Putting first things first means organizing and executing around your most important priorities. It is living and being driven by the principles you value most, not by the agendas and forces surrounding you.
~ Dr. Stephen R. Covey
In this piece, I’m sharing 10 practical things you can do to better understand overwhelm and to minimise its impact on your day-to-day business activities.
For me overwhelm is nearly always an indicator of fear. When I feel overwhelmed I know that, in that moment, my mind has lost sight of the here and now, that I’ve become attached to some desired outcome in the future and the overwhelm has crept into the space between the two.
For me overwhelm is the fear that I won’t realise my desired outcome and a sign that I’ve become focused on how things should be versus how they are and then from that place taking the single most simple next step.
If overwhelm is affecting your ability to get things done in your business (or just making you feel low), take a look through this list and choose the actions that speak to you.
1. Get it out of your head.
The first thing I do when I recognise that I am feeling overwhelmed is to make a list of everything on my plate. It sounds super simple because it is. Making a list gets all of the various things you are juggling out of your head and onto a piece of paper, the key is to include everything no matter how small or silly they may seem.
I’ll never forget the most powerful coaching session I ever had (and I’ve had many!). I got on the call with my coach and I was feeling terrible, really low and totally overwhelmed. He told me to open up my notebook and write down the number one thing that was bothering me. After that, he asked me what else? And what else? And what else? Until I had filled four pages of my notebook. At the end of it, we reviewed the list and he said to me “no wonder you’re feeling overwhelmed, who wouldn’t with all of this to deal with?” I instantly felt better. Just getting those things off my chest and out of my head eased the feeling of overwhelm significantly.
The overwhelm was coming from feeling like I should have had it more together, the overwhelm dissipated when I found a place of acceptance with what was.
Once you’ve made your list, you’ll want to organise it. Often when we are feeling overwhelmed, we’re ruminating on the million different things that we believe we could or should be doing, instead of focusing on the next most important step. Here’s where we need to prioritise. Personally, I like to organise my tasks using Stephen Covey’s 4 quadrants (see image below) so that I can quickly eliminate anything that is not important (Quadrants 3+4) and spend my valuable time on what is important (quadrants 1+2). I no longer need to use the 4 quadrants diagram to do this, these days, I instinctively know what is important and/or urgent and can disregard the rest.
To deal with my most important tasks for the day, I like to identify them and then schedule them in my diary, so that I can take into account any pre-existing appointments and how long things get done. If that means I can only do 1–3 of the urgent and important tasks on my list then that is what I schedule, nothing more.
I also recommend never committing to more than 3 tasks a day regardless of the time and space you have. Any more than 3 and our minds inevitably veer towards overwhelm. Besides, there’s nothing to stop you from doing more if you get your 3 things done early.
3. Limit your inputs
Given the world we now live in, it’s no wonder that overwhelm is a common occurrence. We are bombarded by information on a second by second basis. With the internet, social media and the accompanying barrage of pings, notifications and reminders, not being in a state of overwhelm can often feel like an insurmountable task.
This is where it becomes really important to limit your inputs. There are plenty of things you can do to minimise this assault on your senses. Turn off notifications, remove apps from your phone if you have to, delay checking email until later in the day and avoid mainstream media at all costs (if you want to protect your mental health!).
I was talking to someone the other day who always seems to be overwhelmed and depressed by the state of the world yet continues to digest the very mainstream media that perpetuates that state. I make a conscious choice not to watch or read mainstream media, precisely because I know that is designed to play on our fears in order to maximise profits.
If there are inputs in your life that don’t serve you, my best advice is to limit or eliminate them. This can take time, but it’s often easier to do than you think. Next time you’re on the receiving end of something that leaves you feeling overwhelmed ask yourself, can I eliminate this somehow? (unsubscribe, block, remove notifications or stop participating in).
4. Watch your mindset
Sometimes when we have found something overwhelming in the past (like schedules, social media, finances or planning), we develop a fixed mindset around it, i.e. we get very black and white about it. We start to believe that we just don’t do well with that thing and immediately start to feel overwhelmed when faced with it.
I’d like to gently challenge you here to cultivate a growth mindset and create space for something new to emerge. I’ll give you a personal example. For years, I told myself that I was terrible at focus and found it very hard to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. After living for several years with someone who is incredibly focused (sometimes to the extreme), I started to notice my own capacity for focused work increase.
When I allowed myself to question the assumption that I was a person who was very easily distracted and therefore unable to focus, change became possible. These days I wouldn’t dream of describing myself as unfocused — quite the opposite. I’m perfectly capable of sitting down to a piece of work and getting into a focused state for several hours if I have to. By allowing myself to believe that I could become a focused person and working on the skillset to achieve that, I became one.
Consider when in your business life you always revert to a state of overwhelm, is there a possible mindset shift here?
6. Shine a light
Fear lives in the dark — when we shine a light on something, it can become less scary and overwhelming, If we’re scared of numbers, then working on our financials will feel overwhelming and uncomfortable. That’s because there is a barely audible script running in the background telling us we don’t know what we’re doing.
If you become conscious of that script and seek to change it by empowering yourself with knowledge, then change is possible. Why not take some to learn more about something you find overwhelming and watch the overwhelm dissipate.
When we know how to do something, we feel good about doing it.
So consider now what things in your business are causing overwhelm because of a lack of knowledge or skill and then take some steps to rectify that.
7. Focus on the present
As I’ve already mentioned I’m a firm believer that overwhelm occurs when we’ve become disconnected from the present moment. So it follows that one way to ease feelings of overwhelm is to do something to connect with the present moment.
One way to do this is to bring our attention to the breath. Another might be to get out of our heads and into our bodies. If you don’t have a regular mindfulness practice like meditation, yoga, movement or dance, consider starting one. I truly believe you’ll notice the impact it has on your feelings of overwhelm.
8. Simplify the task/offering
Often we feel overwhelmed because we simply have too much to do. I know that there are times in my working week when there are more things that need to be completed than I have time in the day to complete them.
Here is where I recommend scaling back what you do to make your tasks/offerings simpler. Let me give you some examples.
If you offer 1:1 and started out by always writing up post-session notes to send to clients, but as you’ve got more and more clients, now struggle to find the time, stop doing it.
If when you send your weekly newsletter you always like to share at least 5 links to other useful resources but you’re finding it takes too long to pull these together, give yourself permission to stop doing it.
A lot of the people I work with (and I include myself in this camp) are chronic over givers/perfectionists. Meaning there is often scope to scale back how much we do in any given task or client offering. It can feel challenging to pare things down but believe me, the extra space it will give you will be worth it.
9. Adjust your expectations
Closely related to #8 but more focused on how we think about what we offer. It’s important to acknowledge when our expectations are too high.
I was talking to a client a few weeks ago who has these amazing templates she uses in her business, they are gold. In a beta collaboration, she was working on, she had agreed to turn her (already amazing) templates into workbooks, but doing so was kicking her butt, she was facing a launch deadline and on top of her heavy client load, she was struggling to get the work done.
I suggested that she simply use the templates as they were. Nobody would know the difference having seen neither format and given the templates, as is, are already brilliant and worth more than the whole beta program would cost, it wouldn’t devalue the offering one bit. Such a simple shift, but one that took a whole lot of pressure off and created a truckload of new space in her calendar.
10. Choose differently
In another piece of writing, I talk about how my own personal epiphany about overwhelm came after reading an article by a coach who argued that overwhelm is a choice. This idea can be triggering for some people, but for me it was life-changing. Knowing that there are things I do that contribute to my feeling of overwhelm and things I can do to minimise them means that I have some control over whether I am in a state of overwhelm or not.
I’m not saying that it’s always as simple as choosing not to be overwhelmed but acknowledging that there is a choice really helps me. To understand more what I mean by this final point head here to read an article I wrote on this very idea.
And there you have it, 10 things you can do to minimise business related overwhelm. I hope you find them useful.
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