Feeling Overwhelmed? How to Back out of Anything Gracefully

There’s no harm in saying yes to new experiences or adventures. It seems like a good idea to agree to more work that will improve your stead at the office. Your friends want to go out on Friday, and you’ve said you’ll join even though you know you’ll be tired.

Filling up your schedule, whether it’s your professional or personal calendar, can be a good thing. But overdoing it isn’t — especially when you start to feel like you’re in over your head. Fortunately, whether you need to cancel on your friends or take a step back at work, you can do so gracefully. Here are seven tips that should help.

1. Be Remorseful

Chances are, you feel genuine regret that you have to reconfigure your schedule. Let this sentiment shine through when you break the bad news. Think about it — there’d be nothing worse than saying you can’t take on any extra assignments with a smile on your face. Make it clear that you’re sorry, and the person on the other end will be more likely to understand your reasoning.

2. Apologize, Don’t Excuse

Changing your plans can create an inconvenience to those involved. No matter what your rationale for doing so, slinging a handful of excuses won’t assuage the situation. That’s especially true if you find yourself cancelling regularly — your coworkers, friends and family will undoubtedly tire of the routine.

Don’t offer up reasons for the switch. Instead, simply apologize to those affected. Again, make sure your words and your sentiment are sincere. And be specific about what you’ve jumbled, and what you’ll do better in the future to properly schedule your time.

3. Do It ASAP

As soon as you know you’ve overcommitted — and as soon as you decide on what has to go — reach out to those involved. With more notice, they might be able to find another person to complete the project, or perhaps they can reschedule your dinner reservation for another, less hectic evening. Last-minute cancellations aren’t polite, and you don’t want someone important to you feeling like you’ve left them hanging, so don’t do it.

4. Ask for Help

Some cancellations are notoriously tough to make. If you feel as though you can’t back out on your own, bring in reinforcements. If you’re contractually or legally bound to do something, a professional can come to your aid. For instance, committing to an annual timeshare might have been a good idea when you signed on the dotted line, but now you’re ready for new vacations. Hiring someone to help you set up your Marriott Vacation Timeshares will make the process simpler for you.

5. Suggest a Future Fix

It turns out that you’re too busy to take on an additional to-do. But you have some free time next week or next month to really focus on the proposed task — could you put it off until then? It wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Committing to a future endeavor since you’ve had to cancel the current one shows that you’re serious. Whether it’s your boss or your best friend on the other end, they’ll appreciate your attempt to rectify the situation at a later date. And you never know — you might be able to put off that project for a few extra days so that you have time to tend to it along with all of your other responsibilities.

6. Take Steps to Improve

The I-can’t-manage-my-time excuse will only work for so long. So if you feel overwhelmed now, take steps to avoid this feeling in the future. One of the most important scheduling tips is to be realistic — what can you actually achieve in the amount of time you’re given? You only have eight hours in a workday and five or so of them after you clock out, after all.

You should also leave yourself some wiggle room. A fully packed calendar has no margin for error or emergencies. Knowing you’re missing something in the midst of an unexpected event will only make it more stressful, so don’t over-pack.

7. Go Easy on Yourself

Remember: This sort of thing happens to everyone. Even your manager has had to cancel on someone, so they should have sympathy for you if you’re feeling overwhelmed. On top of that, most people will find it easy to move forward and give you the benefit of the doubt, which means your reputation won’t suffer any damage. You’ll be trusted in your job or in your relationships in the future.

Just make sure that backing out never becomes a habit for you, as constant cancellations will put a damper on your reputation. Instead, be honest with others and with yourself — take on what you can handle, no more. Everyone, especially you, will be happier that way.

Sarah Landrum

Sarah Landrum recently graduated from Penn State with degrees in Marketing and PR. Now, she's a freelance writer and career blogger sharing advice on navigating the work world and achieving happiness and success in your career. You can find her tweeting on her coffee breaks @SarahLandrum