How to Stop Overcommitting (and Avoid Burnout)

6 Simple Strategies That Actually Work

Saying yes to happiness means learning to say no to things and people that stress you out.

Thema Davis
[4-min read]

Burnout is real.

Statistics suggest up to 89% of people have experienced it in the last year.

I’ve been there. I used to find myself in a cycle of burning out every few months.

And it seems to be getting even more common in recent years as we all try to balance our many life and work “commitments.”

Therein lies the problem. One of the leading causes of burnout is the tendency to over-commit. To say yes when your plate is already full.

I was guilty of it for most of my life. And still do it occasionally.

But why do you let yourself get overloaded?

And, more importantly, how do you stop?

5 Human Tendencies

Overcommitment is often traced back to 5 common behavior patterns:

  • FOMO: Fear of missing out, which leads you to taking on tasks just to stay in the loop.

  • Lack of Assertiveness: Saying “yes” too often from fear of conflict or of disappointing others.

  • Optimism Bias: Remembering past tasks as taking less time and effort than they truly did.

  • Self-Worth Validation: Believing that constant busyness is a sign of success.

  • Social Pressures: Wanting to please others, meet societal norms, or be seen as reliable.

Sound familiar? I know I’ve been guilty of each of these at different times.

Fortunately, there’s a model you can follow to get out of the overcommitment and burnout cycle.

Here are 6 simple tips I’ve used to tackle it:

1. Practice Self-Awareness
Recognize your signs of overcommitment.

Are they:

  • Fatigue?

  • Irritability?

  • Headaches?

  • Lack of focus?

  • Disturbed sleep?

  • Feelings of resentment?

Technique: Regularly journal your feelings to uncover patterns. Simple daily check-ins can do wonders to spot when you’re spread too thin.

2. Clarify Your Values and Priorities
Understand what’s most important to you, and in which order.

  • Faith?

  • Family?

  • Health?

  • Creativity?

  • Adventure?

  • Friendships?

  • Skill development?

  • Career advancement?

Technique: Jot down your top 5 values in order of importance. When conflicts come up, go with what you value more highly. More examples.

3. Set Clear Boundaries
Ensure your “yes” really means “yes,” and your “no” stands firm.

Technique: Schedule your personal time on your calendar. Treat it like you would an important meeting. Or decide on a maximum number of concurrent projects you’ll take on. When these are decided in advance, it’s easier to say “no” to new conflicts.

4. Practice Saying No (Graciously)
Use a phrase like: “Thank you for thinking of me. I’d love to help, but I have prior commitments I need to prioritize.” The more you practice, the easier it gets.

Technique: Role-play declining requests with a trusted friend. Or use this prompt to practice with an AI (ChatGPT, Bard, etc.):

  • Act as an expert at saying “no” graciously to avoid overcommitting. Can you role-play scenarios to help me learn this skill?

5. Manage Your Time
If you’re prone to optimism bias, estimate the time to complete a task with a best case and worst case. The actual time is usually in between. Or add a +50% time buffer to whatever your first estimate is.

Technique: Start tracking your initial estimate and the actual time to complete. Use the trends to improve your future estimates.

6. Practice Self-Care (and Compassion)
Saying “no” isn’t selfish; it’s self-care. Define success by your own values, not what society thinks.

Regular self-care boosts self-worth and contentment, reducing the need for validation from others.

Technique: Treat yourself with the same kindness you show others. Reserve calendar time for activities that rejuvenate and fulfill you.

Making It Work for You

Transforming knowledge into action is key. Start small by integrating one strategy at a time into your routine.

Regular reflection through journaling can help you stay on track and recognize progress. Remember, consistency over time leads to significant change.

Diving Deeper

I created an infographic on Stress Management with specific techniques to help when you notice those burnout signs starting to surface. Click the image for a high-res PDF version.

And here are 2 excellent books that helped me get control of my tendency to overcommit:

This one champions the philosophy of doing less but better. It's a guide to decluttering your life and focusing on what matters most​.

Tawwab uses cognitive behavioral therapy principles to guide readers in setting healthy boundaries. It provides practical advice on expressing needs clearly and handling the discomfort that sometimes comes with setting boundaries​.

Connecting the Dots

Overcommitment doesn’t just lead to burnout. It can erode the quality of your work and personal life.

By setting boundaries and prioritizing your well-being, you can find a more sustainable balance.

Take a moment to assess your commitments. Are they aligning with your values and capacity?

Remember, it’s not just about doing more; it’s about doing what’s meaningful.

Until next time, stay brilliant, my friend.