When You've Bitten Off More Than You Can Chew

Occasionally, all of us find ourselves overloaded. Sometimes, it’s the result of circumstances beyond our control. Mostly, however, it’s because of poor energy/time management on our part. As Momma used to day, “You’ve bitten off more than you can chew!”

This is particularly true for “can do” people with a bias for “yes.” They get a lot accomplished, and occasionally find themselves swamped in the process.

As one of those “can do – bias for yes” people, I’ve found myself in that condition numerous times along the way. I’ve gleaned a few insights from those experiences, and offer a few suggestions to consider when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.

1) Ask yourself – “Why am I doing this?”
We assume unnecessary responsibilities because we don’t want to disappoint someone, or because we haven’t mastered the art of gracious refusal. If you don’t have a good reason why you’re carrying the load, that’s a good clue that you shouldn’t have picked it up in the first place. Of course, if you made a commitment to do something, you should go ahead and get it done – but learn the valuable lesson in it, so you won’t repeat the same mistake in the future.

2) Say “Maybe” first instead of “Yes.”
Often, the reason why we’re swamped is because we said “yes” without thinking it through. Some people start with “no” and work to “yes.” Others start with “yes” and work to “no.” The better approach is to start with “maybe” – and then process it honestly and thoroughly.

3) Break Big Projects Down into Smaller Chunks.
Our riding lawnmower broke down this summer, and we really don’t want to spend the cash to replace it this year – which means a ton of push-mowing for my boys and me. At first, the task seemed overwhelming – but we broke the lawn down into five smaller sections, divided the duties out amongst us, and it made the task manageable. Big projects and responsibilities are like that. At first, they can loom like an enormous mountain - -but if you break them down into little molehills, they’re much less daunting.

“I’m so hungry I could eat an elephant!” a man said.
“How on earth could you eat an elephant?” his friend replied.
“One bite at a time!”

4) Stop Avoiding and Get Started!
Avoiding a task takes more energy than just facing it, rolling up your sleeves and getting to work. It’s amazing what you can do if you just put your mind to it, and get into gear. Valuable energy is wasted when we fret and stew over all we need to accomplish. Stop stewing and start working on it! You’ll be further ahead at the end of the day.

5) Delegate, Delegate, Delegate.
Is there someone else who can help? Could another person do this job 80% as well as you? Then give it to them! When speaking to pastors on the art of delegation, I often have them write down all the duties and responsibilities that need to be fulfilled in the congregation. Then I ask, “Who is responsible to do that job?” Many pastors discover that they carry responsibility for far too many tasks, which actually wars against their overall effectiveness. I encourage them to find others to fulfill most of these duties – and then become their coach and cheerleader. The volunteers receive the satisfaction of purposeful and meaningful service, and the pastor avoids burnout.

6) Build Breathing Space into your Schedule.
Especially if you are stressed out and overloaded by enormous burdens, you need to build in breathing space. Actually write it into your calendar – just like you would a doctor’s appointment – “breathing space.” Time spent re-charging is really an investment rather than an expenditure. If you don’t have time to take an afternoon or evening – then take an hour. If you don’t have time to take an hour, then take 15 minutes. We’re not too bright when we burn the candle at both ends!

7) Make it a Temporary Tunnel.
Sometimes, regardless of how we arrange things, we still find ourselves in an ultra-demanding situation. In times like this it’s important to do two things:
a. Assess the situation by asking, “how can I make this temporary?”
b. Once you’ve figured that you, remind yourself, “this is only temporary!” 


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