Getting Rid of Commitments

This post was previously published. It has been updated.

A reader asked about how to analyze and get rid of commitments that are taking up your time. It’s a hard proposition: we are pulled in so many directions, and many of us really want to actively contribute to many of our commitments. However, we are still over-scheduled and over-committed and we need to cut back. Here is my take on how to get rid of commitments:

When I first performed this exercise, it was because someone asked me what I was running from. I was so busy doing everything that I wasn’t paying attention to myself, my dreams and my stress level. I was frazzled, burnt crispy and unhappy.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the state most of us function in. And the only way to get out of it is to clear the books of unnecessary commitments.

Starting the Purge

To do the purge, you are going to need a chunk of time to do some data compilation and some thinking. You will need your calendar for the last three months, some paper and a pen.

Analyze the Commitments

On a piece of paper, start a list of every commitment you have. This means everything: work, school, family, household, social, volunteer. For things that have multiple facets, list them on different lines. For example, I was webmaster for a local organization, and I was also part of their communication team. Two separate commitments that required different times and focus.

For each commitment, make a tally mark for the time you had on your calendar marked for them. If you had dinner with your friend Josephine three times in that period, there should be three tallies next to Josephine.

My list included my daughter and husband, my pets, my household work (inside and outside), classes I was teaching, websites I was running, blogs I was writing, work proper and work upkeep (keeping my skills up to date so I would be marketable), church committees, music lessons and practice, various friends, and the infrequent visits from relatives.

Categorize Commitments

Next to each commitment place one of the four categories: family, friends, work, volunteer and other. This will help you determine balance. If you find that you have too many volunteer commitments and few friend commitments, that might be a clue to increase your socialization.

Evaluate the Commitments

For each of the commitments on your list, look at each one thoroughly. Note the feeling you get when you first read the name on the list. Is it a good feeling, or a knot in your stomach?

Ask yourself what kind of returns you get on this commitment. Is it nurturing you? Or is it sapping your energy and strength?

If the commitment is a person, is this person supportive and nurturing, or complaining and clingy? If you know you can’t get the person off your list altogether, can you cut back on the level of contact?

One final criteria I use to evaluate commitments: I ask myself if I was asked to do the commitment again, would I be able to say yes without any reservations?

Anything that is not positive and helpful I put a question mark by.


You now have a pretty thorough list. Of those commitments that have question marks, see if there are ones that take up a lot of your time. If eliminating these would give you more time with other areas of your life that have few commitments, consider purging them.

Purging is not easy. Sometimes it means going back and saying, “I thought I would be able to do this when I said I would, but I can’t anymore.” Sometimes it just means dropping the ball and seeing who steps in to pick it up. Sometimes it means heartfelt talks about expectations.

Don’t expect that deciding to purge will mean you are instantly free. When I did this exercise in September of one year, it took me until the following January until I was free of everything I had decided to purge.

By taking a methodical look at your commitments, you can prune the tree back to a manageable level. You will find, as I did, a more sane and peaceful life filled with things I truly wanted to be doing.