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  • Writer's pictureRobert Norton

You want to do that now?

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

Last month, I introduced you to Turbo, my speedy alter ego, who sometimes gets me into trouble. Many of you wrote back to say that you saw yourself in my description, especially the subversive habit of piling on more tasks at a time when you should be simplifying.

The topic came up at coffee with a former client who is a Senior Accounting Director and mother of four children under nine. She’s in the big leagues at work and, at the same time, can practically build a little league team in her backyard.

She described a scene in the days before a family trip where she found herself generating an over-the-top household chore checklist while in the throes of packing. She lamented, “I was killing myself to make sure every stitch of laundry was done before we left, when in reality, I don't put that expectation on myself on a normal day. We always have a pile of undone laundry.”

The psychological term for this phenomenon, coined by psychiatrist Murray Bowen, is overfunctioning, and it’s a common side effect of stress. Overfunctioners respond to surging demands by becoming more controlling. They get increasingly task-oriented, less discerning about what they take on, and more likely to micro-manage those around them. And, often in our relationships, the more we overfunction, the more our partners tend to underfunction.

When you start to feel uptight about your list of things to do, reflect on whether stress may be causing you to overfunction.

  1. Check in with self-compassion and acknowledge your elevated stress.

  2. Take a break instead of immediately tackling the next task. A little recovery time can create the space necessary for clearer perspective.

  3. Take stock of what you’ve already accomplished and celebrate your wins.

  4. Give your to-do list a hard look and ask what items are “must do” versus “could do.”

  5. Go hug your underfunctioner. It will give you an oxytocin kick and they probably need it.

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