Commitment Creep

About a week before Spring Break, I suddenly felt like I was trying to keep too many balls in the air at once. I had been going along, living life and doing my thing and seemingly in a good groove, and suddenly one day I felt like I had too many things on my plate.

Have you ever felt like that? For me, the warnings signs include a nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something; sleeplessness as I try to figure out how I will accomplish everything on my to-do list the next day; and irritability due to my stress and general feeling of discombobulation.

I realized I was experiencing the symptoms of “commitment creep” — a steady increase in work or activity that increases stress levels until finally spilling into a feeling of being overwhelmed. I liken my feeling to the tangled scribbles in a word balloon over a cartoon character who is frustrated.

As the name implies (and I will take credit for naming it, thank you very much), commitment creep doesn’t announce itself; it is insidious, often attaching itself to very “good” activities. It’s not the value of the activities that leads to the breakdown, it’s the weight of the number of them.

Fortunately, I was able to recognize the symptoms and take action. First, I cleared my schedule as much as possible for the next day, postponing less urgent tasks and appointments. For me, busyness becomes an escalating spiral so the first step was to stop the movement.

Next, I spent some of the newly cleared time in solitude and silent reflection. I opened my journal and made a list of all the things I felt pressing on me; I literally dumped the cluttered contents of my brain onto a piece of paper.

Once I had everything in writing, I began sorting and prioritizing. I discovered several invitations and opportunities that I needed to decline; a few short-term commitments that would be ending soon; several extenuating circumstances over which I had no control (e.g., snow days, illness, repair needs); and a variety of projects and tasks that I could put on my calendar for completion over the coming days, weeks and months after identifying their importance and urgency.

By the time I finished this exercise, I felt much greater clarity about my schedule and my values, and greater resolve to continue to ruthlessly prune commitments from my calendar.

Are you currently suffering from commitment creep? What will you do to lighten the load before you collapse under it?

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