It’s been a weird year hasn’t it? Lockdowns, closures, re-opening, closing back down, locking back down. There’s even been time for every small business owner to sit and think, or dwell, or ruminate and over think. And then there’s the flip side where you feel like there’s not enough time in the day to get everything done. Both scenario’s lead you to start feeling overwhelmed as soon you think about everything on your plate…this year has been crap for want of a better word.
If you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur, you probably know this feeling well. A little bit too well. You’re running on all cylinders trying to build your business. You have a long to-do list that seems to grow longer every day. You just don’t have enough hours in the day to take advantage of any the opportunities that may well be there in front of you.
Feeling overwhelmed can result in negative emotions such as anxiety, worry or irritability. And it can increase your stress levels, which could lead to even more serious issues with your mental or physical health. And that then leads to an ever decreasing circle which not only damages you but the business that you are trying to build and grow.
We can’t add more hours to your day, but you’ll be pleased to know there are a number of strategies you can use to help you stop feeling overwhelmed.
Stop and Take a Very Deep Breath
I know…simple right? But when you’re overwhelmed or feeling stressed, it can be hard to think clearly.
And when you’re not focused and thinking clearly, you’re more likely to make a bad decision or struggle to get things done. No one should ever make a decision when they are stressed…it never ends well.
The first and most important step when you’re feeling stressed, is to relax.
In the 1970s, Herbert Benson, a Harvard Medical School physician, developed a technique called the relaxation response. This is a state of deep rest that helps to change your response to stress e.g. reduced heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing and muscle tension. You can you use a number of techniques to induce the relaxation response, including mindfulness, tai chi, yoga, deep breathing etc. Deep breathing, which is also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is a simple but powerful technique for dealing with stress, and although you may feel a little daft, if you give it some focus and the time it deserves, it really does work…it does for me, (I’m only human after all).
Start Writing Stuff Down
One reason you might be overwhelmed is that your brain feels overloaded with information. You might be mentally juggling a long list of tasks or you may have negative thoughts spinning around in your head. You may well be browsing through LinkedIn or Facebook and see all the ‘must do’ courses, webinars and templates that experts offer you to get your next million quid.(They get the million by the way…not you!)
One of the best ways to clear your mind is to write things down. If you’re feeling overwhelmed because your head is filled with all the things you need to get done, then try this simple exercise. Get a piece of paper and spend 10 minutes making a list of everything that you need to get done. Don’t try to evaluate or organise every task, you can do that later. For now, just get those tasks out of your head and onto paper.
This simple technique can help to reduce the feeling of overwhelm. Your brain doesn’t have to keep juggling all these tasks and deadlines anymore. You’ve cleared your ‘mental RAM’ and captured all those thoughts in a safe place.If you’re struggling with a negative thoughts, you can use a similar technique to help you get rid of that ‘head trash’. Grab another sheet of paper and write down all your negative thoughts. And when you’re done, throw it away.
It sounds like a silly exercise, but in 2012, a study published in Psychological Science showed that writing negative thoughts and then throwing them away can help clear your mind.
Part of one of the strategies I use with small business owners is to get them to sit and write about where they are now and where they want to be in 12 months time. How does it feel? What difference will it make to them, their family, their relationships and their business. Your small business starts with you and without you, there is no business, so remember why you do what you do and what you want to achieve for you. There’s something magical about writing things down.
Reset Your Compass
Making a list of all the tasks bouncing around in your head is a great way to clear your mind. It’s a simple ‘bottoms up’ approach to planning your work.
But it can still leave you with a nagging feeling. You might be able to check things off your to-do list and do some ‘busy work’. But are you also working on the things that will help you make meaningful progress towards your goals?
Being stuck in ‘bottoms up’ planning is not good. It was like getting into your car every day and celebrating you’d driven 5 miles. But you had no idea what your final destination was. That’s why you also need ‘top down’ planning. You need to think about your most important goals and identify the key activities that will move you closer to achieving those goals. I spoke to a client recently where I suggested to them that they were in the right county, they just didn’t know the right postcode, address and house number yet…that’s when you know where you are going.
Here’s a simple exercise to help you with ‘top down’ planning.
Grab a sheet of paper and write down your 2 to 3 most important goals in the next 90 days. And then for each goal, write down the top 3 activities that you can do to make progress towards that goal. By the end of this exercise, you’ll have a list of the things that you should be spending 80% of your time on. It’s one of the topics I cover in my FREE 5 Day Challenges to get you more focused on where you need to put your energy for a sustainable and growing business.
Focus On Process, Not Outcome
It’s great to have a vision or big goal that drives and motivates us. It gives you a direction for your business and personal life. But when it comes to sitting down and doing work, continuing to focus on a vision or goal can become a problem, unless you know the rules of your own game to get you there in the first place.
Let’s say that you want to write a social media post. You know that you’re doing this so you can get more customers. You want to use content marketing to generate a steady stream of new leads. You want to hit £250,000 in annual revenue.
But suddenly you realise, “Bugger! That’s a lot of work you have ahead of me.” And you start thinking about how many more social media posts you’ll have to write before you see any kind of meaningful result. The task now seems overwhelming.
This is where clearly understanding the difference between process and outcome really helps. (Again something we do in the 5 Day Challenge).
Instead of thinking about how your social media post is going to help generate all that extra cash, you should focus on the process of writing that one social media post. You should approach it with a ‘practicing mindset’ and a skill that you can improve.
As Thomas Sterner, author of the “Practicing Mind“ says, ‘the secret is in learning that the process of achieving your goals is not something you must endure, but instead is where the REAL joy waits to be discovered’. I’d like to think he’s talking about you getting your hands dirty so that you understand what it needs and takes to get results, something which you can leverage when it comes to outsourcing or hiring someone to do it for you.
You should absolutely have an inspiring vision and goals, but when it comes to doing the work, focus on process not outcome.
Build a Single-Tasking Habit
The truth is that our brain isn’t very good at multi-tasking….or at least that’s what my ex-partner told me over and over again.
Our mind is programmed to deal with one thing at a time. So when we try to multi-task, we’re rapidly switching from one task to another and back.
We try to multi-task because we think we’ll be more productive, but there’s plenty of scientific evidence that shows the opposite is true. Also, when we multi-task, we’re not being mindful and fully engaged with the task we’re doing.
In 2009, a research study by Stanford University showed that multi-tasking is less productive than single-tasking i.e. doing one thing at a time. The study also found that ‘people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time’.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but when you’re feeling overwhelmed, focus on doing one important task at a time. You’ll be more productive and less stressed and will; probably get a better end result.
Learn to Do Less
As small business owners and entrepreneurs, we have no shortage of ideas. We have a long list of things we want to do today and enough ideas to keep us busy for years and years.
It can be frustrating when you realise that there just isn’t enough time for you to do everything in the day or in this lifetime. And that creates overwhelm. The first step to dealing with this is to accept that you’ll never get it all done. I know that’s hard to accept (and say), but it’s a reality. As much as we want to believe our nearest and dearest who call us ‘Superhuman’, we’re not; just a brave human being doing what we always wanted to do. Once we acknowledge that, we feel less stressed because we have less resistance to trying to do to all.
The second step is to realise that it’s not about doing lots of things. It’s about doing a small number of things that really matter and help you make a positive impact in people’s lives.
Think about 3 years from now. What would you like to have accomplished? How many of the things that you’re working on right now will you even care about in 3 years? Or even a years time judging by what’s happened in the last 12 months…
It’s easy to get consumed with our day to day priorities and fire drills. But when you do the 3 year exercise you quickly realise that most of those things just won’t matter in the future. I doubt you’ll even remember what you did today!
You’ll also start to get more clarity about the one or two things that you should be spending the majority of your time on. Remind yourself every day that it’s not about getting more done. It’s about getting results that matter and I and my team can help you with that.
Start with Tiny-Actions
This year, I started taking golf lessons at a local driving range. I’d arrive early and practice hitting the ball. I’d miss the ball completely 8 times out of 10. And the times I did make contact, the ball didn’t go very far in one shot, the other it would go a fair old distance but always off to the left.
The instructor gave me a simple tip. Instead of taking a big swing and trying to hit the ball 100 yards, take a very small swing and hit the ball 5 yards. It seemed like a pointless exercise. But I agreed to do what he said. Now that I had such a small goal, I didn’t try very hard. I took a very small swing and slowly hit the ball 5 yards. It was almost a perfect shot. The instructor then asked me to hit the ball 10 yards, then 20 yards and so on. Eventually I was hitting the ball 100 yards 8 times out of 10. Why was I able to do this?
Because I started with a micro-goal i.e. a really small and easy goal. It didn’t take much effort. I didn’t need to try hard. But that micro-goal gave me confidence. It helped me build momentum. And pretty soon I was achieving a much bigger goal. When you’re overwhelmed it can be hard to get started. It’s easier to procrastinate.
So start by setting yourself a micro-goal. Give yourself something so easy that you have no resistance to doing it. If you’re struggling to write blog posts on a regular basis, set a goal to write 100 words a day. You can do that in 5 minutes. Got a big project you need to start? Pick one action that you can complete in 2 minutes or less. You can work on anything for a few minutes. Most of the times, those few minutes will build the momentum you need to keep working and to take the next step and the next step.
Simple Strategies + Simple Ideas + Simple Actions = Big Outcomes
It can be easy to get overwhelmed as small business owner or entrepreneur in this crazy climate in which we live right now. The overwhelm can lead to anxiety and stress, which can make things worse. There’s no silver bullet that will ‘cure’ your overwhelm. Believe me, I’ve been there and done that and helped lots of business owners manage theirs.
But the simple strategies in my FREE 5 Day Business Breakthrough Challenge will put you in a great place to start managing, overcoming and breaking through the barriers that sit infant of you and the business your hard work has always deserved. Book your place here: