I need a proverb or idiom which can roughly mean "He has taken up more jobs than he can handle". Something like "His head is in ten different places".

  • 1
    It's not an exact fit, but a related one is to say someone is "Burning the candle at both ends", it generally implies they have late evenings and early mornings, and aren't getting enough sleep because of it. This saying though doesn't necessarily imply though that the individual in question is unable to handle this regimen or workload.
    – Sidney
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 21:00

7 Answers 7


There's quite a few that would fit.

He's bitten off more than he can chew.

to try to do more than you are able to do Don't bite off more than you can chew. Let someone else organize the party.

bite off more than can chew. (n.d.) Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.. (2006). Retrieved October 10 2014 from http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/bite+off+more+than+can+chew

He's got too much on his plate.

Fig. to be too busy. I'm sorry, I just have too much on my plate right now. If you have too much on your plate, can I help?

McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. S.v. "have too much on plate." Retrieved October 10 2014 from http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/have+too+much+on+plate

He's got too many irons in the fire.

Fig. to be doing too many things at once. Tom had too many irons in the fire and missed some important deadlines. It's better if you don't have too many irons in the fire.

McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. S.v. "have too many irons in the fire." Retrieved October 10 2014 from http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/have+too+many+irons+in+the+fire

  • 4
    The first two are more common than the last (at least, in my experience - Eastern U.S.)
    – Doc
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 14:23
  • 1
    Agree with @Doc, I've heard the first two often but never the last one.
    – Muhd
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 14:44
  • 1
    Just for the record, I've heard all three.
    – galdre
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 16:19

One idiom relates to hats. When someone has two jobs, we sometimes say they have two hats:

  • When I'm wearing my programmer hat, I'm a programmer.
  • When I'm wearing my musician hat, I'm a musician.

Macmillan Dictionary defines it this way and gives the following examples:

(informal) one particular aspect of someone's duties or responsibilities

  • She has to wear several different hats (=have various responsibilities) in her position.

  • Of course, when I say this, I'm wearing my teaching hat.

So you could say he's wearing too many hats.

  • Thanks but it doesn't tell he can't handle those jobs :)
    – Sandeep D
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 10:07
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    @SandeepDhamija Yes, it does. That's what too many is there for. The same meaning is given by more than he can, too much and too many in Frank's answer.
    – user230
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 10:08
  • Yes, right :) but I was looking for something more explicit.
    – Sandeep D
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 10:10

He has too many balls in the air:

Too many tasks, responsibilities, or details to cope with or manage successfully



Another for you:

"He's in over his head."

  • Hah, I saw your name come up in the review queue and was not disappointed to see that you were indeed Nate from SDA. Welcome to ELL. Any chance you could edit and add a little explanation of how this fits the questioner's context? Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 17:53

You could also say that somebody is "spinning too many plates" or "trying to spin too many plates at once".


If you can imagine someone trying to put up wallpaper with only one arm/hand, you'd say:

  • "Busier than a one-armed paper hanger".

Or there's always:

  • "Busier than a one-legged man in an a**-kickin' contest!"

Or that old-time favorite:

  • "Busier than a cheap whore when the fleet's in!"

  • Being overwhelmed and being busy are not quite the same thing. These humorous (and somewhat vulgar) expressions imply someone is very busy, but not necessarily overwhelmed.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 10:45

"He's a jack of all trades, and master of none."


  • 1
    This idiom does not imply that a person is overwhelmed at all. It only shows that the person is moderately skilled at many jobs without being exceptional at anything particularly.
    – Doc
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 20:21
  • @Doc -- The original post is unclear if the problem is that the person has taken on ten different tasks to do simultaneously (and so is overwhelmed for lack of time to do them all), or if the person has taken on more kinds of tasks than he knows how to do well. My answer addresses the latter possibility.
    – Jasper
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 21:11

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