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What does “spreading yourself too thin” really mean?

March 26, 2021

We’ve all been guilty of taking on too much at one time. We like to think we’re all superheroes and that nothing can break us. Well the truth is, if you keep taking on too many tasks at once, you’re risking spreading yourself too thin. What does that mean, I hear you ask? It means you are giving yourself to too many things at one time. Maybe you’ve got the quarterly expense reports due, you're the leader in a big company project, you’re also hiring in your department, are taking the kids to and from school and taking a stab at penning the next great novel! Well I don't know about you, but I was exhausted just reading that list. That is arguably too much for any one person to be taking part in per day and all I have to say is this: cut it out! If you continue taking on too much, you’re risking a lot of things. This blog is going to talk about the risks of spreading yourself too thin and what you can do to minimise those risks and stop spreading yourself too thin. 


Dangers of spreading yourself too thin

So what is realistically going to happen if you take on too much? Here are a couple things you could encounter:

  • Stress and irritability
  • No time for yourself and activities you love and need (did someone say sleep?)
  • Constant illness - or just that lingering cold that never seems to leave!
  • An inability to concentrate
  • Work isn’t being completed to a high standard (if this is the case, why do the work at all?)
  • Even a breakdown!


Those side effects of taking on too much might not be ideal for you (they sure aren’t for me!) So let’s talk about how you can manage a large workload.


Learn to take care of yourself too!

Your wellbeing is super important and it shouldn’t be playing second fiddle to anything! Make sure you take the time to rejuvenate and do things for yourself. If that means delaying the due date of a project or saying no to something every once in a while, that's something you should do! Your body will thank you for it. So make a bit of time to go to the gym, prepare a nice meal for yourself, binge Netflix on the couch or take the dogs for a long walk. By the time you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to get back to being a superhero and completing all the tasks you need to do to the best of your ability!


Prioritise and de-prioritise

It’s not enough just to take time off to yourself, you need to learn how to prioritise your time and the tasks that need to be done. If you keep on taking extra tasks at work, how do you decide what can be bumped down on your priority list? If all your tasks are quite high priority, maybe getting someone else to do a task for you (or with you) might be the best idea. But for now, let’s talk about prioritisation. Your manager has just come to you with another big task. You could weight all tasks the same and juggle them all, but you’d probably end up with a very average effort on all the tasks. What you should do is think about which tasks are most important and which are least important. Then speak to your manager and let them know you will have to drop a certain task to the bottom of the list. If you really can’t decide what the order of importance here is, you should simply ask your manager: ‘what should I de-prioritise to take on this task?’ Your manager will respect the fact that you’re willing to take on the task but have other tasks on and need advice on how to proceed. If they didn't know you had all these other tasks on, they might even reconsider getting you to take on the task. That isn’t a bad thing! Your manager will appreciate that you’ve got lots of other things going on but are wanting to help them out. It actually makes you look far better than just coming out with a ‘no’. Just remember that you can’t give yourself to everything, so make sure to prioritise!


Saying ‘no’ can be one of the hardest things, particularly in work. We all want to be that superhero that can take on all tasks and do them well, but you need to accept your mortality! You can only take on so much and that's why taking some time to yourself and learning how to prioritise are going to be completely invaluable to you.


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