“You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.”
~ Timber Hawkeye
As first glance, feeling overwhelmed is at once the bane and the burden of being a solopreneur. With so much to deal with, learn and deliver, is it any wonder that we end up feeling overwhelmed? The cruel twist with overwhelm is that it is paralyzing and by its nature occurs when we need to be in action the most. With so much to handle, we become incapable of really handling anything and as a result our work really suffers.
It’s my belief that when we learn how to deal with overwhelm, everything changes for us as business owners and in this post I want to share with you one simple idea that changed my entire relationship to this destructive condition:
Overwhelm is a choice.
I told you it was simple and yes you heard me right. If you are feeling overwhelmed in your business, I believe it’s because of choices you have made. When I first heard this idea, it blew my mind. Until that point I had always felt like overwhelm was a natural byproduct of having too much to do, but it’s not. How do I know that? Because I’ve met plenty of people who have more on their plate than I do who don’t feel overwhelmed and plenty with far less who do.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it’s as simple as deciding or choosing not to feel overwhelmed. There are absolutely conditions and circumstances that make feelings of overwhelm much more likely but what I am saying is we have a choice about whether we create or choose to stay in those conditions. Allow me to share a few examples.
On the mornings when I wake up and immediately reach for my phone, flicking through all of my social media notifications and outstanding emails I feel more overwhelmed than on the days that I stick to my usual routine of putting my phone to charge in my office overnight (thereby resisting the temptation to check it first thing) and on sitting down at my desk, keeping my internet browser closed until I’ve completed my most important work for the day. Do you see the choice here?
On the days where I have 10 tabs open in my internet browser and flick from task to task with wild abandon I feel more overwhelmed than when I write out what needs to get done today, block out time in my calendar to do those very things and close down everything on my computer that isn’t related to the task at hand. Do you see the choice here?
During those times when I endlessly ruminate on everything I need to get done this week, this month or even this year I feel more overwhelmed than when I ask myself what my top 3 priorities are for the day and then decide what my most important next step is to make headway on those priorities. Do you see the choice here?
Now I’m not saying that I always choose the path of least overwhelm, certainly not, but I’ve come to realise that I can choose to create or stay in the conditions for overwhelm OR I can change my conditions in favour of focus. Ultimately for me, what this means is that when I begin to feel overwhelmed, I know that somewhere along the line I have unwittingly created the conditions for those feelings to occur and that I have the capability to choose and create a different situation instead. Personally this has been liberating.
Now you maybe thinking: but Caroline there are times when I have more to do than I can handle. How am I supposed to avoid overwhelm then? I hear you, I face this often. The key is not in how busy you are or not. The key is how you think about your situation. Let me use a hypothetical to illustrate the point. Let’s say you have a 6 hour working day. No more as you have family and childcare duties to contend with outside of those hours (my reality often). In those 6 hours you need to publish a blog post (which usually takes you 2 hours or more), do 3 hours of client work and you have two 60 minute potential client calls, when another client messages you with an emergency. You’re already overbooked. There are already not enough hours in the day. Cue overwhelm.
Here again you still have a choice. You can either succumb to feeling overwhelmed by focusing on what feels impossible to achieve and stressing yourself out or you can get super focused and figure out what you can do and what needs to be moved or reprioritised. On days like this the first thing I do is open my notebook and write out what absolutely has to get done. Then I put timings next to each so that I know, not only when during the day I’ll do them and in what order, but also how long I have for each task. Then I go through the list taking each task in turn, using my timer to keep me on track. It works, these are always my most productive days.
The key to this is making a choice not to perpetuate feelings of overwhelm when they arise by focusing on all of things on our plate. When we do that we inevitably spiral into a sea of overwhelm which only further diminishes our ability to get sh*t done. Instead, I encourage you to remember that we always have a choice about where we place our attention. It takes practice to experience feeling overwhelmed and to make the choice not to get lost in those feelings, I am by no means saying this is easy to do, but what I do want you to take away from this post is that you have a choice.
So, next time you feel overwhelmed by feelings of work-related stress, instead of your usual response (whatever that is) ask yourself this question:
What am I doing in this moment to choose or create feeling overwhelmed and what could I do instead?
I promise that when practiced regularly, with time overwhelm will loosen its grip on you and you’ll develop your own strategies for knocking it on the head when it comes calling.
Is there anything you would add to this? Do you have any strategies for dealing with overwhelm? If so, I’d love to hear them so please do share in the comments below and if you have any questions for me, drop them in there too.
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