Do you have too much on your plate?
When you are prone to overextending yourself, you believe you can always take on one more project.
But it’s a fool’s errand. You will do none of your projects justice. Instead, you will burn yourself out in the process.
Read about my own struggles with overextending myself, what signs to look out for, and how you can prevent overload in the first place.
What Does Overextending Yourself Mean?
When you take on more projects than you can handle, you are overextending yourself. This can happen in any area of life — business, hobbies, relationships.
This goes hand in hand with stress, anxiety, and even burnout.
Yet, we still keep doing it. Why is that?
There are two reasons:
- You can’t say “No.” You want to make everybody happy and therefore keep taking on projects.
- You suffer from fear of missing out. You are afraid that by not being there, some great opportunity is going to pass you by.
The result is what some call “manic compression” — you try to squeeze more and more things into your life until it comes apart at the seams.
12 Signs You Are Overextending Yourself
Here are 12 telltale signs that you are overextending yourself.
1. You Cannot Handle Changes to Your Schedule
If an unexpected five-minute interruption has you worried that your whole day will fall apart, you are definitely overextending yourself.
2. You Eat on the Go All the Time
Lunch for the last two weeks was the drive-through of your local burger chain so that you could save a few minutes? You have stretched yourself too thin.
3. You’re Not Sleeping Enough
When you are up, you feel dead tired. Yet, when you are in bed, you can’t fall asleep because you are worried about all the things you still need to do.
4. You Don’t Have Time for Anything Fun
Reading for leisure, taking an aimless walk, playing sports — none of these activities happen anymore.
5. You Are Missing Out on All Social Activities
Your friends haven’t seen you in months and your parents are wondering if you will ever call them again.
6. You Are Struggling With Simple Tasks
When you have too much on your plate, even the simplest of tasks becomes difficult. You can’t muster even that little focus.
7. You Dream of Escaping
You regularly catch yourself thinking, “If I could just leave it all behind and move to a deserted island or a hut in the woods.”
8. You Are Not Doing Anything Justice
When you are splitting up your energy over 50 projects, every project gets little attention. The result — nothing gets done well.
9. You Are Always on Edge
You have zero patience with other people. The most minor thing will set you off.
10. You Suffer From Anxiety
“How will I meet my deadlines?” “Will I ever catch up on my backlog of projects?” “Have I let someone down?” These questions have you worried nonstop.
11. You Are Not Enjoying Anything Anymore
You normally love reading fantasy books. But lately, you can’t get into it anymore. Whenever you try, your mind keeps wandering.
12. Your Body Is Shutting Down
Your body is starting to give out on you. Typical symptoms are:
- Digestive problems
- Skin problems (acne, eczema, cold sores)
- Muscle tenseness
- Back pain
How I Overextend Myself
Several years ago, due to my own stupidity, I had a bit of a burnout.
For starters, I was running an MMA gym. I was teaching classes all day, cleaning the gym at night, doing the paperwork, trying to get new customers into the door, etc.
I was also trying to keep up with my own training. As a martial arts teacher, you must stay ahead of the game, or your students will go somewhere else.
On top of that, I had started a separate coaching business. In what little time I had left, I was producing content for that, doing media appearances, and conducting workshops.
And if that was not enough, I was also in an open relationship, dating several people simultaneously.
My mind was all over the place. I was constantly switching back and forth between projects, not doing a good job with any of them.
At night, I would lay awake and ponder my to-do list. I was also worried if it was all going to work out financially.
Slowly, my body started to give out on me. I was always tired and I couldn’t shake these nasty sinus infections. Also, the relationship with my poly girlfriend was quickly eroding.
Yet, I still thought I could push through. If I just slept less and worked even more, I could somehow make it work.
I was a fool.
Predictably, it all came crashing down on me. I had a fallout with an important coach at my gym, which cost me a lot of students. I injured myself while training, and had to get surgery, which I never completely recovered from. Soon after, my girlfriend broke up with me.
I learned the hard way that overextending yourself does not work.
You don’t have to repeat my mistakes. If you know what signs to look out for, you can stop this madness in its tracks.
What To Do About It
Overextending yourself is a losing proposition. Here is a 10-step game plan to get you back to normal.
1. Be Selfish
Since we were little, being unselfish has been touted as a virtue. School, church, the workplace — they all insist you should put the collective first.
That is nonsense.
If you don’t prioritize yourself, you are not going to be of use to anyone.
But when you invest in yourself, you become competent. And a competent person can have a much greater impact on the world than some delusional do-gooder.
It’s like the oxygen masks coming in an airplane — you must put yours on first.
2. Focus On One Thing
The best way to avoid overextending yourself is to focus on one thing. This will not just lower your stress levels — it is also the recipe for success.
Picasso, Bill Gates, Michael Phelps — they all had extreme focus. They chose one thing in their life — art, programming, swimming — over all other things.
You can’t be good at everything. In fact, you shouldn’t be. Excellence requires trade-offs.
Once you understand this, peace of mind follows.
3. Try Out Monk Mode
Monk mode means shutting out all distractions, so can focus on your most important work.
What does this look like?
- You don’t check any social media
- You stop watching the news
- You cancel your Netflix account
- You stop dating around
- You don’t go to the bar on the weekends
- You skip the Sunday dinner with the family
It might sound radical, but it works. By shutting out all the noise, you can analyze where you went wrong and then course correct.
4. Learn To Say “No”
Overextending yourself is a result of saying “Yes” too often. “Yes” to yet another project. “Yes” to yet another person.
This must stop now. You must learn to say “No.”
There are different strategies to do so:
- Tell people, “Let me think about it.” That gives you time to decide if you really want to commit.
- Respond with, “Let me get back to you by email.” It’s easier to let someone down in writing than right there on the spot.
- Redirect them to a resource. “I don’t have time right now, but check out this great book/website/podcast about this topic.”
- Redirect them to a person. “I’m busy right now, but you might want to talk to X, they really know their stuff.”
- If you must, lie. Sometimes, to dodge the bullet, it is okay to bend the truth (“Sorry, but I have a big project at work coming up.”).
5. Learn To Disappoint
Some people are relentless. Politely telling them off won’t work with them.
That’s why it’s important to practice how to disappoint people, especially if you are a people pleaser.
Turn this into a project.
For a month straight, make “No” your default answer. Whenever someone asks you a favor, flat-out reject them. If they demand a reason, respond with, “I don’t want to explain.” Leave it at that.
Of course, that will annoy some people. But that’s the point of the exercise — to be able to withstand social pressure.
Once you master this, you will be untouchable. No one will ever be able to guilt-trip you into doing anything anymore.
6. Always Plan for a Buffer
Understand — everything takes much longer than you think it should. In psychology, this phenomenon is called the “planning fallacy.”
To account for that, always give yourself a 50 percent buffer.
If you think the meeting should take an hour, plan for an hour and a half. If you estimate getting groceries should take 30 minutes, plan for 45.
By sticking to this easy rule, you will instantly decompress your day.
7. Take Time To Think
When things get hectic, most of us respond with actionism. We blindly start doing stuff, hoping it will somehow get better.
What we should really do is to sit down and think. Why did things get out of control in the first place? How can I undo that? How can I prevent that from happening again?
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.Abraham Lincoln
Don’t just resort to analysis when things have already gone south. Instead, make it a daily habit.
I like to do this in the morning, while still in bed.
I reflect on what is currently going on in my life, and if my actions are aligned with my goals. And I think about what is distracting me from my goals, and how I can get rid of these distractions.
This takes me 10–15 minutes each morning, but it has saved me weeks and months of wasted effort.
8. Download Your Mind
We try to keep track of everything in our heads. But it doesn’t work. Our brains were not made for it.
What happens is, that, at random intervals, to-dos will pop up into your head. But the context will be wrong. You won’t be able to solve that problem at that moment.
You’ll think, “I need to buy contact lenses,” while showering. You’ll remember, “I want to take the car to the garage,” while playing with your daughter.
This keeps clogging up your mental bandwidth. It might sound trivial, but the loss in productivity is profound.
The remedy is to download your brain into an external system. Note down all the things on your mind in one central place. Then assign these items to different lists.
Date-sensitive items go on your calendar, urgent items go on your to-do list, and less urgent items go on a someday list. If you are interested in the nitty-gritty, check out this article.
9. Become a Quitter
We often invest our precious time in the wrong projects.
Maybe you want to learn how to make money online but initially fall for a crypto scam. Over time, though, you realize that a service business is the reliable option.
Or maybe you want to learn how to defend yourself and start Krav Maga. But along the way, you realize you should better be training in a realistic system like Muay Thai.
However, many people can’t stand the idea that their initial investment was for nothing. So they keep investing in the wrong thing.
Add up a few lost causes like this, and you will soon experience gigantic overwhelm.
To avoid this, you must become a strategic quitter.
Don’t let the paradigm of “You must finish what you started,” rule your life. It makes no sense to stay in pointless relationships or dead-end jobs. Cut your losses and move on.
Only when you find something that is truly worth your time, do you go all in.
Whenever life gets messy, meditation will get you back to zero. It’s like resetting a sluggish computer.
The trick is to observe yourself. The carousel of thoughts in your head. Your rapid breathing. Your tense muscles.
By acknowledging the tension, paradoxically, it dissipates.
Having said that, I don’t advise using meditation as a patch. It can’t make up for a life of perpetual stress. But it’s a powerful fallback device, one you should have in your toolbox.