A New Approach for When You’re Overcommitted and Overloaded

It takes only a moment to start something new, but before you do, consider a cooling off period
November 11, 2018 Updated: January 24, 2020

Many of us are already busy but still pile more onto our overfull plate.

Why are we so overloaded? And how do we deal with this problem?

If you’re like me, you have a habit of starting new commitments, projects, challenges, books, and so on and then halfway into it, you realize you already had too much to do.

At this point, my usual approach is to start to simplify—I realize I’ve taken on too much, and then I start to cancel commitments. I tell people I just can’t do what I said I’d do, which feels pretty bad (to let people down) but it’s also a huge relief to let go of a burden.

I’ve come to realize this is a pattern of mine. And it’s not serving me.

Taking on too much, and then quitting commitments and projects leads to:

  1. Not being trustworthy, because people can’t count on you.
  2. Not being good at finishing things.
  3. Getting out when things are uncomfortable and difficult—just when you should be going deeper.

So I’ve decided to try a different approach.

In this approach, I don’t quit. I stay in the discomfort.

In this new approach, I don’t rationalize why I’m not doing it. I recommit myself and make a stronger, more iron-willed commitment. I make the space. I make it happen.

I might simplify other areas, but not the ones where I’ve made a commitment. I might renegotiate when I fulfill the commitment so that I can make the room to make it happen—but I don’t bail.

In this new approach, I also learn to press the pause button before I make new commitments. I evaluate whether I really have the space for it, like a cooling off period before you’re allowed to buy a gun.

In this new approach, I learn to recognize the excuse that I’m too busy to do something that’s important to me. If it’s important, I can make it happen. If I have too many other things, I just need to create a structure so that I can make time for what matters. And drop the things that really don’t matter.

If I’m making excuses, I need to call myself on it.

If I’m overloading myself, it’s because I don’t have the courage to say “no” before I take something on.

If I feel overwhelmed, I need to let myself feel overwhelmed. And then make the time to get my most important mission done.

So this is the approach, boiled down:

  1. Recognize when I’m justifying not doing something important, and stop buying the excuse. Make the space, create structure, and make it happen.
  2. Recognize when I’m about to quit doing something important that I’ve committed to, because I’m feeling too busy. Make the space and structure for it.
  3. Recognize when I’m about to give up because something is uncomfortable. Push into the discomfort and go deeper.
  4. Pause before taking on new things. Is there room for new things right now?
  5. Become a finisher.
  6. Deal with feelings of overwhelm by creating space for silence, meditation, and wide open freedom in my consciousness.

Become someone who has the iron will to finish important commitments. Life is too short to be wavering.

Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with over 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit ZenHabits.net