dealing with overwhelm
You’ve got a thousand things on your plate; new client enquiries to answer, orders to pack, systems to update, invoices to chase, new designs to do, books to read...
And you feel like you have precisely zero hours to do it all in.
When we’re overwhelmed, we seem to go down one route and one route only: We panic. We procrastinate. We curl up in a ball and wish it would all just go away. We plan our fantasy escape to the other side of the world just so we can get away from all the work that we’ve got to do.
This sometimes feels like the only option, but if anything, it makes the upward battle of getting over overwhelm a lot harder. So, how we can get on top of our workload without sacking it all off and running to Alaska? This is a little reminder that we all get overwhelmed from time to time, and there is a way to deal with it.
W O R K A R O U N D Y O U R E N E R G Y L E V E L S
To manage your workload, decide how much energy you have and what you can realistically get done with that energy.
There’s no point in writing down a 20-point to do list if you’re absolutely shattered. It’s just going to make you feel terrible when you haven’t got any of it done. Ask yourself this:
‘If I can only sit at my desk for 3 hours today, what shall I do?’
That’ll help you separate the high priority tasks from the little, not-so-important-but-feel-you-should-do-them-anyway tasks. Taking advantage of your “good hours”, when you have the most energy, to focus on what you need to get done is great for your productivity. Our brains aren’t programmed to be constantly on and working, they need to be given time to do the low demand tasks just as much as the high demand tasks, so remember that the next time you feel guilty about being too tired to write a blog post when you’ve been packing orders all day.
For instance, I’m a morning person (yup, sorry- one of those). I’m more switched on and energetic between 8am-12pm, so I try and schedule my most important tasks first thing. I get them done a lot faster and easier because they’re my good hours, and it also means sometimes I can take the rest of the day easy. You can expand this idea to your whole work week by figuring out which days work best for the tasks on your plate.
For example, you might schedule important meetings or brainstorm sessions for the middle of the week when energy is generally high, and low key tasks for Friday.
The following is an example week if you were to plan around your energy levels:
Monday: You’re getting over the weekend — schedule low-demand tasks like setting goals, organizing, and planning.
Tuesday, Wednesday: Peak of energy — tackle the most difficult problems, write, brainstorm, create.
Thursday: Energy begins to ebb — schedule meetings, get out of the house.
Friday: Lowest energy level — do open-ended work, schedule for next week, do some long-term planning, and relationship building i.e connect with people on social media/meet ups.
We all have varying energy levels and 'good days' so don't worry if this isn't how your week looks like. To get an understanding of what your energy levels are like, I'd suggest spending the next few days tracking what you do and how you feel whilst doing it (i.e. are you shattered come Thursday afternoon?) and then on Sunday, plan your work week around your energy levels. This’ll help prevent overwhelm and will get you working a bit more efficiently.
C H O O S E T H E T A S K S T H A T W I L L H E L P Y O U G R O W
Unfortunately, you can’t control time. It passes by whether you like it or not- you can’t speed it up and you can’t slow it down, but you can choose what you do with it.
To radically reduce stress and working hours, stop focusing on becoming a more productive machine. Instead, decide how much time and energy you have for the things that’ll help you run and grow your business.
Like the above, spend the next few days tracking your tasks and routine. Perhaps try working in 25-minute intervals and write down what you do in each period. Once you know how much time you spend on various tasks, you can start making decisions on what you can continue doing, and what you can stop.
Ask yourself these questions:
Which tasks help me run and grow my business?
Which tasks give me energy? What do I enjoy doing most?
Once you’ve got your list of energising/growth tasks, think about what you can do with the others that are less enjoyable and less important. Can they be deleted or delegated?
When I did this exercise a few weeks ago, I realised I was just doing far too much for one person. I couldn’t keep waking up full of stress and overwhelm, so I decided to hire a VA and it damn near changed my work week (and life). I'd really recommend delegating as much as you can so that you can do the tasks that are going to progress and grow your business, rather than spending time on the tasks that someone else could be doing for you.
L E A R N T O S A Y 'N O'
For a two-letter word, ‘no’ is incredibly difficult for some of us to say.
Maybe it's because you're wary of voicing your own opinion for fear that you’re being ‘difficult’, or it’s a desire to please people; to not let them down. We are often so consumed with the fear of saying no that we step into situations that perhaps we're not comfortable with, not to mention putting ourselves through the worry, stress and overwhelm that comes along with them.
Learn to say ‘no’ to tasks or projects that aren’t in line with your brand’s values, are going to take way more time than it’s worth, or just leave you feeling a bit weird. Every 'no' is another step towards you knowing your own value. You know best. If something doesn’t feel right, or if it’s not going to help you or your business grow to where it deserves to be, it’s time to say that two-letter word.
G O E A S Y O N Y O U R S E L F
Sometimes, things just aren’t going to get done, and that’s ok. We can’t be all of the things all of the time.
Previously whenever I was stressed, I would get really annoyed at myself for being stressed. In my head, I'd say things like ‘why can’t you just do it?!’ ‘why are you scrolling through Twitter, just DO THE WORK’. The more annoyed I got, the less chance there was of me actually doing anything because all I was doing was making myself feel pretty shitty. Beating yourself up for being stressed is just going to prolong the overwhelm, so try being nice to yourself and give yourself a little pep talk. Say things like:
- ‘You’re doing a really good job’
- ‘Keep going- you’ll feel so much better when it’s all done’
- ‘It’ll all work out’
In fact, I just repeated those over and over again and I feel a bit better. Positive language works like magic.
Last but not least -- if all else fails, walk away. Leave your laptop and your phone at home and go for a long walk to blow the cobwebs away. You'll feel a lot fresher afterward and you might even feel motivated to do all the work when you get back.
As always, I’m cheering you on.