3 Ways To Stop Overcommitting

by Alicia Arenas on May 17, 2010

Stress - Helgasms! - 3982668517I spoke with a friend (and small business owner) who is ready to pull out the little hair he still has left in his head. He is a solopreneur with a rapidly growing business (great) who keeps saying yes to new projects (not so great) and is operating consistently on four hours of sleep, suffering from guilt for not spending more time with his children and has a sticky nagging feeling that he has forgotten something significantly important (bad). He has “Yes-itis,” my new unscientific word to describe the somewhat prevalent inability to say “no.”

Although there are a myriad of psychological reasons behind yes-itis, I’m not a psychologist and I’m not going to tackle them. Here is a more practical (and easier to correct) reason – we underestimate our available time. I noticed this in myself as my brain translates open calendar spaces as “free” time to squeeze in more appointments. I squeezed in a lot and fought to regain control.  I thought I’d share some of the tricks I use which have helped me be more realistic about my commitments and my availability for new projects:

1. Personal Comes First

If it’s not scheduled, it’s not going to get done. Now realistically, there are going to be periods of time when all you do is work, such as during a launch or if you are building after a down period. But when working constantly becomes a lifestyle, you’ve lost balance. You may not agree, but one of my core business philosophies is that our businesses should be supporting the life we want to live. Yet too often, we allow our business to take over and we squeeze “life” in whenever we can. So step one is getting all your personal appointments on your calendar.

  • Working out
  • Picking up your kids from school
  • Schlepping children to piano, drama, soccer or football
  • Golfing, shopping, pedi/mani’s (or whatever you do for down time)
  • Date night

Start with the things that happen weekly, then monthly, then quarterly, then yearly.

2. Admin & Project Time

Most entrepreneurs wear multiple hats. We need to balance keeping our pipeline full with actually accomplishing the work we have committed to do. I have two days each week that are my catch up days where I don’t schedule appointments. It’s my time to respond to important but non-urgent email, snail mail, project planning, blog writing, returning phone calls and completing whatever projects are on my plate. I do this Monday and Friday of each week which allows me to plan out and close out my week. I especially enjoy Fridays as non-appointment days. I get done what needs to be done and I’m able to relax more on the weekends. These days may not be practical for you, but find two days that are.

3. Client Time

I block out the time I need to meet with clients each week: coaching appointments, delivering training (like Sanera Camp) or facilitating strategic planning. It’s all on the calendar. *Tip: After a new client signs with me, we schedule as many appointments right then as we can so their time is reserved at the beginning.

When you’ve got these three categories blocked out on your calendar, I guarantee that you will (at a glance) be able to see how much free time you have to take on new clients. I think you’ll be surprised.

My friend Todd Schnick at Intrepid Marketing wrote this post with valuable advice about how to stay creative and productive.

More Ideas

  • When working with a client, schedule your meetings for the same day/time each week. It makes it much easier for both of you to remember.
  • Skip face-to-face meetings whenever possible. Some of your clients need face-time, but not all. What you can discuss over lunch or coffee, you can usually discuss over the phone or via Skype. You save yourself the drive time which adds up quickly.
  • Carefully evaluate the networking meetings you attend. Is your target market there? Have you received business from the group? Are you one of many in your industry or the only one in your industry that attends? Networking is essential to business growth, but a lot of time (and money) is wasted by going to meetings that don’t yield business results.

So this is the system that works for me. What works for you?

Photo courtesy of helgasms! via Flickr.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin W. Grossman May 17, 2010 at 6:07 am

Right on, sister. When focused on family and the personal, then only be focused on that. Put the iPhone away (that’s my bad).

For that matter, when focused on any other client and/or project that takes your undivided attention, then don’t divide it.


Elmer May 17, 2010 at 6:34 am

Excellent advice. You have to take care of family. And – you need to take care of yourself or you’re no good to anyone.


Meghan M. Biro May 17, 2010 at 7:16 am

This is a wonderful reminder post Alicia. Very practical tips here. My aim is to devote attentive care to each action as it is unfolding (both personal + business). It’s about nurturing a live in the moment philosophy from my perspective. You are right on, finding the right balance between in person and online connection options are key for saving valuable time + energy.


Michael VanDervort May 17, 2010 at 7:18 am

Very nice article, Alicia, and thanks for raising points that each of us can all too often lose track of in our day to day work!


Ben Eubanks May 17, 2010 at 9:42 am

I’m all about some overcommitting. :-) Seriously, two things…

First, I try to keep from committing to anything perpetual without serious thought and discussion with my wife.

Second, If I don’t have room in my schedule at the moment, I will keep track of the projects that have a definite end date and slide something else into the queue when that date arrives.

I can do any number of projects that are finite. It’s committing to those that go on forever that keep accumulating until they crush you.

Good post!



Colleen Pence May 17, 2010 at 9:51 am

Love this post, Alicia. I’ve been putting these principles into practice (and on my calendar) since our last talk. It’s really helping me prioritize. I still have a ways to go to recover from Yes-itis, but I’m on my way thanks to you!


Todd Schnick May 17, 2010 at 10:12 am

Great stuff. When I started my business, I had a severe case of yes-itis. I am only now extricating myself from that problem. Thanks for this post – always helps to hear someone else’s take.

[And thanks for the kind mention!]


Pattie Porter May 17, 2010 at 4:12 pm

I have been sooo guilty of this, and your words ring in my ear often about letting our business support the life we want to live. This was so powerful when I heard this…thank you for that gift.

The other point I wanted to make about overcommitment is the trust we can often break when we cannot fulfill all of our commitments. Whether that be trust with our spouses, kids, business partners, clients, etc. When we realize we have done this again, we must keep those lines of communication open, and if we need, renegotiate those commitments.


Alicia Arenas May 18, 2010 at 6:19 am

Kevin, one of my mentors used to call what you are describing “Be here now.” It’s being fully focused and completely listening. It’s not easy to do!

Elmer, you are 100% correct.

Meghan, I admire your determination to live in the moment. What a beautiful description!

Thanks Mike!

Ben, you hit on one of the most important things entrepreneurs need to remember – involve your spouse. He/she will be affected by every decision we make. I have yet to see a small business owner be happy and successful without buy-in from their spouse.

Colleen – It’s working for you? Woo-hoo!

Todd, the life cycle of yes-itis is fascinating. I had the very same experience. And (as I’m sure happened to you) my business grew when I started saying no.

Pattie, you raise an excellent point. Overcommitment leads to broken trust. Broken trust is very difficult (and sometimes impossible) to regain.


Michelle Poteet May 21, 2010 at 6:45 am

One of the things that I share with my clients is my Daily 3×3. It allows them to realistically commit to 3 personal “to-do’s” , 3 business “to-do’s” and 3 ‘for others’ “to-do’s”. By setting this realistic set of goals for ourselves we can stay focused on what “must” get done today and not get overwhelmed (and distracted) by our ever growing “to-do” list. By keeping a close eye on our daily 3×3 “must-do’s” and another eye on our calendar we have a clear picture of what’s on our plate and can work to not over-commit ourselves. That said, the first category I always have my clients start with is personal – for the exact reasons that you listed above. If we don’t take care of ourselves (health, fitness, mental wellness) we cannot, I repeat CANNOT take care of anything or anyone else!

Great post Alicia! Thanks!


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