5 Steps to overcoming overwhelm in your business

Overwhelm. It happens to most of us. 

If you work for yourself, you may find that you’re constantly firing on all cylinders, either trying to build your business up or just keep it afloat. 

But the more you do, the more you do. And the less time you have for planning and – equally important – resting. 

Without carving space in your business for these two crucial elements, you’re making yourself already susceptible to stress and overwhelm. 

On a professional level, feelings of overwhelm may manifest in over-committing and under-delivering. Or even constantly struggling to figure out what you should be doing. 

On a personal level you may start to feel anxious, angry or helpless, waking up at 3am with chest pounding and a never-ending to-do list running through your mind. 

So, what do you do? How do you create a thriving solo business while kicking overwhelm to the curb?

Well, you can start with these five strategies.

1. Focus on your breath

Focusing on your breath may sound foolish when you’re in a state of panic trying to meet deadlines and a bazillion business goals. 

But here’s the thing: It’s a relaxed brain, not a racing one, that makes the best decisions. 

So, if you have a truck-load of to-dos to get through before clocking off time, you need a calm, clear mind to execute them efficiently.  

The simple act of breathing deeply can actually shift your mood and biochemistry. You’ll become calmer, and less jittery. Which means you’ll be able to tackle your tasks with the focus and composure that’s needed.  

Here’s simple exercise if you feel panic bubbling up inside you: 

  • With mouth closed, breathe in slowly through your nose for a count of three. 
  • Hold the breath for three, and exhale for three through your mouth. 
  • Keep your eyes closed throughout so as to maintain an inward focus. 
  • Inhale and exhale in this way three to five times. 
  • Return to your work with mind and body recalibrated.

2. Write it out

Overwhelm can feel like a wave crashing over your ahead, again and again. 

Or it can be like the tide, slowly seeping around your toes and ankles, keeping you stuck in the same spot. Before you know it, you’re up to your neck in a whole host of negative feelings – in particular, self-doubt and it’s swaggering sidekick ‘You-re-Not-Good-Enough’.

However, as a writer and book coach, I’ve found that one of the most effective exercises to beat back this tide of gloom is to write out everything you’ve already achieved that day, week or month.

Feelings of accomplishment are a wonderful deterrent to overwhelm. Writing out a simple bullet-point list of actions you’ve undertaken can help you prove to yourself that you can do the things you set out to do. And it can buoy you up and motivate you to keep going. 

3. Start saying ‘No’

Most of us are aware that we probably take on too much. And if saying ‘yes’ has become just how you roll, it may be difficult to get off the treadmill – or even understand why you should.

It’s good to help people. As coaches, we know this. And it’s important to grab opportunities as they pass.  

But if you’re already swamped, you need to be able to recognise if what you’re signing up to can guarantee tangible benefits for your business. 

If not, the only thing it’s really guaranteeing is that it’ll suck up your time and effort. Time and effort that you’ll likely have to recover by ditching some down-time and doing an additional late-night work shift.   

So, start practicing saying ‘no.’ 

Not only will it be very freeing, but it will help you focus in on what is really important for you and your business to grow. 

4. Learn to do less

Alongside saying ‘no’, a sure way to keep the overwhelm at bay is by learning to do less. 

When you’re working for yourself you know there’s always something else you could be doing to build your business.  

But just because that’s true, doesn’t mean you always have to do it. 

Chances are that whatever task you’ve suddenly assigned yourself will also be there in the morning, and could be carried out just as effectively then.

So what if, instead of continuously adding to your to-do list, you picked five priority tasks to focus on each day? These would need to be five clear actions designed to help you hit your daily or weekly business goals. 

For example, your daily five could look something like – 

  • Take two client calls
  • Pitch three new clients
  • Spend one hour posting to social media
  • Organize workshop space for next month.
  • Work on up-and-coming webinar copy.

Honing in on these five priorities, and stepping back from your work station once they’re completed, will give you space and time to rest and rejuvenate, while ensuring you’re moving your business forward. 

5. Keep connected

Being overwhelmed can deeply affect your work-life balance. So it’s important to build in structures to ensure that doesn’t happen. 

You may feel that your business will flourish if you’re working on it 24/7. But that’s not true. 

In fact, studies have shown that success typically comes from the hours you spend away from your immediate work sphere rather than the hours you spend in it. 

For starters, time away can give you the perspective you need to tackle any problems and challenges you may be facing. 

Additionally, connecting with a pal or loved one for chats and a laugh, or even calling up a colleague for some insight or advice, can help you to return refreshed and more motivated to your work. 

Your work, after all, is only one part of your whole life. 

Don’t let it overwhelm you to the point that the business you dreamt about building becomes the very thing you start to avoid. 

Siobhan Colgan

Siobhan Colgan is a business owner and writer. As part of her work as a writer, she also helps other creatives and would-be writers find their voice. Email her at colgansiobhan@gmail.com to find out more.