October 30, 2013


By Amy Hackworth. Limited edition print by Aletha and Ruth on Minted.

After feeling kind of lousy for a few days last week, my energy was back over the weekend. I felt great, motivated, and determined so I created a to-do list a mile long and dove in for all I was worth. Full-steam ahead on yard work, personal work, family projects and housework! It was both exhilarating and exhausting, but by the end of the weekend… it was just exhausting.

I’d overdone it. I went full-steam ahead until I ran out of steam, and then, boy, did I run out of steam. By Sunday night I was so tired I couldn’t even think about the things I needed to prepare for a trip the next morning. I was beat. (Not surprisingly, Monday morning was a fairly unpleasant, hectic rush.)

This sparked a memory: a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago, an a-ha moment that I’m still trying to assimilate and live. She was life coaching me at the time, and she asked me a simple question about what’s really happening when I try to do too much.

It suddenly struck me that when I overloaded myself in the name of responsibility, the result was just the opposite. I was being irresponsible when I agreed to more than I could handle. I became ineffective (see above!) or some commitment went untended. I either let myself or someone else down, and in both cases I was disappointed and sorry. I’d developed a belief that doing more was equivalent to doing better, and it felt almost moral to fill my plate just beyond capacity. Yes, I can do that. I can do that, too. I’m sure I have time to do that. Probably, at the root of it was that misconception that I had to somehow earn my worth, rather than simply trusting in it.

Making unrealistic to-do lists is an old habit that has been hard to break. Our minds simply work faster than our hands, so it’s easy to imagine doing more than we can actually do in a day. Trial and error teach us what’s possible and what’s too much, and paying attention to those lessons, I think that’s responsibility.

What have you learned about keeping commitments realistic? Does cutting back improve your personal, family or professional work?

P.S. Last week Gabrielle wrote about the concept of “satisficing,” which certainly applies to those grand to-do lists. 

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brimful October 30, 2013 at 7:20 pm

I’ve learned that if I put my children’s need for rest and playtime before any other commitment, it’s much easier to say no. I still make time for myself, but it’s never at their expense. Because bottom line – when the children are well rested and happy, I am too!


2 julia-tagandtibby October 30, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Oh I can definitely relate. I push myself for a week or two and then I get sick (most recently with bronchitis). that definitely puts a halt on creativity :) I was just talking to my husband tonight about how I get forgetful with things when I take on too much. Hope this week goes well!


3 kalanicut October 30, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Last year I decided to cut all my commitments back by half. In the months since then I have come to recognize that I should still cut that half in half yet again if I want to be really happy. Peace and quiet are the best personal commitment and we never have enough of it.


4 tanja vaillancourt October 31, 2013 at 6:50 am

I am an expert at always wanting to do to much!!! I seem to never learn…About a month ago, I suffered from a herniated disk that has left me in bed for a month and I promised myself that I would do what is IMPORTANT and would forget about the rest. Let’s see if I can keep my promise…


5 janae @ bring joy October 31, 2013 at 7:00 am

I have always been horrible at balance. It seems it’s my greatest strength, while at the same time, if I don’t reign that energy in & focus, I total burn out & it’s my greatest weakness. I too, experience the “weekend drain”–doing too much & by Sunday night am exhausted. Not a good way to start the week, that’s for sure!


6 Heidi October 31, 2013 at 8:52 am

I was great about not over committing when my kids were younger. It was definitely easier! As they’ve gotten older (and we now have 4 kids ) and have a variety of activities that I need to balance with what I want to do-plus carving out “family time” and “couples time” it’s definitely become more of a challenge. I also have friends that are way more Type A than I am and more extroverted and seem to thrive on busyness. That’s not me-yet I sometimes fall into a bad habit of comparing myself and then feeling like I should do “more.” Very quickly it comes around to bite me-I feel crabby and rundown and then I know I need to scale it back. It’s definitely a work in progress for me.


7 Amy3 October 31, 2013 at 10:41 am

I’m a chronic list-maker, and I love the satisfaction of crossing completed items off. However, I’m guilty of packing my list (or over-packing it!) with more things than I can realistically get to. Maybe this is why I title my lists “This week/end’ – it represents what needs to get done over the weekend, through the week, and then some extras (or a lot of extras) that I chip away at as I can.

What helps me in any given day is creating a single-day list (really, I like lists) and beyond that considering what *must* be done. Then I prioritize based on must-do and would-like-to-do. That helps me feel ok when I don’t get to everything on my list.


8 jessica October 31, 2013 at 5:34 pm

oooh, this is the hardest thing. i try a zen habits thing of moving the big rock first, then seeing how many other rocks i can fit in the jar.


9 Emily November 6, 2013 at 8:21 am

I think we definitely all have a bad habit of glorifying ‘busy,’ I know that I feel better temporarily when I feel like I’ve got a ton on my plate – but it never really seems to end well.


10 Miranda November 7, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Such an interesting and on point topic. I feel like my whole life, until this very year, was a mess of overflowing commitments, overachieving aspirations, and overwhelming breakdowns. I’ve always had more than sufficient energy and confidence to take on any new project, idea, or plan…but I usually did so at the detriment of very basic need fulfillment–like sleep, or food, or five minutes to just BE.

Funny enough, at Alt Summit this January is where I really turned a corner and began making real changes in my life. Somewhere between Stefan Sagmeister’s “Do more of what you LIKE and less of what you DON’T LIKE” and Karen Walrond’s “Write down the things that make your soul sing, and then MAKE TIME to do those more often.” It actually sunk in that I am in control of my life. I CHOOSE what to do with my time and energy–so it’s up to me to really be deliberate about the way my days are filled.

Within weeks after Alt was over (and I turned thirty…which probably added to the commitment to change) I had decided to stop blogging regularly, stop taking custom sewing orders except on a very limited basis, and stop spending free time on the computer/phone –all of which were my status quo. Then I decided to have another baby (which basically wiped out all of my energy:), start teaching regularly again–connecting in PERSON with people, and start returning to some of the loves that I formerly enjoyed (reading actual books, writing letters, cooking from scratch for more than a photograph for the blog).

After ten months of being really deliberate about the way I spend my energy, I’m so much more happy! I recognize easily when a commitment will be more than I WANT to handle, even if I could probably make it happen with some hustle. It’s like I’ve struck a balance of everything I want to be doing, by actually deciding WHAT it is that I REALLY WANT to be doing! Not what others are doing, or what seems like a good idea to do, but what I really, genuinely want to do in order to better myself, my family, and my circle of influence. It’s pretty awesome.

For what it’s worth:)


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