If you don’t manage your own needs, you won’t be able to take care of the people who are most important to you.
#6 – Learn how to say “no”
In Japan, people literally go out of their way to say anything but “no.” It’s a part of the Japanese culture. Saying “no” is seen as a sign of weakness. If someone else says, “yes,” you may be seen as an underachiever.
While there’s a lot to love about Japanese culture, this is one area where the prevailing attitude can lead to a negative outcome.
You have a right to say “no.” In fact, you owe it to yourself to do so if saying “yes” will cause you to become overcommitted. Say “yes” to yourself by declining to take on tasks and projects for other people.
When you do say “yes,” you’ll have the confidence of knowing you have the time, mental energy and motivation to do a fantastic job!
Society has trained us to say “yes” to every opportunity, responsibility or commitment presented to us. It’s no wonder so many people are feeling overwhelmed.
Now’s the time to take back control.
Take a long, hard look at your calendar. Give yourself some breathing room. Pick and choose opportunities according to your availability and long-term aims. Don’t be afraid to say “no” and don’t be afraid to cancel if you’re overcommitted.
You’ll be glad you prioritized your needs, as will your family, friends and boss – even if it doesn’t feel that way right now.
If it feels like you’re spinning your wheels without getting much done, you’re not alone and it’s not your fault. My action guide The 30-Day Productivity Boost: How To Break The 30 Bad Habits That Are Sabotaging Your Time Management can help.