“Just One More…” – how the desire to do more can be harmful, and how to stop overworking.


Do you have problems with one of the holy grails of personal productivity: how to stop overworking? Do you find yourself exhausted by your drive to keep checking things off the To Do list?

I’ll answer just one more email…
I’ll write just one more paragraph…
I’ll play that phrase just once more – just to be certain of it…

At the recent Dance and Somatic Practices conference in Coventry, Jane Toms and I presented a workshop in which we discussed how Alexander Technique can be a great tool for circumventing the stories and beliefs we all hold that can prevent us from achieving our potential. I mentioned a couple of the self-limiting (and self-harming) beliefs that caused me to begin studying Alexander’s work.

My tendency to try to fit in ‘just one more thing’ wasn’t one of them. But I’ve realised that it should have been.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve grown up exposed to the belief that hard work is the key to success. I knew I had taken this belief to heart, but only recently have I begun to see how it affects my day-to-day life. I don’t like to cook only tonight’s dinner. I like to start tomorrow’s lunch, too.

I will try to fit in just one more email. Just one more dish on the rack. Just one more load of washing. Just one more student in the schedule.

Yes, this can be productive. But it can also land me in trouble. I can take on too many jobs, or end up doing too many things at once. It’s exhausting.

So I made the decision to stop overworking, and to start treating myself more kindly. But it’s hard. It is as though I have a ‘default setting’ that demands overwork, and any stimulus can set my default setting into overdrive.

But it is not for nothing that FM’s last major piece of writing was entitled ‘Knowing How to Stop’, because stopping is a major key in his work.* When trying to solve his career-threatening voice troubles, FM realised that he needed to “make the experience of receiving a stimulus to speak and of refusing to do anything immediately in response.” **

In other words, FM received a stimulus to speak but made the experience of refusing to respond in his usual way. This gave him time to choose not just how to respond, but whether to respond at all.

And this has been my challenge: to receive the stimulus – another email, another phonecall – and to refuse to spring instantly into action. This gives me time to choose what I actually want to do – stop overworking. It gives me time to think. And when I take this time, I have the chance to make the decision anew to choose the path that I have decided is best for my purpose, rather than relying on my default programming.

This is the way we change habitual behaviour – by receiving a stimulus, not instantly using our default programming, but instead making a decision to put into effect the process that we have decided is better.

For me, this is the key to how to stop overworking. It means pausing before fitting in ‘just one more’ of anything. What about you?

*Michael Bloch, FM: The Life of Frederick Matthias Alexander, Kindle ed., p.186.
** FM Alexander, The Use of the Self, Irdeat ed., p.424.
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