Are you feeling a bit confused, not sure which direction to take or which decision is the best one to make. Exhausted but can’t sleep. Feel like you’re losing control or need to take control back. Well yeah – that’s entrepreneurial overwhelm.
You hear the word all the time. Overwhelm. And you know it’s not a good thing. But what is it, how can you avoid it, and if you’re in it, how can you get out of it?
Overwhelm is a version of stress. While stress is your system’s response to pressure, it can – in fact – be good or bad. We all deal with low levels of stress all the time, actually we’re designed to handle small doses of stress. Taking immediate action to avoid an accident or other harmful situation, that’s a stress response. And that response is there to keep us safe.
But long term or consistently higher levels of stress – well, we aren’t equipped to handle that. Not without it being harmful. Now, how much stress someone can handle is an individual question – we are all different. But for me, once I hit a certain level of consistent stress, it’s easy for me to flip over into feeling overwhelmed.
You’ve probably felt that too – feeling completely submerged by your thoughts and emotions. All the problems and unresolved issues in your life and business swirling around in your head – with no real solution in sight.
And I know that, for me, the road goes something like this: stress, too much stress, overwhelm and then burnout. That’s because I can’t process all that stress endlessly, without eventually hitting the wall – the burnout wall. And trust me, you don’t want to ever get all the way to burnout, because that means you’re completely emotionally drained, and probably can’t actually DO anything. At least, not until you can replenish your emotional reserves.
“…Don’t overestimate your emotional reserves. …You have depleted those reserves – and a vital part of filling the tank again is taking a break. So make that a priority.“
We entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible to this dynamic. Because the bulk of what we do all day, every day, is solve problems. And don’t underestimate the fact that the buck always stops with us – we are the final say, the last word, the decider.
But it’s critical that we avoid falling into overwhelm; because not only is it an immediate sign that your stress level is out of control and you’re headed for danger, but because when you get to overwhelm you start feeling paralyzed, stuck. And that means you aren’t moving forward, or leading your team, or growing your company.
Now the good – no actually great – news is that there are ways you can move yourself out of that feeling of overwhelm. But to do that, you’ll need to address the underlying stress too.
First get quiet. You can’t tackle anything with a million thoughts flying around in your head. When I’m in overwhelm, everything feels urgent, everything is difficult or un-resolvable, there’s just too much. And if, for instance, I’m trying to go to sleep (or get back to sleep); and I tell myself “just don’t think about all that”. Well of course you know – endlessly thinking about all that – is the MAIN thing I’m going to do.
And then I start trying to come up with solutions. And when I can’t think of anything – or more likely – start shooting down every option because it won’t work for this reason, or that reason…. Well, then two more hours have gone by, I didn’t get to sleep, and I still don’t have any workable answers.
Nope, trying to just plug away at the problem won’t work. In order to think straight, you have to stop the noise – you have to get quiet.
Now, for most people that means some type of breathing exercise, and then meditation. But that may not be the process for everyone. But, I will argue that any type of ‘getting quiet’ should usually start with the breath.
It’s amazing what a few, really good breaths can do for your mind and body.
Stress tends to make us curl in on ourselves – it’s a protective response. But that also means our posture is bad, we’re hunched over, and our lungs can’t expand – so we aren’t giving our system enough oxygen to function properly.
So, sit up straight – or better yet, stand up and get into the superhero pose; and take three long, slow breaths. Trust me, it will calm your mind a bit – and give you a cleaner slate to move on to the next step.
So, one of your employees just told you that she’s pregnant. Feeling overwhelmed, with no idea where to start? After all, HR just got dumped on your plate. It’s not your zone of genius, and you don’t want it to be.
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For me, the next step is to get it out. I need to get things out of my head and onto the page.
When I write down the issues (I actually like to use excel so I can move lines and columns around and put things in categories – yep, that’s the way MY mind works). Anyway, when I write things down, and get them on paper, then my mind can free itself from having that running list.
You know – this thing is wrong, that thing is a problem, I don’t’ know what to do about that issue. When all that is just in your head, not only are you burning brain power trying to come up with solutions, you’re burning brain power just trying to keep the list.
So give yourself a break – write it down. All of it. No really, I mean it – write it all down. Because anything you don’t write down will still be free floating in your brain..burning brain power.
And who knows, once you can see it all on the page, you might also see solutions forming right in front of your eyes.
Next – get clear. For me, I need to remember what the heck I’m trying to do. What is the overall objective, what is the goal, remember the vision.
Now, I know people say that all the time. And you’re probably thinking – listen, I’m drowning here. Remembering the vision won’t help me make this list shorter or get anything done faster.
Well my friend, that’s where you’re wrong. Remember the vision is just another way of saying get your perspective back.
Think about this – so, you’ve written down all the problems you’re dealing with. Well, when you look at the business challenges, and overlay what you actually want to accomplish in the business – you might discover all sorts of really valuable things. Things like, that problem doesn’t really impact achieving your goal, so it actually doesn’t matter at all. Or this issue should actually be owned by someone else, maybe someone on your team or maybe a vendor.
I remember this process was particularly good for me when I started feeling buried by our production schedule. I realized that sure – I was feeling massive overwhelm just trying to keep up with a weekly YouTube and podcast production schedule. Well, the actual answer was to get help with that process – someone else needed to own that issue.
And another really good thing about focusing on your vision – it helps you not sweat the small stuff. In fact, it helps you identify the small stuff – so you know what not to sweat.
And finally, get organized. Figure out what you need. You have all the issues on paper, you can see them clearly, you can eliminate what doesn’t matter and delegate what shouldn’t belong to you.
Now what do you need to work through the rest. Can you attach a timeline? What are the next steps?
And by all means, don’t forget that item #1 should be slotting in a break for you. Don’t overestimate your emotional reserves. You’re at overwhelm, remember. You have depleted those reserves – and a vital part of filling the tank again is taking a break. So make that a priority.
Remember, the issues you’re facing now, the workload – this is temporary. You will get through it, but to do that you’ll need to keep your perspective. Don’t let issues take on a life of their own. Don’t ‘what if’ yourself to death.
Remember your vision, hold on to your perspective, identify what ails you, get someone or someones to help you, get rid of the stuff you don’t’ need, and BREATHE.