How do you manage overwhelm?

What is overwhelm? Here’s an official definition:

“If something overwhelms someone, it is too much, or almost too much, for them to manage”

If you are running a one person or small business then this may sound very familiar. Most of us start our business because we love what we are doing…and then we discover that we have to do lots of other things as well – marketing, sales, admin, accounts, etc. It’s so easy to find ourselves working 7 days a week and still not seeming to make any real impression on that to-do list, often finding that it’s getting longer rather than shorter!

The obvious solution is to outsource some of the other stuff to experts but we need to be earning enough money to be able to do that! Lack of time to focus on sales and marketing may inhibit our ability to grow our business sufficiently to have the money we need and so we can end up in a vicious circle, which often leads to…overwhelm. I wish that I could say that I have found the perfect solution and am about to share it with you but…the fact that I am writing this on a Sunday morning is evidence that I haven’t! However, I have learned some ways of managing so that I can generally stay below the “too much to manage” ceiling and other ways of minimising the effects on my mental and emotional health.

So let’s start with some practical ideas. I am a great believer in lists, though they can make things seem worse when you get to page 3 of your A4 notebook and still haven’t finished writing all your tasks down! Firstly, it’s better for you mentally to have it on paper rather than trying to manage it in your head and worrying that you might have lost that “mental note”. Talking about notes…lots of Post It notes cause me to feel overwhelmed! So you’ve made your list (probably electronically these days!) what do you do next? Here are some options, not necessarily mutually exclusive:

  1. Prioritise – when you’ve done the brain dump, sort it into some kind of order. I start by just numbering each item to begin with and then perhaps reordering it.
  2. Categorise – maybe into different business activities and then (or maybe just) into urgent and important.

I include personal activities because they can add to overwhelm (I need to paint the decking!) and also may be important for your wellbeing (re-organise that holiday I planned and paid for 2 years ago!). I also find it’s so easy to focus on the urgent and just worry about the important (getting my accounts ready for tax deadlines!). You may, or may not, know this quadrant:

Known as the “Eisenhower Decision Matrix”, with thanks to Steph Covey (“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”) for this version. Planning MUST include diary space to do what you have planned. For Delegate, you may not be able to afford an expert yet but I find granddaughters can come at an affordable price (to update my CRM database, for instance) and partners may help so that you can be free for some family time. Eliminate are the ones that, if you don’t get rid of them, just sit at the end of the to-do list and never get done but continue to haunt you!

Tools like this can help (and there are other methods that can be found online and Apps to help – I would recommend asking an expert about these) but I believe in keeping things as simple as possible. Managing your to-do list can become an “art form” and an excellent reason for procrastination. We’re looking for efficiency here, so don’t have an App/Method that takes longer to manage than doing some of the items on your list!

Finally, one of the factors that can contribute significantly to overwhelm is that feeling you can get at the end of each day that you haven’t actually achieved anything because there is so much left on the list. A good trick I learned years ago was to take a moment at the end of the day to pick the 3 items that you MUST do on the following day. Be realistic about what you can fit in on

that day around the “real job”. When those tasks get done then you have achieved that day’s goal. If you have more time, you can do other things on your list and, if an emergency arises, accept the fact that something more urgent took priority over you chosen items. I find this helps me to stop feeling that I’m climbing up a hill that is just getting taller and steeper!

That last point moves us on to how to manage your mental and emotional state when you are busy trying to build and run a successful business, so here are a few tips

  1. Find ways to remind yourself why you are doing this, particularly in the early days when you may start to question your decision! 20% of businesses “fail” in their first year and 60% in the first 3 years and, I believe, many give up just as they are about to be successful. Assuming you have quality, marketable products or services then maintaining a positive mindset is important. Keep your “why” visible on the wall or on your screen saver; accept that you will work a lot harder and earn a lot less in the early years and get support. I found that, through networking, I got a lot of practical help and mindset support in the beginning and those of us that have been around for a while are very happy to “pay back” for the help we received.
  1. Spend money on learning the aspects of running a business that are new to you. There are very reasonable (and free!) offerings around and knowing what you are meant to be doing (and how to do it!) can take off some of the mental pressure, stop you procrastinating and make you more efficient.
  1. Don’t forget that you need to take care of yourself. In the early years, you are your business! If you are unable to work, your business will disappear. Take time off (and relax and enjoy it!), look after yourself physically (diet, exercise, etc.) and look after yourself mentally. Not surprisingly, this is my particular “hobby horse” – it’s as important to take care of your mental health as your physical health, maybe even more so!

There is probably less advice out there for looking after your mental health, we probably all know what we should be eating and how much we should be exercising but what should we be doing to maintain our mental health. For a start, there is some overlap – exercise has mental as well as physical benefits. How often do you take time out of your day to go for a 15/20 minute walk to give yourself a mental as well as a physical break? Are you aware of the affect that food has on your mood. It can be worth keep a food/mood diary for a couple of days to find out. Generally eating junk food can act as a depressant and eating healthy protein, fresh fruit and vegetables can have the opposite effect. Sugar can become addictive; caffeine can as well and tends to increase anxiety.

How quickly can you form a new healthier habit? There are various numbers out there but a simple answer is you can “make” a new habit in 3/4 weeks but it takes 90 days for it to become a permanent lifestyle change. So how about taking an hour off in the middle of the day for a walk (or a run or cycle) and a healthy lunch. The break, the activity and the food will make you more efficient in the afternoon as well as mentally and physically healthier.

Judith Hanson
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Judith Hanson

Judith is a qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist (DipCHyp, HPD, MNCH), and NLP Master Practitioner and Coach. As a member of the National Council for Hypnotherapy (NCH) and the Complementary and the Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) she is bound by their Codes of Conduct. She also undertakes regular training, as well as frequent supervision, to update her knowledge and skills, in order to provide a professional and effective service. She treats everyone as an individual and by developing a good relationship, based on mutual respect and trust and always does the best for her clients.