Since my coaching specialty is time management for accountants, one of the most significant issues I see for many of my time management coaching clients is overcommitting.  This is especially common among accountant moms and is often one of the biggest obstacles to better time management.

I see it time and time again where a coaching client doesn’t recognize that the problem isn’t time; the problem is what leads them to overcommit themselves and their time in the first place.  They believe they just need a better time management system or process, and then everything will be able to be managed properly.

The issue is that we often don’t see the problem until we’re being crushed by the weight of everything we committed to.  Most accountants I coach have normalized their commitments and don’t recognize that they’re overcommitted until we start addressing their time management needs.

These are hard-working, intelligent women who want to do their best professionally and personally, as well as create more time for the things and the people they love, but they just cannot get a handle on how to make it all work.  They just don’t see what I see – signs of overcommitment. 

Many coaching clients will come to me when things become unbearable, but hopefully, I can help you do something about the issue long before it becomes a bigger problem.  By the end of this episode, I hope you have a better understanding of the cause of overcommitting and what to do about it.  

Thankfully, you do not need to continue to be affected by overcommitment issues once you understand the underlying cause.  When you address the cause, you inevitably change the effect.

That’s why the style of coaching that I learned is so powerful – it’s not about just telling you how to change certain things to get different results.  It’s about understanding exactly why you have your current results and then creating lasting change by understanding how your accountant's brain works.

As I’ve shared on the podcast, we’ve all been given the most amazing piece of machinery on the planet – our human brain – but never given the instruction manual.  We are underutilizing all its features, not realizing the amazing tool we have at our disposal 24/7.

So if you struggle with overcommitment and would like to get a better handle on managing your time so that you can have a balanced life, I’ve got you.  No matter how heavy the weight of overcommitment has become, you can get out from underneath it.

This week I’m going to discuss some signs that you are overcommitted, and I’m going to share what to do about it.

 

Signs that you are overcommitted

 

No one will argue that you have a lot on your plate as a working mom.  The issue is that in your attempt to be super productive and be super mom you’ve probably committed to more than you can handle.

You probably just think it’s normal to have a hectic life, especially when your children haven’t left the nest.  If you are like many accountant moms, you’re not sure what to do about all the obligations and expectations you deal with daily.

The first thing I want to address is what overcommitment is.  When you look it up in the dictionary, it says “to obligate (someone, such as oneself) beyond the ability for fulfillment or to allocate (resources) in excess of the capacity for replenishment.”

In other words, overcommitment is an action you take that is unrealistic given the amount of time you have available.  It’s an agreement you make that, unfortunately, sets you up for failure.

The interesting thing is that when an issue is quite common, there will always be a study done by researchers to understand it better.  One such study was done in 2005 by the Journal of Experimental Psychology which suggested that it is just human nature that we allow for more time in the future than is available.

Basically, you find yourself committing to too many tasks and activities, only to realize later that you have much too much to do.  The researchers found that we believe we’ll have more time in the future, but we forget about how things fill our days. 

We have a “we’ll see what happens” kind of attitude towards time in the future and then are consistently surprised to be so busy when that future moment becomes now.  Most people act as if new demands will not inevitably arise and that we’ll figure it all out later.

But when “later” becomes “today,” we’re shocked to have to deal with what our past selves committed to.  If this is something you’ve struggled with, here are some of the signs that might indicate that you are overcommitted:

To-do items are falling through the cracks – no matter how organized you are or try to be, you will have things fall through the cracks if you are overcommitted.  When I work with my time management coaching clients, I teach them a process to help ensure this doesn’t happen, but until you understand the root cause of your tendency to overcommit, you’ll continue to struggle.

You’re making more frequent mistakes – as accountants, we deal with complicated problems all day, and we can’t always be expected to be correct, but when you notice simple errors in your work, it’s probably time to look at how overcommitted you are.  The mistakes could be math, spelling, grammar errors, or walking to the wrong car in the parking lot.  Your brain is for processing, so when you’ve overextended yourself, it’s more likely to experience glitches in its processing ability.

You’re neglecting to eat – this is a tricky sign because, as women, we’re socialized to believe that our value comes from how thin and pretty we are.  Unfortunately, neglecting to eat might not seem like a problem because we typically have an “I could probably stand to lose a few pounds” mentality.  However, you're working too hard if you find yourself doing this.  You should never deprive your body and mind of what it needs, and if you don’t believe you have the time to stop and eat, consider how much less you’ll be able to get done if your body starts to shut down.

You’re taking longer to get less done – one of the most unmistakable signs of overcommitting is decreased productivity.   The harder you push yourself, the less efficient and productive your brain is.  To get more done in less time, your brain must be allowed to constrain and not have an overwhelming to-do list or schedule that it wants to avoid.  If you notice a task that usually takes you one hour, is taking you two, it’s a sign that you might be overcommitted.

Your calendar is imbalanced – I see this so often with my time management clients – they pack their calendar with work obligations, trying to squeeze everything in, and leave time with family, friends, and themselves up to chance.  When I discuss balance, I’m not talking about a 50/50 ratio of time; I’m talking about making the personal side of your life a priority by not overcommitting the professional side of your life.  Overcommitting will always show up in your calendar so pay attention.

There aren’t enough hours – this is another common thing I see with my time management clients – they don’t do the math before saying Yes.  It’s also where the tendency to people-please can create a problem.  You have to understand the math of your time and be willing to make difficult decisions, even if that means someone will be upset or disappointed.    

Now that I’ve shared some signs that you are overcommitted, I will discuss what you can do about it.

 

 

What to do about being overcommitted

 

No matter what you believe, for your brain to function at its best, you have to optimize, prioritize and edit the things you commit to doing.  As an accountant and a mom, you want your brain working optimally; however, you need to understand how you are hurting yourself by overcommitting.

It sounds like sage advice when someone says, “Just do less,” but let’s face it, it’s easier said than done.  They typically mean well, but it’s not helpful to just be told to do less without understanding how and why.  

You need to know how to edit and prioritize for the short term and understand why you are overcommitting for the long term.  By understanding both, the how and the why, you’ll be less tempted to overcommit and travel that slippery slope of overwhelm.

There is plenty of ways to learn how to edit and prioritize, which I will do another podcast episode on, but the key is using your higher brain to help you make better decisions.  In an upcoming episode, I’ll be discussing what’s referred to as “The Mere Urgency Effect” and how our brain tricks us into believing everything is urgent, but for now, I suggest you make a list of everything that you’ve committed yourself to. 

You’ll want to know how many hours you're committed to sleeping, eating, working, for projects,  spending time with family, watching TV, self-care, volunteering, etc.  Once you have a list, ask yourself whether you have enough hours.  If you’re listening to this podcast, I will assume the answer is No.

I recently listened to a podcast about overcommitment, and I wanted to share an exercise that would be helpful once you’ve made the list of your commitments and determined whether you have enough hours.  The host of the podcast suggested dividing a piece of paper into 3 columns:

 

  1. Things that you could let go of
  2. Why can’t I stop doing this task or give this commitment up?
  3. If I stopped doing this task, what does this say about me?

 

This exercise will help you understand why you are overcommitting and what your brain has been telling you that has resulted in your overcommitments.  The key is that you want to know what you’re brain has been doing so that you can question it.

For example, let’s say you put in column 1 that the thing that you could let go of is being the treasurer of your children’s school PTA.  The answer to the question in column 2 (Why can’t you stop doing this task or give this commitment up?) might be, “I said that I would take this position.”  The answer to the question in column 3 (If I stopped doing this task, what does this say about me?) might be, “They’ll think I don’t care.”

Here’s why this exercise is helpful – what you put in columns 2 and 3 are the things your brain is thinking that led you to overcommit even when it’s something you could let go of or say No to.  The answer to those questions is why you have overcommitted – you can’t stop doing the task or give up on the commitment because of a thought your brain has, and you’re afraid of what your brain would say about you if you did stop doing the task.

Isn’t that important to know?  The truth is that what you think others will think about you is just your thoughts about you.  You need to be aware of the stories your brain is telling.

If you’re ready to talk about something you’ve overcommitted yourself to, this 3-column exercise will help.  In the example I just shared, the conversation would go something like this “I’ve taken a look at my time, and I realize I’ve said Yes to too many things.  I’d like to make a change, but I (the answer in column 2) said that I would take this position, and I feel like (the answer in column 3) you’ll think I don’t care.  What are your thoughts?”

You’ll most likely discover that people aren’t going to agree with what you were worried about in columns 2 and 3, and even if they did, you still can stop or adjust your commitment from a greater awareness of why you were struggling in the first place.  Understanding why you are over-committing yourself is the key to long-term freedom and will help ward off burnout in the long term.

Even if you don’t need to have a conversation with someone, you can still have the same conversation with yourself – I’ve taken a look at my time, and I realize I’ve said Yes to too many things.  I’d like to make a change, but I said that I would take this position, and I feel like others will think I don’t care.  What do I want to think instead?

Hopefully, you now understand some of the signs you are overcommitted and what to do about it.  If you have issues with overcommitting, please sign up for a FREE 20 minute coaching session HERE.  You don’t need to continue down the overcommitment road if you don’t want to. 

 

Summary  

 

  • Most accountants I coach have normalized their commitments and don’t recognize that they’re overcommitted until we start addressing their time management needs.
  • No matter how heavy the weight of overcommitment has become, you can get out from underneath it.
  • It sounds like sage advice when someone says, “Just do less,” but let’s face it, it’s easier said than done.