4 Guidelines to Avoid Over-Commitment

You know I like to maintain a simple life in terms of schedules. I’ve shared with you our barometer for a too busy life, but that focused mostly on evenings and family events.

Another nuance of the busy life is over-commitment. This is often a little harder to manage, because the things we are doing are often very good.  You may volunteer for something at church, or have another mom over for coffee, or make a meal for someone. Those are all really good things, but when you add them to play dates, and children’s school schedules, and, well, basic cleaning and cooking and it quickly falls into a too rushed life.

Being that it is October, I thought this would be a good reminder mainly for me. You all can listen in! I am well aware that these months leading up to the new year can quickly pile up with commitments if we are not careful. So here’s a friendly reminder to keep the calendar in check!

1. Know Your Priorities

I think it is important that we verbalize priorities, even in terms of relationships. This doesn’t mean we are going to be unkind to someone or that we think lesser of them, but we have to set priorities. We can’t be all things to all men. And when we try, we usually fail everyone. Family, church, neighbors/community, friends, etc. Be specific about which of these relationships are going to take priority in your life.

Often times we let ourselves get over-committed with things we don’t even care about simply because we haven’t stopped to verbalize which people/events are going to take priority. Talk it over with your spouse if you are married, and make sure you are on the same page. Your spouse can be your biggest ally in reaffirming your decisions when you both know exactly where the priorities are.

2. Know Your Threshold

I’m not talking about a threshold of, “I like to get with someone.” I usually always like to get together with people. I’m talking about knowing when things are going to start falling apart at home, dinners are going to end up being drive-thru, the house is going to be a wreck, the kids are going to be bouncing off the walls, etc. Know your limits.

There is no shame in saying no to something simply because it would be adding to much to your life right now. It might even be something you are great at. Again, check back on your priorities and make sure you are doing the things that you really need and want to be doing. Having a basic number of how many things you can handle in any given week is helpful.

3. Create Margin to Allow for Unplanned Opportunities

I’ve been in the position of wanting to jump in and get involved in a last minute need or opportunity only to realize that I had completely over extended myself with previous commitments. And the worst part is when those previous commitments are not nearly as meaningful as that last minute opportunity would have been.

Obviously, we can’t know our future and we can’t predict those last minute things. But, very often, even stressful last minute things are much less stressful if we had planned for the unexpected.

I like to call it margin. I use margin all the time. If I know it takes me 10 minutes to get out the apartment door to our car with 3 kids, I allow 15. You plan for the unplanned. To make this very simple and not require any math, if your threshold is 2 commitments on any given week, than only regularly plan 1.

Yes, I’m oversimplifying here, but you get the idea. Know your number for when things start to completely unravel for you, and then only regularly plan less than that. Don’t plan for that exact amount or the unexpected will unravel you.

4. “I’ll Get Back With You.”

As a general rule, it is best to not answer right in the moment. “Can you help with this?” “Let me get back with you.” That isn’t to sound all busy-like and as if you don’t care. But it is very hard to assess objectively if this commitment lies within your priorities, will not put you over the limit of what you can legitimately handle, and will still allow for margin, when the person is staring you in the face waiting for an answer. I mean, maybe it is just my people-pleasing self, but I find that really difficult.

If it is a true emergency you obviously just jump in and do what needs to be done. But I am assuming in that case you wouldn’t have any trouble canceling other commitments to allow for the emergency. When it comes to everything else, a good rule of thumb is to never make the decision on the spur of the moment.

What do you do to make sure you don’t over commit?

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  1. Johanna, you are so practical. I just say no to some things. Right off the bat. I think it may offend occasionally, but I just can’t do more at times. I like building in a margin, and knowing what you can do. I’ll get back to you it really great. Doesn’t commit or den, but allows you to assess. Thanks, once again for a great post.

  2. The priority thing has been really big for me lately. I’ve had to re-evaluate what my greatest priorities are, and adjust my daily/weekly goals accordingly. I’ve had to turn down some opportunities that I would enjoy, simply because they’re not as important as other things, and I can only spread myself in so many directions.

    I think re-evaluating is something we need to do on a regular basis. Personally, we re-evaluate priorities every new school semester. For others, maybe just once a year would do it.

    • Yes, school year/semester seem to be natural times for us to re-evaluate too. And, yes, priorities are something that have to be seriously considered (and adjusted) as life situations change.

  3. Love this post. I am thinking about all this lately, and trying to be really intentional about slowing down and cutting things out. Have you read Mitten Strings for God? I’m reading it now and LOVING it! :)

    • I haven’t yet, but I read her book, “A Mother’s Memoir” earlier this year so I want to read Mitten Strings of God, too. Her writing style is so beautiful!

  4. Thanks for another great post, Johanna. We are the same way with priorities and commitments. I tend to say, “I’m just not a juggler,” quite often when I say no to things. I let people know about my personality and our family priorities – like you mentioned. When people understand that part of my personality, they seem to understand that I don’t like filling up my schedule too much, and they don’t take it as an offense to them.

    • That’s a really good idea to just point out that your personality is different. Because I do agree, that some people thrive on being “busy” and other people (me!) don’t.


  1. […] mentioned awhile back that one of the reasons I have guidelines to avoid over-commitment is to create margin for unexpected things. This was one such week where that came in extremely […]

  2. […] It is amazing how clarifying just putting things on paper can be. It will help you readjust your schedule to really accomplish your priorities for your family. It will help you say no to some things so you can make room for some of those things that are higher up on the priority list. It will give you direction as you fill up the calendar and your days. Be sure and stick to your guidelines to avoid over commitment.  […]

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