Overcoming overwhelm is a consistent goal for entrepreneurs who often wear all the hats. Particularly as a solopreneur, you often take on every role in the business from CEO to CFO, Marketing, Sales, Photography, Social Media and even cleaner. No wonder we often feel overwhelmed.
Who remembers a 2008 film called ‘Yes Man’? It’s the story of a man who, feeling bored with his life, accepts a challenge to say ‘yes’ to everything. On the whole, it was a nice concept. But personally, I think that it’s a lot more important that we all become more comfortable being able to say ‘no’.
We can feel obligated to do things. Whether it’s attending a party we don’t want to attend, or getting up at 6 am to do the housework before leaving for the office. Sometimes, even just the thought of having to do these things can weigh heavily on the mind. Particularly for neurodiverse thinkers.
The good news is that many of us are starting to say ‘no’ more often. As mental health and well-being begin to emerge from the shadows, it’s becoming more socially acceptable to prioritise self-care. And some of us are starting to feel more confident saying ‘no’ to protect ourselves. But there’s a problem: saying ‘no’ isn’t always an option in the business world.
There’s no ‘no’ in business
Just like in our personal lives, we all have those things that can weigh us down in our professional lives. Those things we can’t stop thinking about. Those things take us out of our comfort zone.
And it can be practically anything. It could be…
• Business activities, such as invoicing or marketing
• Reaching out to potential investors
• Communicating with customers or suppliers
• Developing or improving skills such as organisation
• Managing ideas and knowing what to do with them
Unfortunately, these things all need to be done. This isn’t a party where you can politely decline an invitation. If you want to succeed, you need to ensure that what needs to be done, gets done.
But it’s not always easy.
Saying ‘yes’ to things that fill you with dread can feel overwhelming. It can reach the point where it feels like there’s no way out. You can’t prevent the thoughts from sneaking in. And before long, it can feel like all you’re able to focus on is the very thing that you don’t want to be thinking about.
And that makes it worse.
When you’re only able to focus on the challenge, you become less equipped to handle all those other things that you feel you could otherwise manage confidently. So the ‘to do’ list grows bigger and bigger, making you feel even more overwhelmed. It can very quickly all start spiralling out of control.
Believe me, I get it. And we’re not the only people to feel this way, I assure you.
Let me tell you about Lisa*.
Lisa was running a successful business, but the thought of having to do her invoices filled her with dread. She struggled to focus on anything else, feeling consumed by this one task. She came to me to understand how to balance the need to run her business with the need to protect her own mental health and well-being. And I’m so glad she did because together we were able to solve the problem.
Managing Overwhelming Feelings
Saying ‘no’ won’t work. We can’t simply stop carrying out critical business activities. But saying ‘yes’ to what overwhelms us isn’t the solution, either. Instead, we need to say ‘yes’ to something we feel more comfortable with. That’s why I think breaking down tasks into smaller chunks works so well.
Breaking Tasks Down into Manageable Steps
When working with Lisa, we broke ‘invoicing’ down into 6 individual tasks:
1. Blocking out time in the calendar to complete the activities
2. Determining exactly what needed to be done
3. Calculating invoicing amounts
4. Creating priority invoices
5. Creating non-priority invoices
6. Recording sent invoices and payment dates
So instead of having to say ‘yes’ to invoicing as a whole, first she just needed to say ‘yes’ to blocking out time in her calendar. That’s the first step to overcoming overwhelm.
Reward Yourself to Stay Motivated
Later, she just needed to say ‘yes’ to determining what needed to be done. Again, not so overwhelming. After each task, Lisa gave herself a reward, whether it was sitting down with a drink, taking a walk, or reading some chapters of a book.
In the short term, it meant invoices were sent so there wasn’t this intense, overwhelming dread building up. In the long term, it created an opportunity for Lisa to build a better system that meant she was able to approach invoicing with less dread in the future. This helped her in overcoming overwhelm.
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got long strides or small steps… we all reach the finish line eventually. So if taking smaller steps helps you get where you need to be, then go for it!
What are your tips for overcoming overwhelm? Please share them below as you never know who they might help.
*Name changed for reasons of client confidentiality.
Nicola Haswell is the founder of Chapter Online, a Devon-based business support partner offering virtual assistant services to neurodivergent entrepreneurs and female business owners navigating the menopause.