This is the second of two posts that explore the issue of overwhelm. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you should definitely go back and start there since it explains what overwhelm is really all about (spoiler alert: it’s all in your head!) and how it can affect entrepreneurs who are just starting out.
As business owners, we all have the tendency to get overwhelmed from time to time. There’s so much to do, so many decisions to make, and so much riding on our shoulders.
The bottom line is this: if you’re overwhelmed, you’re in good company. It happens to almost everyone I talk to. The good news is you can beat it, easily.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve identified two types of overwhelm that can affect entrepreneurs at various stages of their business. In Part 1, I talked about information overload, which can quite easily lead to feelings of overwhelm among new business owners.
Today I want to tell you all about the second type: task overload. This is when there’s so much that needs to be done that you feel like your drowning, your weighty to-do list dragging you down like an anchor.
If this describes you and where you’re at in your business, keep reading. I have a strategy to help you catch your breath and carry on swimming!
What Task Overload Looks Like
New business owners often misdiagnose their overwhelm as a fatal case of too-much-to-do, but they’re usually in the information overload group and just don’t realize it.
The difference between the two is actually kind of subtle, but it’s important to try your best to figure out which category your overwhelm falls into so that you can know how to work your way out of it.
The task-overload category of overwhelm is often where more experienced business owners lie. You know you’re in task overload when:
- You’ve got three to 17 projects going at one time.
- Your calendar is booked solid.
- You have a hard time saying no.
- Your work is taking over your nights and weekends.
- You’re missing out on other important parts of your life.
- You have no time to rest, recharge, or do the things you love.
You Can Find Your Way Through Task-Overload Overwhelm
The steps to overcoming overwhelm, whether due to having too much to do or too much information, all boil down to getting organized and setting priorities. In fact, the same steps from Part 1 apply here, too: get quiet, get clear, and get going.
You’ve definitely got a lot of things on your to-do list, but are you absolutely sure it’s too much? And if it is too much, do you have any idea how to weed through it all so that you can take the right action at the right time?
These are huge questions! To answer them, you have to first shut out all the noise and make your mind a nice, quiet oasis for making decisions. The best way to do this? Get everything out of your head, where it’s just causing trouble, and on paper, where it can be looked at critcally.
Grab a pen and notepad and start writing out every single thing on your mental to-do list — stuff for your business, things your family needs, that dry cleaning you’ve been meaning to pick up for weeks — EVERYTHING! Purge it all, being as specific and thorough as you can.
After you finish dumping any and all to-dos out of your brain, you can take a crack at organizing the mess in a way that makes sense to you. Maybe there should be separate categories for short, medium and long-term goals; columns for home, work, and personal; or even a spectrum of easiest to most complicated. Whatever floats your boat!
Sometimes feeling like you have too much to do is actually just a lack of organization. And hey, no judgment — it happens to all of us.
To find out if this applies to you, go ahead and go through your tasks one-by-one, adding real deadlines to each item. Then rearrange that list in due-date order so that you can see clearly what the demands on your time really are and in what order things need to get done.
You might find your task list is actually totally manageable once you impose some order on it. Plus, you’ve just created an awesome plan of action for going forward!
Now, after doing all of this organizing, you might realize that you’re actually in worse shape than you thought. (Please resist the urge to run away screaming. It gets better!)
Sometimes that I-have-way-too-much-to-do feeling is totally on point. If this is the case, then the only answer is to take some stuff off of your plate. I know, I know. You hate this idea. My friend, if you’re running ragged and burning out, there is just no other way.
Here’s how to do it: Get super clear on your priorities by identifying what is most important to you in building your dream business. It might help to spend a few minutes first reminding yourself of the big goals you set at the beginning of your journey.
Next, you have to clear out the non-essentials from your calendar and start crossing low-priority things off that list. (And no, everything is not essential. Nice try!)
That interview you don’t really feel like doing? Don’t do it.
That project you took on but isn’t really in line with where your business is heading? Apologize and back out (suggesting a replacement, if you can).
That favor a friend asked of you but you absolutely, positively have no time for it? Offer a rain check.
That course on professional accounting practices? Unless you’ve been audited lately, it’s probably safe to skip it!
I promise you that everyone involved will understand, as long as you’re professional, courteous, and up-front about saying “no”. As you gain more experience in your business, prioritizing what’s truly important will come more naturally to you.
Now that you have a much more manageable to-do list, it’s time to take action. Execute one task at a time, trust the list, and tune out all other distractions.
Once space starts to open up in your calendar and on your list, take some time to think again about your goals and priorities. If you put something on the back burner before, now might be a good time to pick it back up again.
If you find yourself adding stuff to the list faster than you can cross things off, overwhelm may creep back in. When that happens, though, you’ll know how to deal with it.
Any time you start to feel frozen by the crush of overwhelm, remember to get quiet … get clear … and get going!
One of the best parts of maintaining this blog is creating a space for discussion among all the women who read it. So, tell us…
Have you struggled with task overload with your business?
How do you go about identifying priorities?
Got any tricks for keeping yourself focused on your big business goals?
Leave your wisdom in the comments!