Overextending yourself is one of the easiest ways to lose motivation, produce low-quality work, and fall into a self-defined rut.
But it’s not always clear where the line is with overextension. After all, feeling overextended is pretty much the same thing as feeling tired right?
Well, that’s not quite the case. Feeling tired is unavoidable, but feeling overextended is a different type of lethargy that signals a deeper issue with how we’re spending our time.
It’s much different than the typical mid-day crash you experience after lunch.
This article will look at some common signs that you’re overextending yourself as well as strategies for managing your time and energy better.
What Does Overextending Yourself Mean?
We all live very busy lives — work obligations, personal errands, relationships, children, etc.
Generally, it’s good to be busy in life. The most successful people in the world aren’t lounging around binge-watching Netflix, they’re constantly engaged in a forward march towards their biggest goals.
Sometimes though, we end up overextending ourselves. Business turns to chaos and we feel overwhelmed by the daily grind that we’re engaged in.
If you go to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, you’ll find a dictionary definition of the word overextend: to extend or expand beyond a safe and reasonable point.
Overextending yourself simply means that you’ve gone too far. It means that you’ve pushed past the breaking point and your daily obligations are beginning to take a significant toll on your emotional state.
Feeling overextended is your body and brain’s way of telling you: “Please switch something up. I don’t know if we can handle this kind of workload that much longer.”
5 Signs That You’re Overextending Yourself
At this point you’re probably wondering, “How do I know if I’m just tired, or if I’m overextending myself?”
There needs to be a clear distinction made between tiredness and overextension because it’s not always easy to know which one you’re battling.
As we go through the following signs of overextension, do an internal check-in to see if any of them resonate with you.
#1: You’re Struggling With Simple Tasks
Do you feel like things you used to be able to do in your sleep are harder than usual at the moment?
That could be a sign that you’re overextending yourself. For me, writing blog posts like these takes a lot of work, but it’s not particularly challenging once words start flowing out on paper.
During a normal two hour writing block, I can easily get down at least 1,500 words on any given topic that I’m writing about.
However, there have been several stretches in my life where I’ve struggled to produce — barely getting 500 words down on a daily basis.
During these stretches, finding the right words feels harder. Distractions are much more enticing. And what’s usually a fun, engaging activity turns into a monumental challenge.
Now obviously, being tired produces the same effect on my work. But when I’m overextended, these performance drops last longer, typically several weeks.
One day of lackluster effort is nothing to be concerned about, but weeks of inhibited performance is a glaring signal that you’re overextending yourself.
#2: You’re Overextending Yourself If You’re Losing Enjoyment In Your Work
Another indicator that you may be overextending yourself is when work that previously excited you begins to lose its spark.
Now let’s be clear here — I’m not talking about the excitement of a new job/project suddenly wearing off.
We’re all excited when we start a new job. We’re all excited when we start a new workout routine. It’s completely natural for this excitement to fizzle out and return to baseline levels after a few weeks.
Here’s when you need to be concerned:
If you’ve been engaging in certain work for a long time, and you typically enjoy it, that’s when you should be worried when something loses its spark.
I’ve been writing content and publishing blog posts for over a year. It’s hard work, but I really do enjoy it.
I’d never feel worried if one day I woke up and just felt zero motivation to write, because that happens quite frequently. However, I would get worried about overextension if this feeling was constant for a period of several weeks.
So if work you enjoy ever begins to consistently feel like a chore instead of something that you’re motivated to do, that’s a feeling you need to stay on top of.
#3: You Feel Tired In The Morning
After the usual morning grogginess wears off, how do you feel after waking up each morning?
Do you feel energized and ready to take on the day, or do you feel a bit lazy and unmotivated?
If you resonated with the second statement, it’s quite possible that you’re overextending yourself and not giving your body and brain enough time to heal.
Obviously, if you’re not getting enough sleep, then that morning slump can’t really be blamed on overextension.
However, if you possess good sleep habits, but still feel sluggish in the morning, then it’s quite possible that you’re just overextending yourself throughout the day. The way you work may be having a carry over effect on your energy levels the following day.
We’ll cover a great strategy for overcoming this carry over effect later in the article.
#4: You’re Feeling Increased Anxiety
When you’re feeling overextended, it’s much more difficult to regulate your emotional state.
If you’ve been feeling unusually high levels of stress and anxiety, one of the first things you should take a look at is your work schedule.
Obviously, there are usually many factors at play with anxiety. It’d be narrow minded to say that overextending yourself is the sole reason why you’re feeling increased stress and anxiety.
However, there is research to back up the fact that people who work longer hours are more prone to higher levels of anxiety and depression.
One study found that people who work 11 hours per day were more likely to struggle with depression as opposed to those who logged 7 to 8 hours each day.
Working hard to achieve meaningful goals is important. And there are many people out there who put in 12-14 hour days and still live happy, healthy lives.
But of course, everyone is different. If you’ve really been hustling and notice that it’s having a negative impact on your mental health, it may be time to ask yourself some self-reflection questions and evaluate whether or not this is the best way for you to live your life.
#5: You Don’t Feel Socially Connected
When we overextend ourselves, one of the first things to take a hit is our personal relationships.
This is really tough, because many studies have shown that deep personal connections are one of the biggest keys to happiness in life
People who have a fulfilling social life live longer, are less likely to suffer from anxiety/depression, and show greater resilience when faced with personal challenges.
Conversely, those who feel socially isolated typically report much lower levels of life-satisfaction, and find themselves at a much higher risk of developing anxiety/ depression.
Do you feel like you’re not making enough time for your friends? Do you feel like work is turning you into someone who is socially isolated?
If so, then maybe it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate your priorities.
How To Stop Overextending Yourself
If you resonated with some of those key signals of overextension, then you’re now probably wondering what you’re supposed to do about it.
Here are three incredibly effective strategies you can implement when you feel like you’re overextending yourself.
Tip #1: Create A Shutdown Ritual
This concept comes from Cal Newport, one of the world’s leading productivity experts and author of Deep Work: Rules For Success In A Distracted World.
In this book, he prescribes something called a shut-down ritual in order to restore your attention after a long day’s work.
“This ritual should ensure that every incomplete goal, task, or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either 1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or 2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right.”
Newport advises that this ritual should take place at the same time every day. The idea is that once this ritual is complete, you clock out for the day and focus on other important aspects of your life.
The reason that this strategy works so well is that it helps our brain re-charge.
Concentrating on work requires directed attention. When we’re crafting important emails or writing large reports, we’re using directed attention to complete these tasks to the best of our ability.
Directed attention is a finite resource — if you exhaust it, you’ll struggle to concentrate.
When we constantly interrupt our evenings to keep working, even for small periods of time, we’re robbing our directed attention centers of the rest they need so we can operate at peak levels the next day.
Having a shutdown ritual ensures that you don’t overextend yourself and create clear boundaries between work and play.
Tip #2: Focus On Quality Over Quantity
One of the many reasons we tend to get burnt out with work is that we fail to prioritize quality over quantity.
In a typical work session, how long do you actually spend working? When you take away the social media check-ins, the quick scan of your email inbox, and the pointless web browsing, how much time do you spend in a state of deep focus?
My guess is that most of you reading this would say that your work sessions are characterized by frequent interruption.
There’s two key reasons why this is so detrimental to your lifestyle:
- First off, you don’t produce your best work. The work that you produce during work sessions where you’re constantly jumping around with split-focus is less likely to be high-quality work.
- Second, overextending yourself becomes a necessity. When things take longer than they should, you’re constantly having to make up for lost time.
When you lack the ability to focus, you’re forced to play catch up. You put yourself in a position where you need to work longer hours because your lack of efficiency is bottlenecking your productivity.
This leaves less time for you to engage in activities that get your mind off work — watching your favorite shows, hanging out with friends, enjoying your favorite hobbies, etc.
The solution to feeling overextended isn’t necessarily about working less, it’s about using the time you do have in a more productive way. And the easiest way to do that is to master the ability to focus intensely on a singular task.
If this is something that you struggle with, here’s a framework you can adopt that will help you develop this skill:
- Commit to a certain task on your to-do list.
- Create a distraction free environment by turning off your phone or putting it in another room.
- Perform uninterrupted work on this task for 15 minutes.
- No checking email. No checking text messages. No social media-check ins or web browsing.
- Use every neuron in your brain to focus on the task at hand.
As you get better at getting into a state of deep concentration, you can begin to scale this 15 minute work session up to 30 minutes, then 45 minutes, and then shoot for 1-2 hours.
Focus more on quality and less on quantity, and you’ll be surprised at how much time you really have when you stop wasting it.
Tip #3: Make Exercise A Bigger Priority
If you’re feeling overextended, it might seem daunting to adopt a fitness regimen.
I already feel exhausted on a daily basis! You want me to start doing something that will make me feel even more tired?
I understand the logic behind that point of view, but the truth is that exercise doesn’t deplete our energy levels, it raises them.
I won’t get too deep into the science here, so here’s the cliff notes version of why exercise will help you reduce burnout and overextension.
The following information is summarized from an article published on The Harvard Medical School blog.
- Increased Mitochondria Production: Physical exertion causes your body to produce more mitochondria, which are the powerhouse of the cells in your body. They’re responsible for turning the food you eat and the air you breathe into energy. Simply put, having more of them means more energy.
- Exercise Boosts Oxygen Circulation: Exercise boosts the circulation of oxygen in your body, which supports the mitochondria’s ability to produce energy. The increased circulation also allows your body to function better and use its energy reserves more efficiently.
- Increased Hormone Levels: Exercise causes your hormone levels to spike, which helps you feel more energized.
- Better Sleep: Sleep is the primary way that our body and mind recharge. Regular exercise has been proven to actually promote better nighttime sleep, which leads to higher energy levels the following day.
Each of these benefits help you combat feeling overextended by supplying you with more energy that you can use to perform at your best.
If you’re struggling with building an exercise habit, you can check out this article on my site which discusses a simple 5 step framework for sticking to new habits.
At some point in your life, you’re going to feel like you’re overextending yourself. It’s a completely natural part of figuring out how to find balance in your life.
Some people can find happiness in the learning how to develop the self-discipline required to work 14 hour days, while sacrificing almost every other area of their life, especially if the work they’re doing is fulfilling.
Others learn the hard way that hustle culture might not be for them, and that they’d prefer a balanced life as opposed to one that’s dominated by work.
There’s no right answer, there’s only right for you. If you tap into intuition and have a gut feeling that you’re taking on too much, then try adopting one of three strategies mentioned in this article.
Don’t just click off this blog post and let things stay the same. If you do that, it’s likely you’ll continue to feel overextended and come back to articles like these month after month.
My sincere hope for those of you feeling overextended is that you apply the strategies mentioned in this article so that you never need to read a post like this again.