My colleague, a native-English speaker, in his message apologized for not replying to my emails right away.

I know that he is an awfully busy person and besides his professional activity and family, he has his old mother to look after, his children born during his first marriage to support, and so on and so forth.

What I want is to ask him, both politely and idiomatically, not to apologize and, as soon as I understand his situation, I’d like to add a phrase that would show my understanding.

I was thinking of the phrase:

I know you're stretched too thin on several fronts.

But be stretched too thin means that a person who tries to do many things at the same time, can’t give enough time or attention to any of them.

With my friend, it’s totally different:

He does many things at the same time, giving enough attention to them all. The matter is that he has to temporally sacrifice one or two of his responsibilities for carrying out the others, thence he may be a little late with carrying out those others.

In this regard, the phrase “stretched too thin” to me, seems somewhat not matching the real situation perfectly.

I thought, what if I use the phrase “you are stretched thin on several fronts” (without "too")? Would this hit the bull's eye?

Could you kindly suggest a couple of phrases of the same meaning?

  • 2
    too would imply that he's not quite managing these burdens. Omit it if that's not your meaning, or substitute very. I wouldn't add "on several fronts" since that's beginning to mix the metaphor. It's the fact that there are several fronts which results in his being stretched (too) thin.
    – TimR
    Apr 25, 2017 at 14:11

3 Answers 3


Stretched thin is fine and what you described.

I think an alternative phrase is the simple "you're really busy", or the idiom have a lot on your plate:

have a lot/enough on your plate also have your plate full
to have a lot of work to do or a lot of problems to deal with
I don't want to burden my daughter with my problems; she's got enough on her plate with her husband in prison. Simon can't take on any more work. He's got his plate full as it is.


Colleague: Sorry for responding late. I had to do XYZ.
1. Don't worry. I know you're really busy.
2. Don't worry. I know you've got a lot on your plate.


Stretched thin would be fine; it's entirely idiomatic and expresses exactly what you describe.

  • Thanks ever so much, But if only you were willing to suggest a couple of phrases with the same meaning, I'd be more than happy, really!
    – Victor B.
    Apr 24, 2017 at 22:47

They have slightly different meanings to me.

If someone told me that Bob is stretched thin, I would get the impression that he has a lot of work going on. I'm imaging a scenario such as me asking my Boss if Bob could help me on a project, and my Boss saying "No, Bob is stretched thin as it is". Bob is handling what he has, but he can't take anymore.

If someone told me Bob was stretched too thin, I would get the impression that they not able to handle everything going on. As per the same example, if my Boss said "No, Bob is stretched too thin", I would imagine a follow up of "I'm already having to pull him off other projects".

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