I know you must be familiar with this feeling. When there's so much on your to-do list that it seems to paralyse you from effectively and efficiently doing ANYTHING. It's the mountain being made out of a molehill. It's OVERWHELM... and for crazy dance studio owners like us, it's common.
"The cognitive impact of feeling perpetually overwhelmed can range from mental slowness, forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating or thinking logically, to a racing mind or an impaired ability to problem solve. When we have too many demands on our thinking over an extended period of time, cognitive fatigue can also happen, making us more prone to distractions and our thinking less agile. Any of these effects, alone, can make us less effective and leave us feeling even more overwhelmed."
It's annoying. It's detrimental to our focus. What can we do to fight it? I have 5 ideas.
Write out the list. Stress is fear. Fear, when it comes to an overloaded plate, is mostly about either failing to remember to do everything or just not having enough time. You can easily combat that first one with a GOOD LIST. Even though in theory the cause of the overwhelm is having too much on your list, the very act of writing that all down (preferably with a little action plan next to each item on the list) is enough to start seeing that the impossible is maybe just almost actually possible, and the infinite abyss is perhaps finite after all. Can't sleep? Keep the pen and paper (or Notes app on your phone) next to your bed and write something on the list as you think of it. You'll feel safe and secure that it's out of your head, no longer fearing you'll forget it, and you'll be able to clear your mind. Your list is your sanity. And with a million things to do, it's also your ONLY chance of successfully remembering them all so that you can do them more efficiently.
Wake up extra early. Just one good morning is enough to have a productivity breakthrough. It only takes a few hours of highly focused, decisive and fast work to feel like the weight is lifted off your shoulders. Disney CEO Bob Iger wakes up at 4am every morning. I could never ever do that, even if I did have the 15 million dollar annual salary... but as a one off, it's refreshing and dare I say it, even a little exciting. Like when you have to wake up at 4am to go to the airport for an overseas holiday - it's never hard to wake up on that day. Only this time, instead of a holiday you get a super-crazy-long work day.... but you do get LOTS done, and it sets up the next week for success and gives you a little more room to breathe.
Do just 3 things. If you're feeling like your to-do list is longer than the last Harry Potter book, all your customers are about to leave, your staff are awful, your routines aren't finished, there's 14 billion unanswered emails in your inbox, tax is overdue, electricity will go out any second because paying the bill for it has been on the to-do list since February and your house looks like an episode of Hoarders... chances are it's probably just only 3 things that are REALLY bothering you. All the rest aren't as big of a deal, and they just FEEL like they are end-of-the-world disasters because of the cumulative effect. So take a moment to really honestly think about everything needing to be done and find the 3 things that are MOST URGENT... the 3 things that HAVE to be done today no matter what. Now ONLY focus those things. Don't do anything else until those three things are done. Don't answer the phone, don't reply to an email... first just get those big scary three things done. Then everything else suddenly seems a whole lot less urgent.
Step away. Overwhelm is an emotional reaction. It's not based on logic. It's not practical. So the best way to fight it is to regain control of the emotion. Shut your computer and step outside with a really really ice cold glass of water, sip it slowly and just look at the trees. Give yourself 10 minutes, standing or walking (not sitting). Focus on your breathing and force your mind to clear. Pay attention to what sounds you hear, what colours you see and what scents you smell. Feel the air on your skin. Smile. Your life is ridiculous. You know it is. But you chose it. And if given an "out" right now, chances are you wouldn't take it... because for some sick strange reason, you love it. So own it. You are better equipped to handle this than anyone you know. Of course you can get this sorted. You've done it before, and you'll do it again. Think of a game plan, map out some quick strategy for what your next 3 steps are going to be, nod in agreement with yourself that you've got this... and GO.
Take on less. Easier said than done. You don't have the money to hire the people you need to really make this business of yours thrive. So you do most of it yourself. But this is not helping your business. And here's the really ironic thing... it's probably more likely COSTING you money, or at least LOST POTENTIAL, if you are the bottleneck in your own business. The traffic jam. You only have so many hours in a day, and no matter how superhuman you are (and I have no doubt that you are gold-statue-worthy in all your impressive heroic greatness), physics and time are realities that inevitably put a cap on the number of miracles we can achieve. Who have you got in your business? Train them up better. Encourage them and empower them. Give them responsibilities to oversee and own, rather than just tasks that you need to micromanage. Simplify the structure of your business so that it IS sustainable for you, and for the business itself to thrive.
Set yourself up for success, because right now you may have accidentally, inadvertently, happen-stantially set yourself for failure. Make less promises. Dream big, by all means, but take things on one step at a time. Ask for help when you need it.
A BONUS POINT STOLEN FROM HARVARD BUSINESS REVUE:
Challenge your perfectionism. Perfectionism can lead us to make tasks or projects bigger than they need to be, which can lead to procrastination and psychological distress. As things pile up, the sense of overwhelm grows, which can then lead to more procrastination and more overwhelm. Sheryl Sandberg famously said, “Done is better than perfect.” Know when “good” is “good enough” by asking yourself, “What is the marginal benefit of spending more time on this task or project?” If the answer is very little, stop where you are and be done with it. Part of this is also recognising that we cannot do everything perfectly. Sue was finally able to accept that sometimes an email will be overlooked, and that if it’s important enough, the other person will follow up with her.