Let’s talk about feeling overwhelmed, friends! We’ve all been there – perhaps you’re there right now or regularly experience it. The good news is, the more we talk about it, and “name it and claim it”, the faster we can address and deal with it. Feeling overwhelmed, like you’re “circling the drain” or your head is about to explode (I’ve heard and used all the expressions) is beyond common whether you’re an entrepreneur, a parent, or quite simply, a human.
I myself used to face major feelings of being overwhelmed – to the point that I’d feel frozen or stressed to the point of feeling sick. I’m just going to own that, in the hopes that you can see you aren’t alone.
BUT HERE’S THE DEAL:
When you’re overwhelmed, you’re not able to focus, you’re not as productive, you’re more susceptible to getting sick (all that stress physically impacts you), and you’re unhappy – and this isn’t a place I want any of us to find ourselves – especially because we don’t have to be there.
SO LET’S FIX IT:
You don’t have to accept ongoing feelings of being overwhelmed as the norm when it comes to your work and life. Let me repeat that one more time for the people in the back of the room: YOU CAN START TAKING ACTION TO STOP FEELING OVERWHELMED! Even better, you can start that today!
I’ve tried nearly every solution to this problem since becoming a business owner – which has been nearly 15 years now – and I’ve mastered some actionable strategies that work, and work fast! I know you want to feel better, work better, and live better, so let’s dive into them right now!
4 Ways to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed, Fast!
STEP ONE: Empty Your Mind. Right Now, by Learning to “Brain Dump”
The moment those all-too-familiar (and dreaded) feelings of overwhelm start creeping up on you, I want you to find time to do a “brain dump”, which will allow you to empty your mind of, and identify all the things filling it up that are starting to overwhelm you, so that your cup spilleth over in the worst possible way.
Actual neuroscientists (here’s my favorite one: check him out) tell us that the simple act of putting thoughts to paper can ease our stress and even help us sleep better. In the same vein, when we start feeling like we’re spinning out of control or that we’re about to burst and getting seriously (or even partially) overwhelmed, we need to “brain dump”.
HOW TO DO A QUICK BRAIN DUMP:
Get a piece of paper (or open a Google Doc) and write down every single thing that’s filling your head, from stressors that are distracting you from progress to all the to-do list items floating around your brain. Everything must go – out of your head, onto paper!
Phew! Now that it’s out of our head and onto paper, I promise you you’re already going to begin feeling a bit more at ease. You aren’t trying to hold onto all of those thoughts or put a mental puzzle together, you’re now looking at them visually. It’s much better this way, trust me. By putting all of these thoughts on paper you’re going to feel a sense of relief – almost instantly, and that’s not all. Now that we know all of the thoughts that are occupying major space in our mind, we can deal with them properly…
NEXT: DECIDE WHAT CAN BE ELIMINATED, HERE’S HOW:
Oh yes, it’s time to get tough with this list of items and say to yourself, “What can I let go of on this list?” To help you out, I’m going to share two things that can and should be eliminated.
The first big line should go through appointments or to-do list items that you don’t really want or need to commit to, including tasks that are being done out of obligation and not moving you to your best personal or professional life.
The next thing you need to draw a big line through are issues and stressors that are rooted in other people’s feelings or reactions to things you have going on in your life (these are out of your control and you need to let them go).
WHERE CAN YOU GET HELP, WHAT CAN YOU OUTSOURCE?
Now I want you to examine this newly trimmed list and ask, “Is there anything here I can outsource? Are there tasks on my to-do list that someone could do better, faster, more effectively and more efficiently than me?” Asking for help, as well as outsourcing some tasks, has always been the hardest thing for me to do as an entrepreneur. I spent years wearing way too many hats and wearing some of them terribly.
For the most part, I refused to loosen my grip on a handful of projects at home and work because I felt guilty about asking for help, I felt if I just worked harder I could make it all work, or simply because I didn’t want to pay for support in some areas. I have since begun to gradually let go of this need to do it all, I’ve learned that I don’t have to be good at or in charge of everything (this wasn’t easy, trust me) and not only have my feelings of overwhelm shrunk, but hand to the universe, I’ve never been more successful or productive.
Both outsourcing and asking for help require trust, they can require shifting where and how you’re spending money, and in some ways they require you to take a leap of faith, but I promise you, my only regret is not having done it sooner!
Bonus Tip: If one of the places you feel overwhelmed is your DIY PR and media outreach, be sure you take my free 7 Day PR Shift, to help you move from PR Hot Mess (it’s okay, we’ve all been there) to Publicity Express!
SIMPLY COMMITTING TO CHANGE WILL BRING RELIEF:
Obviously, this type of change doesn’t always happen overnight (though it will happen faster than you think), but the simple act of identifying the areas of your life that won’t solely be left to you and you alone will bring you comfort the minute you admit to them and decide you won’t be doing them alone anymore.
NOW WE FACE THE REST OF YOUR LIST…
Now look at the rest of your list, and decide how and when you’ll commit to accomplishing them. They don’t just get to float around in your head anymore like stressful though bubbles, they aren’t allowed to go back in there! Oh no, the only place these things are going is your planner (whatever that looks like to you). We’ll talk about that in Step Three. But first, another peace-creating power play…
STEP TWO: Figure Out and Set Your “Non-Negotiables”, Commit to Them, Share Them, and Try to Stick to Them
For some reason, I’ve been the most excited to share this step to feeling less overwhelmed with you, and I think it’s because when I discovered and committed to it, things really started changing for me. I also love it because SO MUCH in life and work is out of our control, but these parts of my life really remain constant, and I try not to negotiate when it comes to these “Non-Negotiables” because doing that has brought me immense comfort.
To keep it short and sweet, your “Non-Negotiables” are very personal to you and your needs. They are the small things that happen daily, weekly, or however regularly they need to be, that keep you sane and at peace. They do not require a big production, they can be everything from “I need to get X hours of sleep” or “I need to have a run 3x a week” to one of my personal favorites, “When I take a shower I will not be rushed or interrupted, this is my time”. I like to think of them as part of my personal constitution.
Depending on the stage or season of your life, your Non-Negotiables list may be limited or challenging, but if you can add even a couple of them into your day-to-day life (and the do-able schedule I’ll be covering next), commit to them, and then share them with your family, friends, and colleagues (or whoever can help you stick to them) you’ll be in the fast lane to feeling less overwhelmed.
To Get Your Non-Negotiables Idea List going, I’m Going to Get Personal and Share a Few of Mine:
- I will not feel rushed or be rushed when traveling to appointments, which means I will not leave late for things over overstuff my schedule (see Step Three).
- I will take an enjoyable and relaxing hot shower daily, this is my uninterrupted time. (As a mom-to-be I’m sure my I will need to take a vacation from this one for a bit, but for now I’ll savor it, and fortunately, I have other Non-Negotiables that will remain).
- I will begin my day (if only for a quick ten minutes) with a meditation.
- I will not take non-emergency work calls on my weekend.
- Every weekend I will get a few hours to write at my favorite coffee shop. I will not feel guilty about this.
Okay, those are a handful of my personal Non-Negotiables. As you can see they aren’t major undertakings, but I know they are the things by committing to – or eliminating – I’m making my day, week, and SELF feel better and work better.
STEP THREE: Avoid the Un-doable To Do List: Manage Your Schedule This Way…
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight I’m sure you’ve heard about this commonly use and highly successful strategy: You have to write down everything you’re eating. Record it. Look at it. See it! Otherwise, you’re absentmindedly popping things into your mouth all day long and don’t really know what’s going in terms of your eating habits of health.
I feel like preventing overwhelm is a lot like preventing weight gain: When it comes to your work schedule you need to write it down, record it, see it – and only by doing this can you be sure that your to-do list isn’t, in fact, undoable. You cannot keep absentmindedly popping tasks into it!
Planning doesn’t hold you back from creativity and professional freedom (as I used to believe), it, in fact, does the opposite! When anything you must do that requires your time or attention goes into a visible schedule that you can physically look at and manage, you’ll be able to find a “home” for every task.
If you do not check your planner (digital or paper, you choose!) before saying yes to any appointment or project and if you do not allocate some time daily and weekly to review your schedule, here’s what’s going to happen:
– You and your mind will be too full, in all the wrong ways. This will feel as terrible as an overstuffed stomach.
– You will feel frantic, and you will not be able to fully focus and get things done, giving them the attention and energy they deserve, thus your work will suffer.
– You will be tempted to multitask which will just lead to mistakes and subpar work. I believe multi-tasking when working on actual projects is the devil. By definition when you multitask you are not giving your whole head or heart to some tasks, and it’s silly to think they’ll turn out as well as they would have if you’d done them one at a time.
– You will begin feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and physically “overdrawn”.
– You’ll feel crabbier at best, and sick at worse, and because of this you’ll get even less done, making the problem maddeningly worse!
THE SOLUTION IS SUPER SIMPLE:
Starting TONIGHT (or whenever you’re reading this), decide on a task organizing and planning system. Don’t overthink it, you can evolve and change your system, but you need that system and you need it now. I personally use a Panda Planner (for my physical, write-it-down planning) and I use the Calendly digital calendar and app for my automated online appointment setting. I also set weekly PR Victory Lap goals, and if you’re a business of any kind you should be doing the same. Get your PR Victory Lap Goal Sheet here. GAME. CHANGERS!
Every evening I want you to go over the day to come in your planners so there no surprises and everything is reasonable and doable. Remember, we no longer live by undoable to-do lists!
NEVER say yes to anything that requires your time (for work or pleasure) until you’ve checked your planner and made sure you can physically fit it into your day without stretching yourself to an unhealthy limit.
STEP FOUR: Commit to “Refresh Buffers” Between Tasks
Have you ever had a day that you begin full of hope and the best of intentions for balance and productivity, and then before you know it you’re proclaiming, “how is it 4 pm/6 pm/9 pm already?” You basically plowed through your projects being less than present in how your work day was unfolding, but even worse (in my opinion) without any breaks or “refresh buffers” in between tasks. This is not how you put your best brain forward, people!
Now for some of you, this is a badge of honor. “Look how much I can get done without stopping!”, you think to yourself smugly. At first. AT FIRST…Because this isn’t sustainable and this isn’t what success looks like.
And if you’re reading this, you are now or you have in the past felt some sense of overwhelm, so working nonstop for hours isn’t working for you. You don’t have to take my word for it either. Just Google any study on productivity and they’ll tell you the same thing: You need breaks in your day to refresh and re-energize, in many ways recalibrate, in order to do your best work.
I call these “Refresh Buffers”, and I do them religiously throughout the day. These do not have to be long, they can be as quick as 10 or 15 minutes – I’ve even done a quick five if that’s all I have time for, but I do them, and that’s what helps defeat my feelings of being overwhelmed.
Before you think I’m showing off when it comes to my self-care while working, let me tell you that I began doing these accidentally! When we got our first dog (the lovely George Michael), and eventually our second (Burt Reynolds), dog walking became a necessary part of my days, and I instantly fell in love with it! Though I feared they would throw me off, I found that those moments when I broke away from my computer and let my mind wander every 1.5-2 hours were essential to my wellbeing. Even better, some of the BEST ideas I’ve had have been born during those work-free walks.
Because my dogs no longer need to go out as regularly, and because I’ve outsourced some of these walks to a dog walker (see – I follow my own advice!) I have added other Refresh Buffers into my day, and they work just as well. I urge you to try out a few and see how they go.
MY STANDARD REFRESH BUFFERS:
(Yes, I’ve “tested” them all)
- A walk outside -regardless of the weather – which can be a longer jaunt or a quick walk around the block.
- A brain cleansing medication – if you’re a beginner I recommend using the Headspace app.
- Watching inspiring or empowering YouTube videos.
- A shower.
- A power nap.
- A coffee/tea/snack/ice cream (hey, whatever works!) break.
- Stretching or a longer workout.
- Dancing it out in your living room
Okay, I’ve shared mine, now you share yours…
Now that I’ve shared my proven-successful steps to feeling less overwhelmed, and more fulfilled, happy, and productive at work and home, I’d love to hear yours! Do you have any strategies you’ve found help stop you from spiraling into “This is getting to be way too much” world?
I would love to hear them and I’m sure others would as well! Don’t keep them to yourself! Share them in the comments below this blog post! We’re all in this together!
FINALLY: Do you have a friend or colleague who you sense is feeling a bit overwhelmed, or on his or her way there? Do them a favor, and share this post with them!