Running a startup can be overwhelming.
But I didn’t have to tell you that! You already knew.
That overwhelming feeling is gut crushing. I know people who have gotten physically sick or shut down because things were just too heavy for them.
While the feeling is real, overwhelm is avoidable.
I once heard someone say that overwhelm isn’t a result of having too much to do. Instead, it comes from not knowing what to do next.
If you’re feeling the stomach-churning feeling of overwhelm, here are the next steps.
Carve out 10 minutes in my schedule as soon as possible.
When I’m insanely busy, the last thing I think I can afford is a break.
But I’m wrong. And if you are too if you think you can’t afford a break when things are going crazy. Actually, a well-planned break is exactly what we need when we’re feeling like there’s too much to do.
Counter-intuitive, right? Here’s why it works.
When we feel as if we’re really busy and doing things, there’s a fantastic chance that what we’re doing isn’t actually productive. It’s just busy work. Worthless work. Fodder. For the birds.
All of that “work” adds up to a whole lot of nothing, leaving the real work for later.
The busy work is distracting us from the things overwhelming us in the first place!
So I stop where I’m at. This is the time to collect my thoughts and think about the next step.
Write down everything I think I need to get done.
I’ll grab my notebook, whip out a pen, and brain dump all of the things that I think I need to do.
Note: I vomit out all of the things I think I need to do. That’s not necessarily the same as everything we need to do. When we’re overwhelmed, our to-do lists tend to expand.
It’s a mental thing. And it’s usually a false thought.
That’s why I write things out.
I’ve been using this method for almost five years now. When I first started doing this, I’d get as detailed as possible. Now I mostly keep it surface level, opting to think about the details later.
Writing stuff down is therapeutic.
We talk about having the weight of the world on our shoulders, but I don’t feel weight on my shoulders. I feel the weight of the world on my head. And it hurts.
Writing things out takes the weight of the world off my noggin.
Now I can think clearly.
Pick the three that I want to focus on.
Not everything needs to be done today.
Not everything is essential.
Not everything is urgent.
Some things can wait.
Some emails can go out tomorrow.
Some thoughts can be put on the back burner.
I pick the three that I want to attack that day, then…
I take a quick, motivational break.
Yes, another break!
Hey, I’m not saying that this is what you should do (although I highly recommend giving my first three steps a shot). I’m saying that this is what I do. Are there better things to do? Sure.
But after a massive braindump, my brain is tired.
I suppose it’s like a workout. Just because you take the weight off of your shoulders doesn’t mean that you’re ready to do even more squats. We need to rest.
So after the brain dump, I take a quick break.
I’ve done all sorts of things during the break. I enjoy walks, so I might head out for a walk. I might do some pullups or do some stretches.
Lately, I’ve plugged into a podcast or blast some hip hop to get me pumped up. (#AskGaryVee and Kevin Gates, respectively.)
After 10 minutes or so, I’m ready to dive back into work!
After a break, I do one of these two things…
If you’re following along at home, we’ve got a list of everything we think we need to do. Next, we pick the things we think need the attention right now. Then a break.
I’m usually feeling pretty good at this point. I’m mentally lighter, and even feel physically lighter. I’m motivated. I’m ready to get down to business!
But what to tackle first?
If you’re like me, then you’d assume that the obvious next move is to tackle the three things I picked out earlier.
That’s what I’ve been doing for the past few years, anyways. It’d work fine. But just fine. Not exceptionally well. There were days when I’d absolutely crush those three things.
Then there were the “other” days.
The other days were horrible.
I wouldn’t even make a dent in the three things I wanted to focus on. I mean not even the slightest dent! It’d feel like hitting a wall. You could imagine how big of a letdown that feeling is after putting in the work to identify those three things to begin with.
I had to figure out why.
We entrepreneurs are trained to test things and look at the result, so that’s what I did.
I decided to split test my next move. One test would be to dive into the three things, just like I had been doing for the past few years. The other test was paradoxical.
Instead of running head on into the biggest challenges, I would clear out fluffy tasks that were cluttering my mind: emails, tiny pieces of communication, quick errands, and other small tasks.
The early results are in.
So far, the second approach has been more effective. And I think I know why!
When I’m coming off my motivational break, my brain is desperate for a series of small wins. It’s begging for some of the good-feeling chemicals that come as a result of accomplishing stuff. That builds some momentum into the larger tasks.
You can tell by my language that I’m no scientist. Also, this isn’t a prefect split test.
But don’t miss the point: I’m trying new things, and so should you.
The end result is still mostly the same.
I just crushed the overwhelming feeling.
That’s our goal, right?
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Photo: Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski