Overwhelm. Chaos. Putting out fires. Do any of those describe how you feel about your business? If so, welcome to the club of the overwhelmed entrepreneur.
If you’re anything like many of my clients when they first come to me, you’re probably feeling all three things on a frequent basis.
One client described it as “drowning in to-dos” that she could never get a handle on.
Another said she felt like she was in a constant state of panic but could never get ahead because she was always dealing with yesterday’s emergency.
This makes me so sad — and mad — because it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s possible to run a successful business without feeling as though the world is crashing in around you every day.
But it takes work. It takes strategy. It takes planning.
And very often, it takes asking for help.
The business owners I see that are the most successful at creating both a business and a life on their terms have one thing in common — they stopped and said “enough!” They stopped trying to do everything on their own and got the help they truly needed.
Help doesn’t have to mean hiring a full-time employee or a gigantic team, but it does mean getting the strategic support you need to make real progress in your business.
This help could come in the form of a consultant or a coach, an assistant, a bookkeeper, a CFO, or perhaps an online business manager, like me. But nothing will change until you start taking action to change it.
When I start working with clients in this state of overwhelm, we first look at how we can remove them from the day-to-day tasks that take up so much time.
Getting the day-to-day operational tasks off your plate is SO powerful because it frees us up to start working on the business and not in the business all the time. This gets us started in the right direction by identifying what systems and processes we need to establish both immediately and down the road.
Overwhelm Slows Down Your Business
Even as you work to outsource tasks, systematize things, and streamline what you’re working on, there will always be times that things build up. The key is to realize when it’s happening and learn from it.
For instance, I had a nightmare period in 2017 where I was supporting a large client launch and both my babysitters were out of town at the same time.
Cue massive work overload.
While it’s really easy for me to focus on how brutal it was, it was more helpful to focus on what I could learn from the overwhelm that ensued.
I realized that I was still holding back some tasks that I could easily outsource to my assistant.
Because they didn’t take that much time, and it’s easier to just do it myself than explain it to her. And… and… and…all the normal excuses I hear and am really good at countering when I hear them from my clients.
So after a little bit of self-coaching, I got down to business and outsourced about 10-15 hours a month of basic admin work to my assistant.
I also realized that I needed another assistant that could be more of an “on-call” person to help with things that have a very short turnaround time. This prompted starting the search for a VA service that could provide reliable, daily support at a low price point I could afford.
Pro-tip: When the overwhelm starts to build, take 30 minutes and make a list of the “little” tasks that take up way too much of your time or that you just straight up don’t want to do anymore. Even if you’re not ready to outsource them right this instant, start keeping a running list so you’ll have a good chunk to pull from when you are ready.
Recognizing Assets vs. Liabilities
What happens when something you thought was an asset actually becomes a liability?
This is something I see happen all the time with an overwhelmed entrepreneur. Whether it’s an emphasis on the grand vision, attention to details, or prioritizing quality, anything can become detrimental to your success if you focus on it to the exclusion of everything else.
As business owners, so much of our success lies within our own willingness to do the work — whether it’s the tangible deliverables we need to run our business or the internal shifts we need to make to lead them. When we overemphasize any one aspect of things, we let go of others that are just as important.
For example, many creative entrepreneurs I work with excel at the big vision, the big ideas of what to create. But they struggle to ever complete anything. This is where the “squirrel syndrome” usually kicks in and looks like this: You suddenly get all the ideas and end up with most projects being 50% finished and little to nothing being successfully shipped.
While there are strategies to deal with the squirrel issue, it’s a very different problem than someone who agonizes over quality and insists on perfection. They may struggle to finish things as well but not because they have too many ideas. Instead, they get stuck in the execution of a single idea that can never be as perfect as they envisioned. Perfectionism is definitely not a virtue that supports entrepreneurs!
If this is something you struggle with, be sure to check out this post on perfectionism and getting things done.
Anytime something like this shows up in my business or with one of my clients, I like to focus on identifying one small action to start with.
When you’re feeling like an overwhelmed entrepreneur, it can be tempting to stick your head in the sand and do nothing. But if you instead think about one small action that will propel you forward and that you can commit to 100%, you build momentum towards the overall goal.
Recently, I was talking with a client who struggles with healthy boundaries. So much so that she’s putting unreasonable pressure on herself to complete ridiculous requests with unimaginable deadlines from her clients.
I posed the question, “What can you commit to for the next two weeks that will help you enforce better boundaries?” Her immediate response was: “Change everything.”
Obviously, that’s just not very realistic or sustainable in the long-term. After offering a few ideas, she decided she wanted to commit to not responding to any emails received outside of business hours until the next workday. She also wanted to stop over-explaining her no’s and instead embrace the “no is a complete sentence” concept.
In the grand scheme of things, these two actions may seem inconsequential, but they’re entirely a step in the right direction. They’re also a part of my not-so-secret master plan to improve her entire workflow with clients.
So, I challenge you to find one tiny action you can commit to that helps you move in the right direction for your business. Baby steps will eventually get you where you want to be — sometimes faster than you might think.
Big Picture Strategies for Success That Help The Overwhelmed Entrepreneur
In addition to the baby steps, you can use some big-picture strategies to help move you out of the overwhelmed entrepreneur category.
#1. The Big Rocks
When your to-do list has an endless amount of things to tackle, prioritizing can help you get started. One technique I’ve used for myself and with clients is to focus on any items that get you closer to accomplishing your goals (aka the big rocks).
At the start of each day, begin with 2-3 tasks that are directly related to accomplishing your goals. By starting on these straight away, you’ll likely be more productive and get them done easier before getting into the day. This has the dual bonus of moving you closer to your goals and helping you kickstart your day off on a positive note. Productivity often begets more productivity, so when you start off strong, it will often snowball into getting even more done!
#2. Focus on Today
The rabbit hole of ALL the things is often a major cause of overwhelm. When we focus on the seemingly endless tasks for the week, month, or quarter, we can feel lost in too many things to even get started.
Instead, focus on what needs to get done today. Start with the big rocks from above and then move onto what truly needs to be accomplished today. All the other tasks will still be there tomorrow when you’re ready to tackle them, but don’t let them bog you down today!
#3. Gamify and Reward
It may seem silly, but it’s so important to find ways to motivate yourself in the day-to-day. I find using rewards is a huge incentive when you’re trying to be productive.
Consider how you like to reward yourself and set up systems that work for you. I like an “if/then” set up so I will often decide, “If I do X, then I’ll get Y.” If you’re really stuck in overwhelm and trying to get started, keep it simple, and pick short tasks you know you can accomplish. Then, as you get more productive, you can up your game a bit!
#4. Consider How Your Self Perception is Contributing
So often, our own perceptions contribute to feeling overwhelmed. When we assume we’re too busy, too stressed, and too overwhelmed, we create an environment that supports those thoughts. The good news though is we can control this by simply changing how we talk and think about how busy we are.
Staying the Course
Once you begin to check things off your to-do list, you’ll probably notice that you start to feel more in control.
As you tackle overwhelm, it’s also important to remember a few key things that are so critical with regards to moving forward in your business:
- Any progress is progress and should be celebrated.
- It takes time to execute well.
- Plans and timelines are a guide — they need to be adjusted as we work through projects because everything evolves.
- Finding time to work on your business instead of just in your business isn’t always easy but it pays off immensely when you do.
- There’s never an end to figuring things out because so much changes from day-to-day.
Now that you have some ideas on how to break those feeling of being an overwhelmed entrepreneur, what’s ONE thing you can start today to get things under control? Share below.