Admitting My Mistakes: How I’m Getting Over My Overcommitment

My goal of posting every day for the month of November was apparently too lofty; however, I am pleased to use my own failure as a teachable moment.  This is a lesson I have to re-learn fairly frequently: do not overcommit!  Given everything I had on my plate for the first half of this month – getting out of my apartment, unloading the rest of my unneeded crap, sorting through the stuff I might want to store, saying my goodbyes to people in New Orleans, visiting my family in Tulsa, getting my dog’s paperwork ready for international travel – I had no business thinking that adding even such a modest commitment as this would be feasible.

You see, my ADD brain likes to trick me into thinking that the above rule applies only to Major Projects that take up large chunks of time, rather than those that take 15 minutes a day, such as my NaNoWriMo commitment.  Though I’ve gotten much better about overcommitting in the couple of years since I read ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life, the old beast still rears its head from time to time.

A Personal History of Overcommitment – and How I (Mostly) Overcame It

When I re-embarked on my quest to manage my ADD, I was in my second semester of a four-year undergrad program after a three-year hiatus.  I was also working full-time, volunteering as a youth group advisor, working to maintain/rescue a failing romantic relationship, training my newly-acquired dog, and beginning to teach a semester-long, once-a-week sexuality education course to adolescents.  I realized from the beginning of the semester that I was tightly booked, and did my best to mitigate that by warning everyone ahead of time that I was stretched pretty thin.  This led to…

Lesson #1 of Overcommitment: Telling people to whom you’ve already committed that you probably won’t do an optimal job does not make them any less frustrated when it turns out you’re right.

By the end of this semester, I was, in fact, more right than I could have imagined.  I had managed to fulfill most of my commitments, but none to an optimal outcome.  I’d gotten into a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and falling behind, such that I frequently overslept for work and class, putting me in bad graces with my boss and professors.  I couldn’t keep up with emails and planning for youth group and the sex ed course, my dog wasn’t getting the intensive training time he needed, the end of my relationship was rather messy, and I was perpetually scrambling at the last minute to get everything done.

It was about this time that I decided to pick up a book that I’d ordered at the beginning of the semester, the aforementioned ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life, which, among other revelations, opened my eyes to the snowball effect of overcommitment and how to stop it.  There is only so much time in a day/week/month, and since those of us with executive dysfunctions have no innate sense of time (as a fellow ADD-er put it, “In my mind, everything takes 10 minutes, but I have no idea how long 10 minutes is.”), we have to implement external structures to keep from overextending ourselves.  This is…

Lesson #2 of Overcommitment: Set a cap on the number of major and minor commitments you can have at one time.  (The usual recommendation is 3-4 of each – major being time-consuming, regular occurrences like work, school, and significant others, minor being shorter, less formal things like walking the dog, social events, and “me-time.” 

This does not mean that if I’m already at 4 of each and a one-time event comes up, I have to turn it down.  It does mean that I have to find room in my schedule for it – which usually involves sacrificing some other commitment.  If you hate to back out on things (as I do), it’s a good idea to schedule in “flex time” – unscheduled chunks of time that are set aside for things like doctor’s appointments, coffee with friends, cleaning the house, taking a nap, etc.  Even with flex time factored in, however, when new major commitments present themselves, something else has to go before I accept them.  This brings us to…

Lesson #3 of Overcommitment: If you take on a new commitment, you have to step back from an existing one.

Lesson #4 of Overcommitment: Learn to say “no” so that your yeses are more effective. 

I railed against #3 at first because I was convinced that I had the ability to bend the laws of time and space, and could thus fit as many commitments as I wanted into my life as long as I scheduled them “smartly.”  Unfortunately, due to that executive dysfunction with the sense of time, this was a futile endeavor.  I now know how to schedule smartly, but if I don’t keep up with it, I end up right back where I was: sleep-deprived, frazzled, and always one step behind.

My old attempts at scheduling looked something like this:

168 hours in a week

  • – 30 hours/week for work
  • – 56 hours/week for optimal sleep (8 hours/night)
  • – 15 hours/week for classes
  • – 15 hours/week for homework
  • – 5 hours/week for youth group
  • – 2 hours/week for sex ed class
  • – 2 hours/week planning for sex ed class
  • – 7 hours/week for dog walking
  • – 4 hours/week for date night
  • – 14 hours/week other time with my partner
  • – 14 hours/week for meals
  • – 7 hours/week for hygiene

= -3 hours/week left over.  Well shoot. Let’s see where we can cut…

  • 48 hours/week for sleep (7 hours)

= 5 hours/week left over.

Ha! I’m in the green! I win.

Not.  If you’ve ever tried to do this before, you may have noticed that two main things get left of the equation:

  1. Transit time
  2. The Unexpected

These two used to get me every time.  Sometimes they still do – but now it happens about once a week instead of once an hour (or more).

This segues into a whole new topic of scheduling, which will be addressed in a forthcoming post.  The bottom line of this post is as follows:

If you’re already insanely busy, don’t take anything else on.  The disappointment others feel when you tell them “no” pales in comparison to what they experience when you tell them “yes” and don’t deliver.

With that, I’m off to catch some Zs before I get to gayParis!


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