I realized recently that I have been over-functioning. By over-functioning I mean doing for others what they can do for themselves or need to learn to do for themselves. Can anyone relate? This is something I need to stay on top of almost daily and, yes, it is a large source of my stress. Why do I do this to myself?
Sometimes I justify it by saying “Well, I know how to do it and it will be quicker” or “At least I know it will be done right and I won’t have more work later on” or “It’s just easier for me to do it than to explain it.” And when I do this it should produce a huge red flag because this is an indicator that I am over-functioning. What is it? Justifying my actions.
Lesson #1: To avoid over-functioning stop justifying your behavior. When I hear myself justifying what I am doing, I know I am setting myself up for some major stress by over-functioning. If I have to justify, then I use it as a signal to stop.
Another thing that happens when I over-function is that I begin to think I am the only one who can do ‘it’. And, from my experience, there are plenty of people who love when I begin to think this way. Suddenly, they are freed up to do anything else they want as I take on their tasks or responsibilities.
Lesson #2: To avoid over-functioning do a reality check with this question: “Am I really the only one who can do this?” It can be seductive to feel needed and it is a great ego boost to be so darn competent. However, whenever we use ego and seduction in the same feeling, it may be time to stop and find a good friend who can give us a thump up the side of the head.
There is another aspect of thinking we are the only one who can do something and that is we begin to stop seeing options. If we are the only person in a family who can load and unload the dishwasher, then pretty soon we will be the only one who can clear the table, rinse the dishes or any number of other chores.
Lesson #3: To avoid over-functioning make a list of all the possible options available to you. There are ALWAYS options. One of the things that many of my clients love about coaching is that they begin to see options. When we limit our options we can fall into things far worse than over-functioning. Not seeing options can lead to depression and despair. Things begin to look hopeless and then you have entered the danger zone of over-functioning.
Now many of us have over-functioned for so long that it seems normal to us. Once upon a time I would have fallen into that category (and slip back every once in a while). Now, I check in with myself from time to time to see whether I have fallen off the over-functioning wagon. (Maybe I should start a chapter of Over-Functioners Anonymous!)
Here’s a quick check list:
1. Make a list of all the things you are currently doing. You can divide it into categories like Home, Kids, Work, Volunteer.
2. Scrutinize this list by first asking “Who else can do this?” (Don’t put in a lot of excuses, by that I mean justifying your actions, about why someone else can’t do it). Then, as you go through the list make note about how you feel when you think about doing it. Do you feel dread before? Are you resentful after? Big tell that you are over-functioning. Also, ask yourself “Is it time for so and so to learn how to do this?”
3. Now take those dreaded/resentment filled/age appropriate tasks and put them in a list.
4. Begin to fill in options next to them. The options can go from “delegate” to “delete” to “hire out”.
5. Call a meeting of those who are on your option list and explain that the following items are going to be delegated, deleted or hired out. Make it clear that taking it back on is not negotiable. You will mentor but you will not do it for them. Work out a desirable timetable.
6. LET IT GO. Yup, now you need to go hands off. Realize that it won’t be done as you would have done it, it won’t be done in a timely fashion and IT WON’T BE DONE BY YOU. This is the hardest step but the most necessary.
If you stick to this you will obviously benefit from having more time and energy to do other things. There is another benefit that isn’t as obvious to over-functioning minds and that is for the people who are taking on these tasks. They area learning to do things they need to know how to do in life. You have helped them to take a next step on their life journey. And that is a great function!