How to Stop Over-Committing Yourself

Posted on: March 12th, 2019 by Pat Mesiti 5 Comments

Have you ever watched that television show, ‘Hughesy, we have a problem’. Ordinary Australians talk about their problems but with humour. Well, I also have a problem, but I can’t say it’s making me laugh.

I over-commit myself. I take on too many projects and promise too many people too much. I often feel close to burn-out. I know as an over-achiever I’m not alone. I read an article recently on the US Association of Talent Development. The association did a survey of 1,353 people and three out of five had agreed to accomplish more than they could actually do in the time available. Another one in five people said they had reached their limit and couldn’t commit to more.

Why do people take on too much at work and home? These are the top five reasons people gave to the Association of Talent Development:

  • A desire to be helpful, accommodating, and polite.
  • A tendency to jump in and fix problems, even when they aren’t theirs.
  • Ambiguous limits and unclear rules about which tasks to accept or reject.
  • Working with those in authority who make nonnegotiable demands.
  • An inability to say ‘no’ or renegotiate commitments.

Over-commitment in offices and worksites stems from poorly designed workflow management systems. Companies are shedding staff and trying to do more with less. Most workers do not have a system to capture and organise incoming tasks as well as the skills to negotiate what is asked of them. Without these, people find themselves overcommitted.

Are you damaging your emotional and physical health?

People who are overcommitted at work are at risk of burn-out. Their health and wellbeing suffers. They do not get enough exercise. Their personal relationships suffer, their marriages end. 44 percent of overly committed people told the Association of Talent Development that they are ‘really present’ only half of the time and 37 percent say they are rarely or never present. That is a terrible confession, especially if these people have children at home.

The reality is that the person responsible for protecting you is YOU. You need to get your workload in order. You need to push back and reclaim your personal life. It is really difficult to cut back on work if you are doing important work and you believe in what you do. If you are a doctor or vet or work for a not-for-profit organisation there are a million worthwhile tasks for you to you. You could be 24 hours, seven days a week doing meaningful work, but is it healthy to work nonstop? No, we all need time out to look after our physical and emotional health and the people we love.

Here are some tips on how to cut back your workload:

List everything that needs doing

Write down every job that you think you need to attend to. Perhaps you already have multiple to-do lists on numerous devices on apps and emails.

Cross examine everything on your to-do list

Ask yourself if you need to do everything on this list. Is there anyone else who could do these tasks? How urgent are these tasks? 

Can you reduce the service you offer

Sometimes over-committed people are also perfectionists. They end up doing everything because they don’t trust others to do the work as well as they could. Ask yourself if these jobs need to be done to that exceptionally high standard or could someone else at your work deliver a perfectly adequate service. Sometimes you just have to let it go and give others a chance to prove themselves. Alternatively you can do the job, but just get the job done well and don’t over-service or insist on everything being perfect.

High-achieving women over-commit 

I was reading an article on the US website Psychology Today. The article by Sherrie Bourg Carter said that high-achieving women tend to over commit and they overcommit for different reasons.

Dr Carter said over-commitment was often a consequence of ‘poor limit setting’, which is one of the biggest problems high-achieving women face. Dr Carter said for most women, this goes back to childhood. Most girls are socialized to be helpful, accommodating, and polite. If they can help, they are taught they should, even if it takes them away from something they’re already doing. Women traditionally go into caring/service roles like nursing and teaching. Women are too often helping others out. However it can’t all be blamed on childhood. Sometimes, it’s pride and the need for achievement that motivates high-achieving women to take on too many responsibilities. 

Here are some tips from Dr Carter on how to stop taking on too much

1. Resist Being Ms Fix-It-All

High-achievers tend to jump in and fix a problem straight away. Instead give others a chance to sort it. They may not do it as quickly or as well as you, but if you weren't there, it would get done. And it will if you back off.

2. The Art of Saying No: Practice It!

Sometimes, high-achievers commit because they're caught off guard and they don't have a ‘good reason’ to say no. You don't need a good reason to say no. Instead practise saying no. Think of situations that have come up in the past, and then experiment with polite ways to say no.

3. Negotiate

If you feel passionately about a cause, but don't have the time then try to negotiate a time when it will work better for you. More importantly, be prepared to walk away with a ‘no, thank you’ if the time can’t be re-negotiated.

As someone who over-commits I warn you to take this problem seriously. Are you neglecting your health, your family and your emotional well-being? If the answer is yes, then you need to reduce your workload and pay yourself and those you love some quality attention. Stop over-committing.


Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


  1. Paul Vallance says:

    Hi Pat

    Always a pleasure to read your stuff.

    A long time since you were selling the
    ‘Coming to a City Near You..’ tee shirts

    Great days though.



  2. jayne Saunders says:

    Thanks Pat,
    Very timely post. I have had these issues all my adult life. And trying not to be a ms fix it is the single hardest thing for me. I am working on it. 🙂 Learning to say no instead of maybe is very liberating .

  3. Gabrielle Cooper says:

    Pat, you have hit the nail on the head again. Thanks so very much

  4. Kerryn says:

    How very timely, and certainly a reminder that I need. A few aha moments reading this. My new mantra (stolen from Phoebe Buffay); “I wish I could, but I don’t want to”.

Leave Your Message