A Guide to Surviving Overcommitting

A Guide to Surviving Overcommitting

Before I came to Booth I was warned of the dangers of overcommitting myself. Alumni and second year students alike advised that I know what I wanted, guard my time, and to be unafraid to say no, but to also open myself up to new experiences and say yes to as many things as I could. After a very cautious first year that, at times, still left me gasping for air, I promised myself that year two—my last year—would be different. I would say yes to everything and love it.

Executing on this attitude is how I found myself a bit overwhelmed at the beginning of Autumn Quarter. Summer’s more relaxed pace was a distant memory, LEAD Facilitating was in full swing, classes had started, and recruiting was underway, plus I was co-chairing a club, planning events with the Graduate Business Council, and serving as an Admissions Fellow. Blame it on the allure of Booth’s endless enticing choices or my belief that I could do it all, but there I was in my second year…overcommitted, tired, and focusing on getting through the week.

I loved everything that I was doing but it was dawning on me that if I was going to make it through the next few weeks with my sanity and health, I was going to need to make adjustments to how I was handling the workload I had. 

Though I may be landlocked in the Midwest (my hot take: no, Lake Michigan is not the same as the ocean), with my Californian roots I can’t help but think of busy times like these as ocean waves. It’s like standing on a beach and watching a large wave come towards you. There are a few approaches you can take: You can drop everything and run to safety at the last minute, let it hit you and risk drowning, avoid the beach altogether, or grab a surfboard and prepare to ride. 

This post is about how, at Booth, you can learn to surf when it’s too late to run and you don’t want to drown.

Step 1: Prioritize. Surfing isn’t about doing everything perfectly. When you’ve overcommitted, that may be impossible. Instead, list out everything you have to do and rank which are most important to you. Maybe you have a favorite class, a club that you’re dedicated to, or a case competition that you want to win. Be honest with yourself. What really needs to get done, by when, and what is the one thing that matters the most? Once you’ve identified this, you have your focus and you give yourself permission to let a few other things slip, which brings us to Step 2.  

Step 2: Ask for help. Unlike surfing, succeeding at Booth is a team sport. Delegating—especially if you’re running a club and have co-chairs—will save you. Maybe your study group is willing to help carry you this week and you can make it up to them later in the quarter when you have a moment to breathe. Be thoughtful about who you ask and don’t take it personally if they say no, but you won’t know how willing Boothies are to pay-it-forward if you never ask.

Step 3: Start saying no to things. The interesting offerings and social events will keep coming through even when you’re nearly drowning. Which means you have to start protecting yourself from layering on. A last-minute ask that someone has? An event that you totally have to go to? Unless it outranks what is already on your list, say no. They’ll understand. You’re already doing so much. 

Step 4: Execute deliberately. Focus. It’s just you and your wave. Put the phone away unless it’s needed for the task and resist the siren calls of email notifications and endless social media scrolling. Remember, what you’re working on now is what you identified in step one as the item you care about the most and it deserves your full attention.

Step 5: Forgive yourself. Did everything go perfectly? Probably not. Does that mean you failed? No. You did your best to do everything you could and that is all anyone can reasonably ask from you. Be proud of what you did accomplish (surviving the wave!!) and be kind to yourself if anything slipped. 

It can be tempting to say yes to everything at Booth, even when we think we know better. We walk in with our “I can do anything” attitudes and inevitably overcommit. It happens to almost everyone at least once (or, if you’re like me, about once a year).

The important thing is to stay calm when you see the wave coming. Remember, business school isn’t life or death, though at times it may feel like it. The sun will still rise in the morning, grade non disclosure will still be in place, and everyone will still get a job after graduation. You, too, will be fine. You just have to remember that in the moment when it feels like it’s all going to crash down and, hopefully, next time you will have a better idea of what you can reasonably handle.