Yes, overwhelm. That creeping, nagging, did-all-the-oxygen-just-leave-this-room? feeling that lurks at the back of your mind. Or at the forefront of your mind, beating out everything else. As a business owner, you’re probably very familiar with it. The bad kind of familiar.
Not only is overwhelm straight-up unpleasant, but it also causes plummeting productivity. Which, in turn, makes you even more overwhelmed just thinking about all the stuff that isn’t getting done…because you’re sitting there on the couch being overwhelmed. It’s a vicious cycle, is what I’m saying.
However! It doesn’t have to be that way. When you know how to deal with overwhelm fast, you can nip it in the bud before it turns into the Cycle of Stress and Hyperventilation. Next time you feel yourself starting down that path, here’s what I want you to do:
Let it all out.
Take a notepad or open up a fresh window where you can type, and just write, totally stream of consciousness, for about 5-15 minutes. Maybe more like 20, depending on how stressed you are. Write down what’s freaking you out and why it’s freaking you out, until you feel like you’ve got to the heart of the matter.
If you’re feeling less write-y and want to do something else, you can also map out what’s bothering you using a mindmap – writing down how you feel (“overwhelmed” is a big umbrella – are you stressed out? confused? sleep deprived? frustrated?) and then teasing apart what specifically is making you feel that way.
Now that that’s done, it’s time to…
Get a reality check.
Oftentimes I find (and I know I’m not the only one), that I have the perception of having a lot of things to do, but not actually that much to do. When I know why I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ll write that down, and then write the objective reality of the situation next to it.
For example, “I feel like I have too many clients right now” on one side of the paper, and then on the other side “I’m working with three clients this week, not the rest of them” on the other. Or, if I feel like I have too many appointments, I’ll get a big piece of paper and physically draw up what my week looks like, with tasks and appointments laid out on each individual day with time estimates. You get the idea.
A lot of the time, this is surprisingly useful. Overwhelm is by & large a mind-game, and once you know that your fear or stress was blowing things out of proportion, you can move on. However, sometimes you need to…
Fix your reality if you don’t like it.
Sometimes, you really did put too much on your plate. Instead of a well-balanced meal you have a plate piled so high it’d make you sick to eat it all. That’s okay. Let’s fix it.
Looking at the list of things you have to do, ask yourself:
- What can I move? Is next week or month less busy? Is this a project that has to get done right this instant, or would it be better moved to next quarter, when you don’t have so many craft shows to attend? If you can move something, do it.
- What can I delegate? Are any of these things that absolutelypositively need to get done by you? Can you get an assistant to do it? FancyHands and TaskRabbit are both useful solutions here. This is definitely a problem that business owners start to encounter as they get more successful, feeling like they still have to do everything themselves – but they don’t. Relinquish the need to handle every small detail and the stress that comes with that need.
- What can I get rid of entirely? Is this thing that’s stressing me out even important? Do I still actually want to do it? Do I need to do it? Or was I going to do it out of some misguided sense of obligation? We tend to take on a surprising amount of crap – one of the great things about becoming more busy is that it gives you a fantastic reason to let go of obligations and things you don’t actually want to do.
An ounce of prevention…
So, you know what caused the overwhelm, and you got rid of it. Awesome! However, let’s not leave it there.
Instead, look at what caused the overwhelm, and what caused that. For example, one thing that I commonly see (and that I sometimes do myself), is overwhelm caused by taking on too much work. Which, in turn, is often caused by not having an accurate way to gauge the current and future workload.
Now, figure out how to prevent that from happening again. In that example, you need to create a system for deciding how much work you’ll take on, and for assessing your current/future workload. You might decide to create a wall calendar that helps you out. Or you might decide to tell everyone “let me check my calendar” before committing to anything. It doesn’t matter what your actual solution is, just put some thought into it & stick to it.
Overwhelm doesn’t seem to be something we can banish entirely & forevermore – chances are you’ll see it again. But now, you’ve got a handy toolbox of tips to send it on its way ASAP, without the near-hyperventilation. Enjoy!