One Tool to Stop Overwhelm Before It Stops You
Review monthly financials and revise budget numbers. Soccer game Tuesday. Full book of clients Wednesday and Thursday. Edit marketing copy. Grocery run. Draft quarterly sales targets and prioritize follow-ups. Schedule workout with trainer. Call HVAC company for the repair estimate. Organize team strategy session. Schedule dog’s vet appointment. Reply to web firm on launch plan. Research flight and hotel options for summer travel…
If you own your own business or are a leader in your organization, chances are excellent that at any given time, your to-do list is something like the one above: it goes on and on with what seems like an endless and never-ending fashion.
- Is it any wonder that research shows that 75-90% of doctor’s visits are now from stress-related ailments and complaints?
- Is it any surprise that so many of us feel tired and rushed?
- Or that when you look ahead, you feel more than a little overwhelmed?
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As a responsible person, a hard worker, a conscientious business owner, you know how to dig in and get things done.
You’ve probably tried various strategies to keep up with what feels like an increasingly-more-intense pace:
- moving multiple to-do lists into a single location or onto your phone,
- reorganizing your tasks and prioritizing your to-dos,
- spending more time “catching up” with work in your evening or “off” hours,
- cleaning up unread emails or checking in on social media,
- sleeping less each night than you know you need to be at your best.
Yet you still have that nagging sense of not getting enough done, of falling short in some way, perhaps:
- you’re not so sure you’re getting the right things done,
- you’re losing or lost the sense of purpose or inspiration that drove you to do the work you do, to build your business, in the first place,
- you’re not giving those people and relationships that really matter – including your own health and wellbeing – the attention you know they deserve.
The root of the problem isn’t in your organizational or time management system and certainly not your work ethic — it’s in how human brains are wired. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, with so much to do and so many demands on you.
Before I began working with a business coach many years ago, I had resigned myself that that’s just how life had to be – fast-paced, overly busy and somewhat breathless. At least if I wanted to own a successful, impactful business, spend time with friends, family and loved ones, try to exercise regularly and take care of my home and my health.
I had a vision of a different way of living and working but in truth, I didn’t really believe it could change. When I looked around, I saw no role models. And when I talked about my vision for my business and my life with friends and fellow business owners, especially solo-entrepreneurs like myself, most of them laughed at ideas like 6-8 weeks of vacation each year. Even as I was doing it, respected mentors said: “You won’t be able to keep that up and continue to have a successful business.”
Most everyone I knew was busy, with schedules going every which way. It could take a month to find time for dinner with close friends, especially friends that were working mothers.
Yet when I felt overwhelmed, I had the sense that those around me just thought, “Tough. You made the choice to have your own business, now deal with it.” My partner at the time, himself a business owner, would say: “You created this complexity. And you made it stressful by setting your standards too high.” I remember that my well-intentioned mother even told me once: “Well, you bring it on yourself.”
At some level, I knew that if I created it, I could change it. I also knew these were hardly my own, selfish issues – of wanting to do quality work that made a meaningful contribution; to deliver value in a way that brought in enough income – and free time – to pursue meaningful activities outside of my business:
- quality time with loved ones,
- taking long walks or jogs on the beach,
- doing the things I knew I needed to do to care for my physical, mental and emotional health, like…
- taking time off to rest and rejuvenate my spirit.
The thing is, these are human issues: how we work and live, the pressures to spend so much time at work, building our business, or to live up to impossibly high ideals, even in yoga, fitness or spiritual communities, is affecting all of us.
It’s become pervasive. I’m not talking about hard work. I’m all for hard work that is meaningful and impactful, that energizes and inspires you. But the way most of us are working is not working for us – and, if we’re honest – for others we care about.
Study after study shows overwork leaves us burned out and disengaged. We get home to family and loved ones with little to no energy left for those we care about most – so we crash in front of the TV, check social media, have a drink or do something to try to relax. It’s not quite what the ancient Greek philosophers had in mind when describing a well-lived life: one that includes pure leisure – that place where we both refresh our soul and become more fully human.
Against all of this is technology and the ability to be connected 24/7 – which easily leads to a feeling of constantly being “on call.” You may feel you can never quite get away from work or even social media. The boundaries that used to keep our work more contained have spilled over into the hours of the day that used to be for family. And for many of us, social media, television or other apps bleed into self-time, time for leisure, even for sleep.
Here’s the good news: There are simple and effective techniques for taming the overwhelmedness — things anyone can do, starting now, to feel more competent and calm, and to start shrinking that to-do list for good.
There are four powerful techniques I use with clients in my one-on-one and group coaching which are beyond the scope of this blog post. If you’re interested in learning more, I invite you to apply for a complementary strategy session or check out the upcoming SWB group program.
More Ease: Find Meaning and Significance in New Ways
One of the underlying reasons we feel overwhelmed is that we tend to assign a great deal of significance to our work, our businesses and our lives. And while it’s innate and powerful that we as humans seek meaning and significance, most of us will benefit from shifting the way we seek that out. Researchers found in trials that one of the primary contributors to participants’ feelings of overwhelm was the amount of significance they assigned to the projects, situations and encounters in their lives.
Rather than the challenges themselves, it’s often the significance and importance we assign to them that causes so much frustration and internal energy drain.
Tool: Reduce the Significance to Reduce the Stress
Consider a challenge you’re facing right now. Now take a step back. Seek more objectivity about the issue or situation and your feelings around it – as if it were someone else having the problem. One of the first things you may notice is that you’re more compassionate and understanding toward this imagined person than you’ve been toward yourself.
- Tell yourself with genuine and strong intent, “Take out the significance.” or “Lessen the significance now.”
- Breathe deeply for a few breaths. Invite in ease and calm while telling yourself to “take the significance out of whatever is going on.”
- Dissolve the significance a little at a time. Imagine you are soaking the significance in the warmth of your heart.
Research – and experience – shows that even just having the intent will bring you the ability to take the significance out of ineffective or overly emotional reactions. This in turns helps you see new options, make decisions and act on them.
Benefits of taking the significance out:
- Greater clarity about what’s most important – and what you can realistically accomplish.
- Experience feelings of relief and calm.
- Become more understanding – of yourself and others.
- Set more effective boundaries.
- Appreciate what matters most.
- Increased resilience to face life’s challenges.
It’s important to learn how to identify your priorities and communicate your boundaries with your colleagues, team members and even valued clients in order to prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed and overworked. And yet before we can set – much less hold – effective boundaries, most of us need some perspective.
This tool is the one of four powerful techniques I use with clients to shift an experience in the moment. If this resonates with you, I invite you to learn more about how we can work together to achieve real, lasting change in your life. To apply for a complimentary strategy session or check out the upcoming SWB group program.
As always, I hope this is helpful to you. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, not sure you’re on the right path or need to navigate a change in your business or your work, I encourage you not to delay.