Overstressed and overcommitted

This is an article for the stressed out overachiever who has spread themselves thin. According to a survey done by the U.S. Department of Labour, adults aged 25 to 54 spent an average of four hours a day in leisure activities. If you have forgotten what leisure activities even look like and rarely take four hours of down time in a week, then perhaps you are an overcommitted overachiever.

There are so many opportunities out there. Whether a job, a volunteer position or a course being offered, all opportunities take time. If you take the time to add up all the hours you put into everything you’re involved in, you’ll likely be surprised by how little free time you actually have. Unfortunately, there are only 24 hours in a day, and despite my best efforts, I have been unsuccessful in finding an eighth day in a given week. At times, it feels like the only solution is to have an extra hour a day, or an additional day in the week. That would allow us to get everything done, right? Wrong. In all honesty, if we had an extra day we would simply take up another challenge to add to our already hefty schedules. We feel like saying no is a sign of weakness or will cause others to perceive us as overly negative and uncaring. Of course you want to support the fight against cancer, but that doesn’t mean you have an extra eight hours per week to help your friend organize a fundraiser. Of course you want to help the homeless, but between two jobs and going to school full time, you’re not sure you can make it to the soup kitchen any time this month. There are a million causes and a million career-boosting opportunities — the key is knowing when you need to say no.

I wish I were an expert on the matter. I would love to say that I have my priorities straight, get everything done ahead of time and have never once put important things off while filling my time with the trivial. Like many, I do small projects first before I even think about the larger ones, I spend more time making checklists than I spend on assignments and I work on projects for my job to avoid school and vice-versa. Psychologists would tell us this all stems from a childhood need to impress authority figures. In other words, maybe you just want daddy to be proud of all you have accomplished. However, it may be that some of us are just trying to impress ourselves and hope that if we accomplish enough, maybe we’ll finally be satisfied. Of course, it’s never enough.

Why is it never enough? Well, just in case you’re not getting enough calcium, let me give you a small dose of cheese — the reason it’s never enough is that you’re not pursuing the right goals. Wow, right? It may sound more cheesy than profound, but let me put it another way for you. There are several areas that people set goals — they could be for health, family, financial, intellectual, social, spiritual or professional reasons. If your number one priority is your family, but you’re spending all your time focusing on professional goals, then you’re bound to be unhappy. Likewise, if you find your identity in your social network and yet you fill your schedule in pursuit of financial success, you’ll find yourself wishing for more hours in a day. Your schedule should reflect your priorities.

Being stressed out and overworked is tiring, and realizing that you simply cannot “do it all” is the best thing you can do for yourself, and for those around you. This may mean not volunteering for that group your friend is involved in, or not taking that third job, or not taking five courses in summer session. This will mean different things for different people because we each have different priorities.

If you have trouble saying no to things, there are some great strategies you can try. Sometimes just knowing how much time you really have in a week will keep you from over committing, so this means using that free agenda you got at the beginning of the year. Pushy people can intimidate you into saying yes when really you have prior commitments, if you have a hard time being firm, “Let me think about it and get back to you,” is a great way to get them off your back till you have time to text them a polite “Sorry, that doesn’t fit my schedule.”

Knowing your schedule and managing your time to fit your own priorities is the best strategy to avoid burning out. Being committed to a bunch of things only leads to stress and exhaustion, and, oddly enough, it’s hard to get much of anything done when you can’t focus. We all like to think we’re the exception to the rule, that we really can “do it all,” but if we’re all running under that assumption we’re all running blind. I mean really, I’m pretty sure I’m the exception to the rule anyway, so you’re out of luck, and likely out of time as well.