As a business owner, you will always have more that you could do than you have hours in a day. Add to that the time you want to spend with family, friends, taking care of your household, working out, etc and you’d probably say that you have a recipe for overwhelm. But do you? Overwhelm doesn’t actually come from having too much to do. It comes from the faulty idea that everything on your To Do list has to be done at once.
Overwhelm can show up for you as a panicky feeling in the body, emotional stress or upset, or as the voice of your inner critic nagging you that you are not working fast enough. It is possible to quiet the inner critic and feel better. If you do the following three things, you can reduce the feelings of overwhelm:
- Make good choices about what to do
- Focus on doing one thing at a time
- Feel good about what you are doing at any given moment
Hack #1: Record It
The brain is not capable of holding more than a few tasks in mind at once. Not only that, when you are using brain space to keep lots of tasks in your head, your brain doesn’t have a lot of power left for decision-making, prioritization, or problem-solving. This is wrecking your mental power and productivity. The solution to this situation is so simple that your probably ignore it: Write. Everything. Down. Following are a few things that you have to do for this technique to work:
- Make sure you write EVERYTHING down. Don’t leave off the personal stuff, the doctor’s appointment, or that website you have been planning to browse. If your list is incomplete, you are still cluttering your mind trying to remember things that are not on the list.
- Keep your items on one list. If you have more than one list, you are still mentally jumping between lists and trying to coordinate, compare and prioritize without all the elements present.
- Rinse and repeat. You need a system for capturing your thoughts regularly (every day is good) so that you never say, “I have to remember that.” The first time you create your list, it may take some time. After that, it should go fairly quickly. Your system could be paper-based or computer-based, but it should be something that works for you every day.
Unless all of your tasks are in one place, you can’t accurately evaluate or prioritize what you need to do. Without those decisions being made consciously, your sneaky little inner critic will anxiously inform you that everything has to be done NOW.
Hack #2: Consider Your Values
How do you decide what has to be done? People often take action because it feels like an emergency (or really urgent), they fear that someone will feel disappointed or hurt if something isn’t done, or they habitually do that activity. Not one of these reasons is directly related to what you value in life. When you make decisions based on your values rather than fear, habit, or emergency, you make better decisions and you feel better about them. Check whether your actions are aligned with your values:
- Make a list of the top goal in each area of you life: career, family, finances, health, etc.
- Review your calendar. How much time is spent on something that does not directly support those top goals?
Yes, it takes reflection to consider your values. It takes energy and effort to let go of fears or to change habits. But if you are investing hours every day in taking actions that are not 100 percent aligned with your values, it is not surprising that you feel overwhelmed. Getting clear on these values also helps you say “no” to activities or invitations with much more confidence and integrity. When you realize you are saying “yes” to a higher value, you can say “no” without giving offense or feeling fear.
Hack #3: Honor Your Calendar
How often do you make an appointment with yourself and then not keep it? I am talking about the telephone calls you were going to make, the marketing copy you were going to write, keeping your books, or any of the other important business tasks that are on your agenda every day. How often do you miss an appointment with yourself?
I have found (and I’m guilty also) that one of the reasons solopreneurs get overwhelmed is because they do things that is of much less importance but easier to accomplish, rather than focusing on doing something important and challenging. Then they are too busy to get the important items done.
It is great that you put things on your calendar with the best of intentions. But if you find something else to do every time you get to a difficult calendar item that is vital for your business, not only will you create overwhelm, but your business will suffer.
We procrastinate for three reasons:
- We fear that the task will be unpleasant. An example is putting off sales calls or networking events because you do not enjoy them.
- Fear that the outcome of the task will be unpleasant. You may love writing your book or designing your website; however, you fear others will criticize it when it is launched.
- Uncertainty about the next step in a project. If you know the end result you want but not the next step to take to get there, you may resist taking any steps in that direction.
Don’t get into the habit of ignoring the challenging items on your To-Do list. If you had a staff member who didn’t do the important things and constantly missed appointments, you wouldn’t put up with that behavior. So ask yourself this question: If you were your own employee, would you fire yourself? If so, it is time to do something different.
Hack #4: Banish Fear of Options
Making lots of decisions can be stressful. When you are required to make several decisions, you become fatigued. You worry about your choices. You may revisit decisions many times, or delay making them, out of fear or decision fatigue. Being swayed this way will cause you to miss opportunities as a solopreneur and possibly make poor decisions. Here are a few things you can do:
- Make decisions at your best time of day. There is a time of day when you are at your clearest and most confident. For me, it is first thing in the morning. It may be right after lunch for you. Discover your best time of day and make a list of all decisions to be made and make them then.
- Set up policies for decision-making. Creating policies can streamline your decision-making process.If you know that you never take on a certain type of client, or always accept a particular type of offer, you won’t need to go through an exhaustive decision process about those choices.
- Work on flexibility and adaptability as strengths. Not all decisions will be the right ones. When you can be flexible and adaptable as a situation unfolds, you can often turn a less-than-optimal situation into something that benefits you.
Constantly making decisions in a state of fear or uncertainty will hurt your decision-making ability. You can remove that fear and make decisions more powerfully.
Hack #5: Uncover Your Head Trash
If you are still feeling overwhelmed after applying the above techniques, it means that some head trash is present. This can be fear of failure, the fears that cause procrastination, and the limiting belief that you cannot create success without overwhelm. It leaves you with an elevated stress level and no practical step-by-step solution. This tells me that you
- are used to running on overdrive and being ‘too busy’.
- are being nagged by your little inner critic to do better.
- are used to being in emergency mode.
- are still looking for what might have fallen through the cracks.
- are afraid of failing.
Being able to shift gears from much too busy to in the flow and productive means that you have to give up the adrenaline rush of busyness and trust that you can create success without overwhelm.
Failure is common in solopreneurs. Yes, businesses fail. But businesses that succeed also fail along the way. Marketing efforts fail, launches fail, new products do not meet expectations. Fearing the failure will interfere with your decision-making ability, your ability to honor your values, and your overwhelm quality of life.
Ending the overwhelm is a process of changing habits, ways of thinking, and business processes. Take one new action today to change your approach and reduce the overwhelm. Know that you don’t have to change everything today.