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Avoid Over-Scheduling & Improve Work-Life Balance

Avoid Over-Scheduling & Improve Work-Life Balance

Alyssa Towns
Writer
June 11, 2024
Updated on:

Avoid Over-Scheduling & Improve Work-Life Balance
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“Sure, I’ll add that task to my to-do list!” she says with a list that’s 30+ items deep. 

“Yeah, I can attend that meeting; no problem!” he grumbles, as this will be his eleventh meeting this week. 

“Let’s catch up over coffee this week!” I say, only to immediately panic because I have no idea where I’ll be able to fit in a coffee run. 

Overscheduling in the workplace is a byproduct of our culture's championing of busyness, achievement, and success in the race to the top. It’s exhausting and undoubtedly unsustainable in the long run. Learn about the causes of overscheduling, red flags to watch for, and four tips for preventing or addressing overscheduling. 

Understanding overscheduling (and its causes)

Overscheduling doesn’t only happen because managers and employers push to-dos onto task lists without realizing what else sits on the list or how much time tasks will take. While that’s one behavioral practice that can lead to overscheduling, many elements contribute to unreasonably full calendars, including: 

  • Agreeing to a new project without fully understanding the requirements 
  • Fear of letting down teammates or your boss by saying “no” 
  • Saying “yes” to every social gathering or event, be it a virtual or in-person one (which requires more time with commutes and such)
  • Entertaining every chat, phone call, and email from your teammates that comes your way 
  • Working in an ambiguous role where you feel every request you receive is your job, so you can’t turn it down 
  • Volunteering for extracurriculars because you feel like you “should” or “have to” 
  • Taking on as much work as possible to chase a promotion or raise 

The problems with overscheduling 

Overscheduling (unsurprisingly) causes many of the workplace problems so many people are familiar with today, including:

  • High levels of burnout: Fortune recently reported that 82% of employees are at risk of burnout this year. Packed calendars and overscheduling burn team members out at rapid rates as they constantly strive to juggle their task loads. Burnout produces several detrimental effects, including poor physical health (frequent illnesses), poor mental health, sleep issues, mood issues, and more. 
  • “Time famine”: Yale psychologist Laurie Santos spoke with CNBC about “time famine,” or feeling too busy (a.k.a. overscheduled) at work. These feelings lead to poor work performance and, you guessed it, burnout. 
  • Slower progress on work that matters: Being busy doesn’t always equate to doing impactful, high-value work, and often, overscheduling results from ineffective meetings (and too many of them), unstructured conversations with unclear outcomes, and other unnecessary interactions. McKinsey & Company suggests rethinking true collaboration to make progress and avoid pseudo-busyness. 

Identifying warning signs

The only way to prevent or address overscheduling is to understand the warning signs so you can address it. A packed calendar is the most apparent sign of overscheduling, but there are some subtler red flags worth keeping an eye out for, including: 

  • Your loved ones and friends miss seeing you: You might overschedule yourself at work and not even realize you’re turning down invitations to spend time with the people you care about most. Sometimes, it happens over time—you might turn down an event or two here or there. Before you know it, you may cut out these precious moments completely. If your friends and family members say things like, “It’s been so long since we got together!” or “I miss seeing you every week at game night,” consider reviewing your calendar.
  • More mistakes than usual (at home and work): Humans make mistakes. It’s a normal part of life (and one that helps us grow). But if you make more mistakes than usual, especially significant ones, like backing into another car because you were in a hurry to get to work, you might be overscheduled and tired. 
  • More colds, coughs, stomachaches, headaches, and the like than average: Your body will likely let you know when you’ve achieved a level of overscheduling that you can’t maintain. If you are frequently ill, end the workday with a headache multiple times per week, or experience other illness symptoms often, it’s time to slow down. 
  • Anxiousness and stress that follow you around constantly: Overextending yourself can lead to anxiety and stress, and if you feel overscheduled, these feelings will likely follow you home in the evenings, wake you up in the middle of the night, or appear first thing in the morning. Anxiety and stress can also disrupt your sleep schedule and quality, so pay attention to frequent bouts of restless slumber.
  • A dreaded case of Sunday scaries: If Sunday morning rolls around and you can’t help but panic about the week ahead and all of the work you need to do, you might be overscheduling yourself.

4 tips for putting an end to overscheduling

Overscheduling is only as powerful as you allow it to be. Fortunately, you can use some tried-and-true techniques to prevent or address overscheduling yourself. 

1. Set priorities 

It’s easy to overschedule yourself when you lack clear direction. Without proper prioritization methods and strategies at the ready, every task, to-do, and invitation will sneak onto your calendar without a second thought. You can combat this by setting priorities at work and home; that way, you can determine what should make its way onto your calendar (and when).

For prioritizing work tasks, there are two popular frameworks many people turn to: Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen and the Eisenhower matrix. 

The GTD method involves dumping everything in your brain into one centralized list that you can maintain long-term and add to over time. You can then categorize your to-dos from the running list. This can be helpful in overscheduling because you always have a growing list of items you can refer to. If your GTD list is 50+ items deep and someone asks if you can take on a new project, you have proof that perhaps now isn’t the time to agree to one more thing. 

The Eisenhower matrix is a method for categorizing and prioritizing your to-do list by urgency and importance. It forces you to consider whether every task, project, or message is urgent and important (and should require immediate attention). This can be helpful in overscheduling because someone may ask you to complete a task, and you may add it to your matrix and realize you can schedule a time to do it later (not urgent) or delegate it (not important).

 

avoid overscheduling with prioritization techniques
The Eisenhower matrix is a mighty task prioritization technique

2. Use time management techniques

Part of the struggle with overscheduling is refusing to be honest about how much we can accomplish on a given day. If you treat your calendar like one ample open, free space, you probably won’t have any issues filling it. 

That’s where time management techniques can prove helpful. One of our favorite time management strategies is time blocking. Time blocking consists of: 

  • Choosing what you need to work on ahead of time (you could use your GTD list or Eisenhower matrix to help with this) 
  • Deciding when you need to complete each task
  • Blocking off a chunk of time on your calendar for each task

When you block your calendar weekly or even daily, you set limits around your time, making it easier to understand your available capacity (or lack thereof). Especially in environments where team members can see each other’s calendars, if your calendar looks open and available, people may assume as much as possible and fill the time. 

Pro-tip: New to time management? Improve your skills with our 7-day time management challenge

3. Harness the power of delegating and saying “no” 

Delegating tasks isn’t a crime. You may need to delegate some of your work to create more space and time for higher-impact initiatives, and that’s okay. Managers, in particular, can easily get caught in the cycle of overscheduling themselves because they don’t know how or feel uncomfortable delegating. 

Try our exercise below to determine whether delegating some of the tasks on your list will be beneficial: 

  • Can I identify a team member with the right strengths and skills to delegate this task to? 
  • Does this task or project align well with one of my team member’s priorities?
  • Does this provide an opportunity for someone to develop their skills? 
  • Do I have time to delegate effectively and provide contextual information and training to help this person do this task? 
  • Do we have time to backtrack and do rework (if necessary)?
  • Would this opportunity benefit my team member and me?
  • Will delegating this specific task enable me to prioritize higher-level work?

If you delegate some of your responsibilities and still have too many commitments on your calendar, you might need to practice saying “no.” There are plenty of polite ways to decline meetings, new projects, and social events.  

4. Honor and maintain work-life balance boundaries 

Work-life boundaries are only effective if and when we set them and have the support from managers and employers to uphold them without fear. Honoring and maintaining work-life boundaries includes defining (and sticking to) specific working hours, prioritizing well-being activities and downtime in your free time, taking entirely disconnected breaks throughout the day to refuel and recharge, and permitting yourself to say “no” to optional work-related activities after hours. 

One way to invite more flexibility into your day to support your boundaries is by designating some of your meetings (as many as possible) as flexible. Sure, you might need the meetings on your calendar, but you might not need them to happen at a precise time (think 1:1s, smaller group meetings, etc.). Using a tool like Clockwise, which can help meetings shift (within reason), can help you make better use of your time by creating more space for getting work done or having lunch. 

Finally, remember to take a day off now and again (even if it means taking a mental health day to stay home and rest!).

Going forward 

Tackling busy schedules is our jam. Clockwise can help with time blocking, scheduling breaks between meetings, holding time for lunch, saving Focus Time for deep work, understanding team capacity, and more. We’ll help you address your team’s overscheduling challenges in no time. Sign up today.

About the author

Alyssa Towns

Alyssa Towns has written productivity and time management content for Clockwise for several years. Early in her career, she dove into time management strategies to effectively manage her workday calendar and 10+ C-Suite officers' calendars across various organizations. She uses her training in change management to write time management, the future of work, and career content that helps people change their behaviors and habits. In addition, she writes about artificial intelligence (AI) and other technology for G2's Learn Hub. When she isn't writing, Alyssa enjoys trying new restaurants with her husband, playing with her Bengal cats, adventuring outdoors, or reading a book from her TBR list.

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