Being Spread Too Thin

Being Spread Too Thin

Life can often pull you in [way too] many directions. People depend on us, and we take on the responsibility to keep everyone happy and live up to those commitments.

Socially, at work, at home, our family, our extended family, our community. At what point to we stretch and divide ourselves so much between these different areas, that we are no longer us, and then, in the end, cannot even uphold what, and who, we are supposed to be for these different people/parts of our life?

We reference our friends at Goop on their convo with an author on the concept of Essentialism, and Dr. Tasneem Bhatia’s book Super Woman Rx as well as our own chat with Psychologist Jennifer Hall, PsyD on her professional and scientific take on this issue.

Photo Leo Manjarrez

Photo Leo Manjarrez

What is being spread too thin mean?

It means you feel like you are:

  • Always playing catch up with yourself.

  • Have way too many commitments - yes even if you feel like you are already saying ‘no’ to some of them.

  • You feel like you are trying to keep your head above water while maintaining your promises and commitments to people and places.

  • Being at the brim of losing yourself, and perhaps some of your relationships.

  • Overwhelmed

  • Irritated and frustrated / low tolerance.

  • Things start to slip or get messy.

  • Angry having to fulfill a request rather than finding joy in it.

  • Procrastination can often be a symptom too Dr. Hall, PsyD points out.

Dr Hall, PsyD. explains that “as humans, we have a desire to belong and fit in. We take on tasks to obtain the sense of connectedness, which often leaves us feeling overwhelmed, overbooked and constrained. Being spread too thin is never good for one’s emotional well-being. It leaves one stressed, which can contribute to depressive symptoms and/or anxiety.”

To say no or not to say no

We often hear that we have to learn to say no. This is because one of the main reasons why we might feel ‘spread too thin’ is because we:

  • Feel guilty

  • Are people pleasers

  • Feel bad for people (not the pity kind, the ‘I am happy to help you’ kind)

  • Feel like you are already saying ‘no’ to certain people or commitments

  • Feel like superwoman or superman

  • Believe we can do it all

reality check….

‘Doing it all’ is the biggest misconception and con of our lifetime. Having it all, doing it all, and balancing work and life is not at all close to what people portray it as, nor is it a reality…in some sense. Having it all and balancing it all simply means adding in some areas and subtracting in some areas. What you add or take away is up to you. Our discussion here will hopefully help you.

If you do not, you will most likely feel unhappy, overworked, or your body will start showing it in ways such as hair fall or cystic acne.


What is essentialism?

Greg McKeown wrote a book on this concept. We came to its knowledge through Goop’s article on the ‘paradigm-shifting book’.

Essentialism is about identifying what you truly want to say yes to, feeling empowered to pursue what’s essential to you, and making the small choices again and again that help you win big where it actually matters at the end of the day
— Greg McKeown, Author

The non-essentials of life

  • Focusing on what your mission is, your goal, and what you are achieving

  • You can grow at different parts of your life and find that at different phases you have different goals

    • You can change direction, you can grow (prefer this term to ‘changing’), or you can fall off track, reflect, and be pulled back on track

  • Focus

  • Figuring out what fits the 90% rule (more below)

  • Pausing (more below)

  • Step back, take a break (more below)

Maria Menounos at BlogHer 18 about being everything to everyone.

Maria Menounos at BlogHer 18 about being everything to everyone.

Being successful at success

If you try to be good at everything, soon enough you will realize you are making “small amounts of progress in many directions that do not really matter to us” in the words of McKeown, and essentially this is when you are spreading yourself too thin.

If you are aware of your goals and have identified priorities it becomes easier to know when to say no. Assessing goals (both long and short term) should be done frequently and used as a guide to understanding what to take on and/or what to get rid of” advices Dr. Hall PsyD.

Corporate perspective

making your mission statement, corporate or personal

When a company grows and has a presence and demand, more opportunities come their way. It is not smart to take on everything, it is smart to pick on what exactly the company is trying to achieve and focus on that. Similarly when entrepreneurs are given advice, they are often told to focus on one thing, be successful at it, and then branch out into other things.

good vs essential

McKeown advises using the 90% rule here.

This means trading things that are 90% beneficial to you and attached to your goal, and important with the ones that are 60%, 70%, 80% important. He references Marie Kondo here and reflects on her approach on things at home that sparks joy or does not. Just like when you are spring cleaning your closet, do not think of things you might need, or could use (yes you could have very few pieces like that), but really focus in on what you need and want.


Yes, we often have to learn to say no more often, (especially women), but saying no is not always the answer, sometimes we just have to pause. Think about the number of times we respond to people or initiated a thought with someone in the middle of our day, to commit or start something that we haven’t thought about fully.

Of course, spontaneity is great, and we should all have room for that in our lives, but as McKeown highlights “There often seems to zero space between a thought we have, and an email we send to someone else…so, we can start by pausing ourselves, and not creating more work. Ask yourself: Is that essential? Do I really need to respond immediately?” This concept can be carried into every aspect in our life, even in person requests, there is not just a no or yes option, there is also the option to say ‘that sounds great, let me get back to you in a bit!’

Referencing Maria Memounos

For those of you unfamiliar, the ex-TV Host, beauty and hair model for many (those luscious Greek locks and skin!), and overall awesome human being (I have met her) is also a survivor of brain surgery after finding out she had a brain tumor, and helping her mother recover from breast cancer, Maria is has been on quite the journey of reflection and health/wellness. Maria actively advises to be proactive, not reactive.

take a break

Nothing we haven’t heard before. Daily breaks, weekly breaks, and then what McKeown calls an ‘offsite’. He says “For one day, every ninety days, you stop, look at the successes of the last 90 days, and why they matter to you. Look at all the commitments you plan to pursue over the next 90 days—take all the items of the next 90 days out of the closet and identify what is the highest priority.” Personally, I would take this moment to reflect and organize, literally offsite, perhaps in a different location away from my everyday! (yay to mandatory mini vacations for a day (or two) every 3 months).

Photo: Emile Seguin

Photo: Emile Seguin

when is putting yourself first too selfish?

it’s a blurry line.

Being perceived “selfish” rather than committed to one’s personal goals can be confusing. Dr Hall, PsyD reminds us “We tend to take on both tasks instead of exercising our voice and saying no. Thoughtful communication (especially in advance) helps. For instance, saying something like “I’m sorry friend, I won’t be able to attend that celebration all day with you as I have a certain priority that needs to be accomplished.  What I can do, is spend a few hours with you in the morning then go on my way. Work on not internalizing guilt for having known priorities. If people know you well, they know you’re goal oriented and focused.”

Definitely easier said than done, this also needs prioritizing. The essentials of life for you might (hopefully) include attending to your parents, in addition to your other social and work commitments. If work/career is the first at the moment, and family is second, then with friends or other social engagements you will have to compromise. If you are focusing on a health related issue for a while, and your other non-negotiable is work, explain your family, that for a while you will have to slow down our pace on your commitments.

Finding yourself back into a cycle of spreading yourself too thin

Even with all the advice out there, podcasts, articles and discussions like this, we can often do well, and then fall back on overworking or overcommitting.

Dr Hall, PsyD. reassures us that ‘At times we tend to find ourselves back where we started. That’s okay and should be expected. Don’t beat yourself up, simply start doing the things that work for you.  It’s also important to spend some time to explore why/how we got out of rhythm. Block some intentional time off to re-calibrate and pay attention to those symptoms/actions (like procrastination or irritation) we feel when we know we’re overwhelmed’. This aligns very well with McKeown’s advice for an ‘offsite’ assessment (explained above).

Photo: Ryoji Iwata

Photo: Ryoji Iwata

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