I probably wouldn’t be over-stepping if I said that overwhelm is a state that every entrepreneur has struggled with at one time or another. Overwhelm, while it feels like it owns you when you’re in it, is really an emotion in the context in which we most often use it, and that means that you own it. (Merriam-Webster: “to overpower in thought or feeling.”)
It’s easy to blame not getting things done, not meeting deadlines, or not keeping promises to our partners or ourselves on overwhelm. Nearly everyone has experienced it at one time or another. And we tend to look at overwhelm as something that happens TO us, as though we had no control over it. But excuses are excuses, and it’s time to take back our responsibility in creating overwhelm for ourselves.
I used to think I needed to fight my way out of overwhelm. Like I needed to go put on my armor and grab a sword and slash away at one to-do item after another until I’d won the battle. But how often was I actually victorious? Not that often, because I kept adding items to the to-do list even after the fact.
It turns out the answer is not about “fighting your way out” at all, but rather about surrender. What?!? Surrender is about letting go, about allowing, about going with the flow. It’s about giving up control. Entrepreneurs, especially in the early days, are control fanatics! So, how would one go about letting go and going with the flow, while continuing to push forward with your business?
We want to DO EVERYTHING. We feel like we have to do everything. But the simple truth of it is: We don’t. You don’t HAVE TO do anything. I mean, yes, there are certain things you will have to do to get your business up and running and certain things you have to do to sell your product and whatnot. But really, you don’t HAVE TO do any of that to survive. You’re doing it because you WANT TO have a successful business, because you want to make a difference in the world. You could always go do something else for money. Don’t forget that being an entrepreneur is a choice. As Brooke Castillo puts it, “There are things that happen, and then there are the thoughts we have about those things. There’s math, and then there’s drama.”
Google defines overwhelm as a verb, “to give too much of a thing to (someone); inundate.” (Also “to bury or drown beneath a huge mass;” or “defeat completely.”) So, we have too much of something? That means it’s time to let some of it go. Particularly, your to-do list. Are you drowning in things to do? Pare it down to the bare essentials – three things that MUST get done today. Everything else is gravy. See how easy that was? Math, not drama. One tool I’ve found that really helps me with this is the Self Journal. I write out my overall goal for the day and then I record today’s targets. There’s only room there for three, so that’s that.
I recently read a couple of articles about women who have it all (the business, the marriage, the babies … ) where they reveal that you actually CAN’T have it all – you can have most of it, but you’re always going to have to give something up to make the rest of it work. So, try surrendering. Let something go. See how it sets you free. I promise it’ll make you feel better if your to-do list is actually attainable. It’s something you do have control over. Enjoy it!
As a leader, it’s your job to set the foundation for everyone who follows not to succumb to the illusion of overwhelm. Lead by example and show them that you DO have enough time, that you DON’T have to be buried or drowned or defeated by your to-do list, and that overwhelm is a choice, NOT something that happens to you.
Now I’d love to hear from you. What are your top tips and tricks for keeping yourself out of overwhelm?