“What is the biggest obstacle facing the family right now? It is over-commitment; time pressure. There is nothing that will destroy a family life more insidiously than hectic schedules and busy lives, where spouses are too exhausted to communicate, too worn out to have sex, too fatigued to talk to the kids. That frantic lifestyle is just as destructive as the one involving outbroken sin. If Satan can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy, and that’s just about the same thing.” (James Dobson)

Overcommitted, Overwhelmed, and Overloaded

When I look around at my too-busy friends, I think to myself, “Never again. I don’t want to go back there.” That “there,” is an overloaded, overwhelmed, and overcommitted life. It’s feeling constantly tired, behind schedule, and inadequate. I was there once to the point of crash and burn, and I swore I’d never even get close to there again.

Yet, I do. Get close, that is. Far too close. I somehow let myself get over-committed all too easily, which allows overwhelm to creep in. My focus then gravitates to a to-do list and away from relationships. Projects become more important than people.

Yes, all too often, I find myself there and asking, “How did I get here again? How did I once again get so out of balance by becoming again overcommitted, overwhelmed, and overloaded yet again?”

The Heart of Commitments

The heart of making commitments involves doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Making a commitment involves pledging or promising, obligating yourself, to someone or something. When you commit, you bind yourself; you promise you’re going to do something, usually under a reasonable time frame.

Overcommitment, however, leads to broken promises and missed deadlines. It leads to disappointment and letting others down and perhaps even to low self-esteem with the your failure to keep promises.

Commitment Trends

Approaches to commitments seem to be following one of three trends these days. Many people just don’t fully make commitments anymore; instead, they contribute but can’t be fully counted on regularly. Others overcommit and see no problem with not meeting commitments or just partially meeting most commitments.

Another trend involves feeling trapped in overcommitment. This involves basically keeping commitments but often missing deadlines and never having the time for anything anywhere near excellence but instead settling too often for “good enough.”

Feeling trapped in overcommitment, often accompanied by its cousin overwhelm, involves a high level of stress from the never-ending to do list and the complete lack of any time to truly rest. Letting go of commitments seems impossible because doing so involves letting others down and saying “no.” At the same time, the pace of overcommitment is simply too much to sustain.

Commitments and Balance

Commitments provide one gauge of the existence or absence of balance in our lives. Too few commitments results in boredom and idleness, maybe even feelings of insignificance and unimportance, while too many commitments result in lack of consistency and settling for less than your best. Both extremes lack balance; both fail in effectiveness.

Instead, perhaps an approach to commitments with the goal of effectiveness may be what we need to reach and maintain balance. When I find myself in an out-of-balance state — that stressful place of overwhelm again — my focus is more on efficiency instead of effectiveness. In other words, I’m looking to accomplish as much as I can as quickly as I can and not looking much at whether I’m doing what’s most important. I’m not considering what activity makes my life the most effective.

From Efficient to Effective

Focusing on effectiveness, on how my time is best spent rather than on how much can I get done, keeps overcommitment and overwhelm at bay. Focusing my time on quality is truly at the heart of living a life of effective commitments. Moving from efficient to effective, though, requires a continual struggle for balance.