Too Much To Do? Three Ways to Prioritize Our Commitments.
Are you tired of feeling like you always have too much to do, like you cannot sustain your perspective because you are running from one thing to the next?
Our daily perspective, how we view our values, priorities, commitments, and relationships, is so important to our sense of well-being.
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I recently put out a poll on my Instagram Story asking folks to report which of the following causes them to lose perspective more: lack of sleep or too much to do. The majority of respondents (62%) reported that having too much to do was a bigger contributor to losing perspective than lack of sleep.
I think many of us are either forced out of necessity or tempted due to social pressure to overcommit ourselves. And, to be fair, I think this overcommitment often leads to lack of sleep - a double whammy of losing perspective.
So, how do we reign it in? How do we determine our appropriate commitment capacity so that we are not constantly feeling like we have "too much to do?"
I think there are several factors that we can focus on that are at least mostly under our control:
1) the volume of commitments we make, and
2) the framework we use to make and view our commitments.
Let's unpack those two factors, and then discuss three actionable steps to prioritize our commitments.
The Volume of Commitments We Make
As mentioned, some of us do not have a choice but to overcommit due to financial necessity or familial obligation, etc. For those in this category, we will need to focus on the second factor, the framework we use to make and view our commitments.
For those of us who do have control over the commitments we make, an important preliminary distinction is to do just that - determine which commitments are non-negotiable, and which we could pass up.
Next, we need to determine our commitment capacity - how much can we commit to without being overwhelmed? This is not just our total number of commitments, but the magnitude of each commitment as well.
Determining our commitment capacity takes a great deal of self-awareness and trial and error. We must also be aware that different seasons of life will shape both the number and the type of commitments we are capable of committing to. For example, I have noticed that during this season of raising a toddler, I have needed to cut back on extra professional opportunities because the magnitude of time and energy it takes to raise a healthy toddler takes up a lot of my capacity.
Once we have determined our commitment capacity (an ongoing process), we can assess which commitments are high-priority and/or non-negotiable, and then place the rest on a list for consideration. We will discuss how to decide on these remaining commitments in our three actionable steps below.
The Framework We Use to Make and View Our Commitments
Another beneficial step in commitment making is to establish a two-part framework. The first part of the framework sets up how we decide to make a commitment, and the second part sets up how we view our commitments on a daily basis.
As mentioned, the first part of the framework is not always applicable to those who are already overcommitted out of financial necessity, etc. because there is not a choice in making the commitment. Those of us in this category can focus on the second part of the framework.
Deciding to make a commitment
Often, the first part of the framework is set up by a series of questions. The framework I use to make commitment decisions, looks like this:
Do I have a choice in making this commitment? (I think it is important to ask that question even when I know the answer)
Is this commitment in line with my highest priorities and values?
Does this commitment provide at least one of the following?
Personal or professional growth
Advancement of an important cause
An opportunity to help a family member, friend, student, or colleague succeed
Would this commitment cause any higher priority commitments to suffer?
Why do I really want to do this?
If the commitment is one that I have a choice in making, I need to be able to: 1) say yes to questions two and three, 2) say no to question four, and 3) provide a clear why for question five.
This framework has served me well in decision making, and, at minimum, causes me to pause and consider before making a decision too quickly.
How we view our commitments on a daily basis
Once we have made a commitment, either out of necessity or out of choice, we have the power to control how we view it every day.
The second part of the framework is also set up by questions and reflections and helps us view our commitments positively and re-frame if necessary.
Here are a few questions or reflections that you can use when setting up the second part of your framework:
How is this commitment in line with my priorities and values? If the commitment is out of necessity and does not feel completely in line with our priorities and values, we may need to get creative with finding reasons it is in line with our priorities and values. The next question may help with this.
How does this commitment benefit me or someone I care about deeply? If we have committed to a job or project out of financial necessity, we can confidently answer that the commitment is providing the financial means we need to take care of ourselves and/or our family members, both of which are likely two of our top priorities.
Why does the attitude/outlook I bring to this commitment matter? This question helps us understand and adopt the type of attitude or outlook we want to bring to the commitment.
What is the duration of this commitment? Some commitments are life-long and some are short-lived. We often feel overwhelmed because we forget that some commitments will come to an end and that we can soon re-prioritize again.
What is the desired outcome of this commitment? Keeping the desired outcome in mind helps us to reinforce our responses to the first four questions. If we can paint a clear vision for the outcome, we can better align our energies around the commitment.
Ok, now that we have set up both parts of our decision making framework, we are ready to move on to three ways we can prioritize our commitments.
Three Ways to Prioritize Our Commitments
Below are actionable steps we can take to prevent overcommitment and the sensation of having too much to do.
1. Pause and create space before saying yes to a commitment.
This may seem so simple; however, it is simple in concept, complex in action. Even if you are almost positive you are going to say yes to a commitment, I still encourage you to press pause first. Pausing is such a powerful way of offering yourself the opportunity to consider a commitment prior to making it. Pausing provides you the opportunity to move through your decision making framework and consider the current volume of commitments you already have.
Many of us feel pressured to make a decision quickly or give someone an answer on the spot, but we do not need to succumb to these pressures. I've learned that a great way to offer myself the pause I need is to say, "Thank you for thinking of me and presenting this opportunity. It seems like a wonderful opportunity. I'd like to take a little time to assess my current commitments and make sure I would be able to offer my best to this opportunity. Is it ok if I get back to you tomorrow or the next day?"
2. Set clear and meaningful boundaries around your commitment capacity.
Once you have done the work of clarifying your commitment capacity, it is so important to protect your time and energy by creating clear and meaningful boundaries. Pausing and running each commitment through your decision making framework is a great first step.
Another important step is to get really clear with yourself on when it is time to say no. If you are already stretched to your maximum capacity, and yet another obligatory commitment (or incredibly appealing commitment) presents itself, how will you negotiate saying no? Or, how will you offload a current commitment to make space for the new one?
I like to set myself up for success by saying to myself, "Ok, I am at my maximum capacity. I cannot take anything else on if I want to offer my best self to my current commitments and my most important priorities and relationships. In order for me to say yes to anything else, I must offload another commitment. If I cannot offload anything, I will graciously decline the commitment for now and will get creative with trying to keep the door open for future opportunities."
Most people respect when we clearly communicate our boundaries and offer a meaningful explanation for why we are not able to say yes at this time.
3. Establish an accountability partner.
If you've successfully adopted a healthy behavior in the past, you know that it makes a world of difference to have someone you are accountable to on a regular basis. Your accountability partner is someone who knows and understands you and your goals and is willing to ask you the tough questions to keep you aligned with your goals.
I like to tell my accountability partner when I am at my commitment capacity, and I ask them to check in with me and ask me if I am running my commitments through my decision making framework.
I also ask my accountability partner to check in with me and ask me if I am feeling overcommitted, and if I am, I ask them to help me brainstorm effective solutions to the current situation and for moving forward.
It is far too easy to get caught up in overcommitment and to get accustomed to overreaching and stretching ourselves too thin. It is really beneficial to have someone else help you press the pause button.
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Inevitably, we will hit those moments or those seasons where we experience the sensation of overload. Those moments and seasons provide us with an opportunity to re-assess our processes and to determine what we may need to change going forward.
As with most behavior change, knowing how to make a healthy change is one thing, and living it out daily is another. Let's commit to the process one day at a time, and make necessary adjustments as we go. It feels good to be able to take a deep breath and know that we have done everything within our control to prevent feeling like we have too much to do.
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If you are looking for an accountability partner, this is what I love to do! A big part of the reason I became a wellness coach is to help support you in achieving your wellness goals by providing accountability and resources as YOU need them.
If you have questions about wellness coaching, please reach out to schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation.
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