It actually makes me feel overwhelmed to say the word overwhelmed. (I should probably stop typing it right about now.) It’s that icky feeling you get when all the little (and big) things that are occupying the spaces of your brain seem like too much to handle. You feel unable to pull your foot out of the sticky mud of SO MANY THINGS to even take a step forward. You probably need help figuring it out, but you’re not actually sure how you would even go about asking for help because it all seems like too much.
As a small business owner, you may be very familiar with this feeling. And you’re not alone. Running a business is no joke, and it’s not like the rest of your life gets put on hold just because you’re focused on growing your business. Turns out it’s pretty important to spend quality time with your partner from time to time.
Often, when you’re overwhelmed...
It’s like a stress snowball - each terrible reaction makes the next one worse. Have you ever tried to negotiate bedtime with a 2-year-old who feels disconnected from you when you’re running on 3 hours of sleep and have a deadline first thing in the morning? It’s not awesome.
Yet while it’s clear that a different approach is needed to overcome overwhelm, it’s hard to know where to start when you’re in the thick of it.
I’ve been there too. Luckily, I’ve learned some strategies along the way for how to bring myself back to a more peaceful state. Since these work for me, I’d love to share 6 of my favorite tactics for overcoming overwhelm.
Get all the things OUT OF YOUR HEAD - The thing that’s making you feel overwhelmed is the fact that you don’t have clarity on a plan for addressing all of the the nagging stresses in your life. Step one to fix that is to brain-dump every single thing that’s on your mind. What’s bothering you? What deadlines do you have coming up? What events are coming soon? Once you have a list of those things out of your head, you’ll instantly feel better. I’m serious. You might even see some “quick wins” you can tackle in 5 minutes or less to give you some momentum for moving forward. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop reading this and do this activity. Right now. (But come back and read the rest later, ok? Ok.)
Determine “Next Tasks” - I straight up stole this one from David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I don’t even feel bad. You know that list you made of all of the things that are causing you to feel out of control? Many of them will require way more than a single task to bring them to completion. They may be projects or even interpersonal situations that aren’t working and need to be resolved. For these, you need to figure out, “What is the next specific thing I can do to move this forward. If one of the things that bugging you is feeling frustrated about an employee’s negative attitude, perhaps the next action is to schedule a 1-on-1 meeting with them to discuss. Not even have the meeting...just schedule it. Or maybe your son’s birthday is coming up and your next action is simply to “pick a date” for the party. Distilling these big fuzzy ideas down to a clear and actionable next step takes away all of their power to overwhelm.
Figure out today’s MIT - Now that you know what the “next tasks” are, it’s time to figure out your MIT. MIT is a strategy I learned from the brilliant and probably-never-overwhelmed business coach, Greg Faxon. It stands for the “Most Important Task” and is something you should identify every single day of your life and then DO FIRST. I can usually identify my MIT by asking myself, “If only one thing got done today, which one would make me feel best about my day?” That’s your MIT. There’s only one thing you must do today. Isn’t that freeing?
Go to bed at bedtime - I don’t know what your bedtime should be, but you need to have one. What time do you want to get up every morning? Subtract 8 hours from that and you’ve got your bedtime. Honor it. Respect it. Do it daily, without fail. I like to set an alarm to give me a 30 minute warning when my bedtime is approaching. It’s a reminder that it’s time to start winding down for the evening.
Nourish your body - I know those cookies give you a little hit of dopamine right when you need it most, but you’ll pay for it later in a dip in mood, energy, and motivation. Is it really worth it? I’ve found that stocking up on healthy yet satisfying snacks (I like carrots with spicy hummus or turkey slices dipped in mustard) has helped a lot because I’m fully prepared with something to grab as an alternative to the crap. And drink LOTS of water. It makes a huge difference in how you’ll feel and that will directly impact your level of overwhelm.
Ask for help - I know, I know...you are a badass. And normally, that’s enough to power through hard times like these. But do you know what works even better? Inviting trusted people into your problem can shed new light on strategies you may be overlooking. Don’t worry about “organizing the problem” before you ask for help. That’s just stalling. Then later, you might be able to delegate some of your next actions and projects to free up space in your brain and time on your calendar - two very precious resources, indeed.
If you came to this article because you were feeling overwhelmed, I hope that now that you’ve gotten to the end, you’re feeling a tiny bit better. Remember…even though it feels like you’re going to be in a permanent state of overwhelm, it never lasts forever. You’ve got this.