How To Stop Feeling Overwhelmed

How To Stop Feeling Overwhelmed

Feeling overwhelmed?

One of the things that consultants often come to me struggling with is being overwhelmed in their business. They’re doing client work, working on their own businesses and usually managing a household, on top of navigating the economy and the pandemic and all kinds of things.

Overwhelm happens to all business owners, but it doesn’t have to knock you off your game.

There are things that you can do about it if you understand why you get overwhelmed, what you can do when you’re overwhelmed, and how you can recognize this as a pattern in your business. Explore why we get overwhelmed and what to do about it in this episode of Profitable Joyful Consulting!

Key areas discussed in this episode

  • 0:00 Introduction to overwhelm
  • 2:06 Figuring out when you do your best work
  • 3:32 One of the ways I see consultants get in their own way and end up overwhelmed
  • 4:32 What to do with your calendar so you get less overwhelmed
  • 7:50 How to make your to-do list way less overwhelming (and still get everything done)
  • 9:49 Learning hard lessons
  • 11:56 The second major reason people get overwhelmed (and what to do about it)
  • 16:34 Patterns of overwhelm as self-sabotage strategies (and how to interrupt the pattern)

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Podcast Transcript

Hey, it’s Samantha Hartley of the Profitable Joyful Consulting Podcast. This season, we’re talking about the drivers of successful consulting businesses, and today’s tip is going to fit into the category of mindset for success. 

One of the things that consultants come to me struggling with very often is overwhelm in their business. One of the problems of being self-employed is that we are doing things for our clients and we’re also running our own businesses at the same time. So we have our own deliverables for the clients. We have our deliverables for ourselves, all of the tasks that we need to do. Then if you’re working from home, you’re managing a household at the same time.

Heaven forbid, you’re letting in news sources and you’re hearing about the economy and the pandemic and all kinds of things. So it’s very easy for us to get overwhelmed. Being anxious and emotionally overwhelmed doesn’t help with the fact that when we’re trying to do our work, we’re feeling overwhelmed with how much there is to do. Being self-employed can feel like work never ends. Like I have a to-do list that is a million miles long. When I get it done this week, I start the next week with a new to-do list. 

Getting all of our work under control and figuring out how to manage that and manage ourselves in that process is really key for having a sustainable business, and for you to ever feel like you have things under control. 

What I want to talk about are the two big reasons that we get overwhelmed and what you can do about them. Then a thing that I want you to keep an eye out for, because it’ll give you some clues as to your behavior. Why clues?

Well part of self-employment is self-development. I want you to learn about yourself. How do you succeed? How do you get in your own way? What are your strengths and what are your vulnerabilities? All of those things if we can look at them without judgment, then we can learn to hone the instrument so that we perform better in our business and perform better for our clients.

It’s always been really interesting to me to see when I am at my best during the course of a day. Usually for me it’s in the morning, but I’m not a crocodile, an early morning person. I’m a late morning person. Some people will have judgment about it like, “Oh, you don’t start your day at 5 a.m.?” I feel like whatever I’m doing, it’s what works for me. Some people are late night owls and a lot of people will be like, “You can’t do high quality work at 10 p.m.” And those people are like, “This is when I do my best work.”

I want you to find when you do your best work, find what are the things that help you succeed. Specifically, there are triggers, whether they’re emotional or circumstantial, that can cause you to not do your best work and not be your best self. That’s why I’m talking about being overwhelmed today, because I have clients who come to me who are otherwise extremely high performing and who are trying to be more successful in their businesses. This is the piece that gets in the way. 

One of the first reasons I see that consultants specifically get in their own way and end up overwhelmed is that they’re trying to do too many things at once. Everything is urgent, everything is important, and I have to start everything right now. The calendar is packed solid with stuff, right? Meetings and tasks and to-do’s and obligations.

Those things are both professional and personal. Of course it is overwhelming. Some ways that we can handle that. First of all, put in place calming habits such as meditation and exercise that will help you be a more calm version of yourself. That’s one of the main things that you can do is calm yourself down so that when you look at a mound or mountain of things that are to be done, you don’t automatically go into an overwhelmed state. 

I have too much to do, doesn’t necessarily make you overwhelmed, but if you’re emotionally overwrought or red already and you have an emotional association with all the stuff that you have to do, then it can send you into an emotional, overwhelmed state. 

Let’s say you feel like you have too much to do. Is it really the case that you have too much to do? You look at your calendar or your to-do list and you find that it’s just completely overwhelming. Besides getting ourselves into a calm state so that we can make lucid decisions. That’s the first thing that I want you to do.

Then look at what really is here, do you have to say yes to everything on your to-do list or calendar? Are there situations where you can turn down the things that are on your calendar? One of the big tips that I think is really important to look at is if I have a calendar that’s booked solid, what can I do with that?

First of all, if you have just a hell week, can you move some of those things to other weeks and not have it this week? A lot of people are really happy to have their time back. If you go to them and you say, you know what? I can tell that by Thursday I’m just not going to be able to focus on our meeting. Is it okay if I change that a couple of weeks away? In fact, you actually don’t even have to have a reason to do it. You can just say, “Would you mind awfully much if we moved this meeting to two weeks from now?” Most people won’t have a problem with it.

Moving things off so that you make your weeks gentler is a thing that you can do. You can ask for grace from other people and a lot of times they’ll give it to you. Give that grace to yourself. Allow yourself to ask for that and move it around. When you see yourself trying to do too many things, reduce the amount of things that you have to do. 

The second thing that you can do, especially if you have a booked calendar, is cut meeting times down. We have a society where we have a default to an hour long meeting and nobody ever said that our meetings had to be an hour long. So can you reduce the meetings on your calendar from like a three hour meeting? Let’s reduce that to a one and a half hour meeting, or one hour. Make sure there’s a specific agenda that requires all that time.

When you have coaching calls with your clients, get in the habit of establishing half hour meeting times. You’ll be amazed how much you can get done. What’s wonderful about a half hour meeting time is that when we have an hour, there’s visiting at the front and usually there’s goofing around during the process, then a long wrap up. When you have a 30 minute meeting, all of those things are constricted and you can get in and get out in 30 minutes. Practice that and see if you can reduce your calendar times where you have fewer meetings on your calendar and they’re shorter.

I understand there’s a reason for a three hour meeting. I’ve got a three hour planning meeting happening this week, so I love those kinds of meetings when we really do need to have that. It’s for ideation, it’s for expansive thinking. It isn’t necessarily for, here’s the things that we need to get done this week. So if you have a clear agenda, if you cover a lot of the things that you need to cover in an email, you can reduce meeting time to just clarify things and make decisions, then get out of here. 

If overwhelm in the first case is trying to take on too many things at the same time then from a to-do list standpoint, the actual remedy for this is doing one thing at a time. 

All you need to do is to know your next step and take it.

There’s actually an MLK quote that is, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase. You can just take the next step or the first step.” I want you to practice looking at all of the things that you have to do and be like, I understand this is a project. There’s like a million things to do here. But what’s the thing that I need to do next?

If you can consider, like, I have a deadline in the future and I see that on the horizon, here are the five things that will need to be done between now and that looming deadline. The next thing that I need to do is just this one thing. 

If your to-do list is made up of those things, then you’ll see them getting done. One of the big mistakes that people make when they create a to-do for themselves is they actually put down a little project instead of a “to-do.” A task is one step, right?

A book is not a step. You know, setting up the meeting can be a step. Schedule out the weeks worth of stuff. It’s a complex task. So you might want to look into that and see if that means writing down the emails, figuring out who needs to attend, sending the emails, doing a doodle poll to find out when everybody can meet.

You’re going to hear that sometimes a seemingly simple step is actually a complex task that contains multiple things within it. So that’s why you can end up overwhelmed. You have a to-do list that looks like it’s got five things on it. But then it turns out that step one actually has five things within the one. So when you’re making to-do lists for yourself, just take the next step on it. 

That’s my first main idea for why we get overwhelmed and what I observe with my clients. I did have a client who came to me very late in the year looking forward to her calendar. She was actually in tears because it was packed solid. There was no relief anywhere in it and there wasn’t anything we could move. We tried to reduce the time of things, but it was all scheduled, certain kinds of meetings and classes and we couldn’t.

What I said to do in that case is that you have to take this thing that you have entrapped yourself in and use it as a harsh reminder so that you don’t do this anymore. Take this time and go forward in your calendar and block it out so that you don’t ever overbook yourself again. You have to say no going forward.

Right now, she is stuck lying in the bed she’d made. Here’s the situation I got myself into. I have to work through the situation. I have to endure it. But you don’t have to endure it going forward.

So if that’s what your calendar looks like, I want you to go forward. Go ahead in your calendar to the point where it stops being nuts, which could be two months out. It was in her case. Then from there, go through and block off time on your calendar every single day so that you’re working reasonable hours. So that there’s at least one hour of breath to rest, to catch up so that you don’t have these back-to-back crazy days anymore. 

In the future, if you’re tempted to give away those hours, you have to remember this horrible time. Sometimes the memorably awful times are there to remind you not to do that to yourself again. Does that make sense? We create situations that would teach our future selves what not to do. If you have stuck yourself in a place like this, don’t do it to yourself again. 

The second major reason people get overwhelmed is that you feel you have to do everything yourself. If this is you, you have to find support around you. I want you to brainstorm. What are all of the ways that you are supported? Who or what is supportive around you that you can take some of what you have and give it to others?

Clearly you have team members, or you can get team members to whom you can delegate the things that maybe you’re not great at. That can be done by someone else who is faster, better, cheaper, more efficient at getting those things done. Do that.

If you feel like, “I don’t feel like I can afford to do that,” you can’t afford not to do it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, then a major thing that you need to do is to pull stuff off your plate. When you’re overwhelmed you can’t grow, thrive, flourish or think straight. You’ve got to take stuff off your plate and move it elsewhere.

Those tasks, like I was talking about taking things off your calendar, take some of your tasks and delegate them to others. Other people can look like team members. They can look like people around your house. If you have trouble affording help, or maybe you’re not in a situation or a place where you can get help with domestic tasks, like taking the kids to school. Maybe your spouse can do that or cleaning the house. Maybe you and a friend can do an exchange where you make some dinners for her and she cleans your house on the weekends.

There’s all kinds of ways to think about these things, but I want you to think expansively, “What do I need to do? What kind of support can you rely on to get space and creative, good, quality brain time back into your life?”

Those team members are essential for you. A lot of times what consultants don’t realize is that you can delegate stuff to your clients. If you’re looking at all this stuff, the stuff that you have to do, think about if there is any of this that I can actually delegate to the client?

Like I was going to write this thing for them, but why don’t I actually teach them how to do this? Why don’t we do this together in a half hour meeting? It’s possible that the admin staff for my client can make these arrangements so that I don’t have to do that myself. Look back at those agreements and see if you can offload some of the to-dos and the tasks in that way. 

The other thing is to get support from your mentors. When my clients come to me and they’re like, “I’m struggling with this thing, this is hard for me.” Sometimes they need to talk through a problem or a situation. Sometimes they need help executing or implementing something. Sometimes they’re not clear on what they need to do because they’re overwhelmed. So we need to work on exactly what I’m talking through right now.

Where can you know your next step and take it? Where are you trying to do too many things at the same time? Where can you find a team member who can help you with this? Can you partner with someone else in the program and you guys can share tasks, or support each other in some way? Support is a very broad term and I think for a lot of us, we’re used to doing everything ourselves and not asking for help. I don’t want to inconvenience somebody else or I don’t want to feel vulnerable. 

There’s all kinds of reasons why you don’t ask for help, but you actually give a gift to others when you allow them to help you. I think we have negative models of people who have burdened others. But that’s not you, right? You’re going to be somebody who can ask for help, and someday you’ll reciprocate and offer help in exchange. That is the support that I want you to look at.

The last kind of support I want to share before we leave is to ask the universe–pray, meditate and ask. What can you delegate to the universe? How can you say, I have got all I can handle right here? I’m just going to ask the universe, I would like somebody to come into my life, somebody who can be a supportive person for me. I’m going to ask the universe to send my next three clients to me.

I’m going to ask the universe to support me in doing something really hard, which is saying no. When people try to book that one last remaining spot on my calendar that I said was for me time. Those are things that you can ask for. So ask for support from the universe because that is available to you. Have faith in that. Believe in that. Trust the universe. That’s the thing that will really help you get through the overwhelming times. 

I’m not going to pretend that overwhelm isn’t a recurring quality in your business being self-employed, or no matter how many people work in your business. From time-to-time, you are going to end up overwhelmed. Things are going to go wrong. Projects are going to fail. Clients are going to be mad. All kinds of crazy stuff is going to happen and you will feel overwhelmed. It’s just the nature of running a business. 

What we can do is create in ourselves the ability to endure that, to do better with it, to be resilient, to bounce back from all kinds of these situations so that when we are in a situation of overwhelm, we can say, Okay, I’ve been here before and I know that right now I’m in the soup with it. I’m going to zoom out, or I’m going to step back and take a look at what’s going on with this.

I’m saying this because I want to warn you about a thing that I see happen with consultants, which is they create patterns of overwhelm. So what I just said was from time-to-time, you’re going to be overwhelmed in your business. It’s just the nature of self-employment. That is different from creating overwhelm.

Creating overwhelm in your business as a pattern is a sabotage strategy. I notice that every time I get a new client, or I have a big opportunity come along, or have some spaciousness in my business, I immediately bombard myself with stuff and get myself all overwhelmed so that I can’t take advantage of the opportunity. That’s a sabotage strategy. 

How do I become aware that I might be doing something like that? Well, I want you to notice the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed. What’s happening in the business right before this thing, which is feeling like a bad thing. Right before this bad thing happened, what was a good thing that was going on?

You might say, I was finishing a project. I was feeling expansive. I was feeling I had some freedom to breathe. I had just gotten a new client. Maybe I got some negative feedback from a client, so I was feeling like I needed to, rather than think about that to bury myself with work stuff so that I didn’t have to deal with a negative situation. There’s all kinds of reasons that we might be creating overwhelm in our business.

What does being overwhelmed prevent you from doing? When you feel overwhelmed, what is it stopping you from doing? What’s the gift? How does it serve you to be overwhelmed?

These are really hard questions for us to observe on our own because we really have to be gentle with ourselves. I’m being gentle with myself, but I’m also being direct and honest. I’m saying I’m starting to catch on and I feel like there’s a pattern. I wonder, why are we doing this to ourselves? So be alert, be open to that. Pay attention to when and why you feel overwhelmed, and why you feel the need to cause that in your business. So that it shuts you down. 

Those are, I hope, helpful insights into overwhelm in business and the way I’ve observed it in my clients. When I say to them, I think this is a pattern for you, they will be like, I see it. I see that when I have a space in my business, I’m constantly filling it with stuff so that I can’t think straight, and I can’t make big plans and it keeps me small.

A lot of times sabotage strategies are to keep us safe and small so that we don’t do a bigger thing, so that we don’t grow and grow and expand because that’s scary, even though it seems like we might want it. If you’d like help discerning sabotage strategies, or working on overwhelm, or getting out of your own way so that you can dramatically grow your business, then feel free to reach out to me.

If you would like to get a copy of my new self-assessment, which is showing you the Ten Drivers of a Successful Consulting Business, then you can find that at Super and just look for the tab that says self-assessment.

With that, I am wishing you a very non-overwhelming, peaceful, Profitable and Joyful Consulting Business. Thanks!

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