How to Avoid Overcommitting in the New School Year
The last weeks of summer, when, perhaps, you’re enjoying some down time before the back-to-school hustle begins, is an opportune time to take stock of all that you’ve got on your plate and ask yourself, if, perhaps, it’s a bit too much.
It’s all too easy to set our sights on the menu of possibilities and feel hungry for it all. We want to do all of the things and please all of the people.
This time of year, parents are enticed by after-school activities, enrichment opportunities, volunteer requests, and more. We’re entering new items on our calendars at an alarming rate, making commitments, to-do lists, and plans. We’re registering and signing up and signing on and raising our hands.
On paper, it looks great. Those pesky constraints of time and energy hardly reveal themselves as we schedule every second from now through Christmas.
Taking on too much, however, even with the best of intentions can generate the opposite results. Those of us that have been to this rodeo before know that overcommitting leads inevitably to dropped balls, chronic lateness, disappointment, anxiety, and stress—which, of course, leads to more dropped balls, more missed deadlines, embarrassment, more stress, more anxiety, and so on.
Overcommitting, it’s helpful to note, is a choice—a self-inflicted wound that can be avoided with just a little bit of foresight. As August presses on and all of the possibilities vie for your attention, here are a few tips to avoid falling into the trap of overcommitment.
Set Up Rules
Defining some parameters for yourself and your family can be very helpful. Perhaps you’ll allow each of your children only one extra-curricular activity at a time. Perhaps you’ll make every Sunday family day where no outside commitments can interfere. Perhaps you’ll only agree to one volunteer commitment this year, or even (gasp!) none.
Whatever parameters work for you and align with your family’s priorities, define and commit to them before signing on to other commitments.
Pencil in Breathing Room
Most people overestimate what they can do in the short term. Adding a buffer to your calendar can be enormously helpful. Every so often, block out catch up days on your calendar. When they arrive, if you’re all caught up, you’ve got yourself some free time. If you need to catch up, you’ll be so grateful to be able to.
Reduce Social Scrolling
If you find yourself scrolling through your social media feed more often that you’d like to admit, you are inviting inputs that can trigger unhealthy feelings of comparison and a fear of missing out. This can lead to silly decisions that do not align with the highest priorities of you and your family.
Create a Someday/Maybe List
One of my favorite concepts in David Allen’s productivity book, “Getting Things Done,” is the idea of maintaining a “Someday/Maybe” list. When you are tempted to take on a new project, add a new task to your to-do list, or when thinking of taking advantage of a new opportunity for your children, rather than committing to it now, add it to your Someday/Maybe list for future consideration. It an be quite surprising how the simple act of recording it in a trusted place can both alleviate the pressure to pursue it immediately and yet satisfy your interest in it.
Define Your Family’s Priorities
While you’re sitting on the beach, lounging at the pool, or chilling at home, take time to consider what is most important to you and your family. Understanding what you value most and what your long-term goals are can inform what you should say yes to—what is worth investing your time and energy in.
Just Say No
To the requests that don’t align with your family’s priorities, get comfortable with the art of saying no. While we tend to wish to please and oblige others, not miss out on anything, do the things everyone else is doing, and not let anyone down, a simple “no” is very often the way to go. Saying no clearly up front is always better than saying yes and not being able to deliver later.
As summer winds down, set up your family for a new season that flows smoothly, supports your priorities, and leaves room for joy and rest.