How NOT To Deal With Overwhelm

I got an email from one of my clients which basically said “Waaaaaaaaah I’ve got so much to do and I just want to hide under a rock until it goes away”.

She has 3 small children, she’s not been well and her hubby has had a sick bug too. Her clients were baying for blood and she was feeling totally overwhelmed, to the point where she simply didn’t know what to do next.

The thing is that this happens to us all.

Yes, even me, sometimes. When bugs strike, or your childcare lets you down, or the laptop blows up, or you get an emergency family situation to deal with then the best laid plans jump out of the window along with your sanity and you feel like sticking your head in the sand until it’s all gone away.

And it usually happens because you’ve taken too much on.

Spreading yourself too thin and saying ‘yes’ to everything is bound to catch up with you sooner or later – right when you least expect it and when you could REALLY do with it not happening.

So what can you do when it happens, this pesky overwhelm? And how can you stop it happening again.

Here’s what NOT to do:

  • Ignore it
  • Hope it will go away
  • Think it will get better by itself
  • Bottle it up
  • Act like the proverbial ostrich and stick your head in the sand

Here’s what I do when that feeling of “Eeeeek Overwhelmed” threatens to strike.

I have a little system called the 4Ds. It goes something like this.

First of all get it out of your head.

Get clear on what you’re dealing with.

At the moment you have a head full of ‘stuff’ and no idea what to do with it.

The pressure of all this ‘stuff’ is building up in your head and you know you’re going to blow your lid soon.

The simplest and best place to start is to get it out of your head and onto paper where you can see it, instead of it swirling around in a big confusing toxic cloud of doom in your head.

You need D number 1.

Do a ‘Brain DUMP OR DOWNLOAD’ onto a piece of paper and write down EVERYTHING that’s in your head.

Every job, every idea, every worry, every niggle, every deadline, everything. Get it all out and see what you’re dealing with.

The relief when you do this is tangible. At least you KNOW what you’re dealing with, so you can decide what to do next.

Here are the other 3 Ds. Ditch, Delegate or Deal.

You’ll probably find that you have stuff taking up brain space that should have been ditched ages ago!

There will be jobs you can delegate or outsource.

There will be things you can ‘park’ for a few weeks or months as long as you put them in your diary (then you can forget about them until they appear in your calendar).

And deal with the rest. There will, of course be “Eeeek” things that need dealing with right now but at least you can SEE that rather than just feeling in a complete panic because you’re vaguely aware that you’re over deadline on your tax return.

Sort out what’s urgent and needs doing now because it will cost you money or lose you business if it’s not done today/tomorrow.

Then work out what your other deadlines are.

Can you put anything back?

  • If you have customers baying for blood then be straight with them, within reason.
  • They don’t need to know your family dramas but they DO need to know when they can expect to get their order.
  • If they at least know then they can make a decision as to whether to hang on for you or go elsewhere.
  • The worst thing you can do is say nothing or keep fobbing them off. They have a right to know.
  • Yes, it might cost you money but you have to do the right thing and try to treat a situation with integrity and in the way that you would like to be treated.
  • Communication is everything in business. At least if people know then they can make a decision.

So how do you stop overwhelm happening again?

Well you can’t predict bugs, family emergencies and technical gremlins but you can have a system where certain things are automated so that your business & marketing doesn’t grind to a halt.

You can stop taking on too much work so that it doesn’t all fall over immediately you have to have a day off. It gives you some breathing space.

You can build up a support network of people you can potentially outsource to in times of need, and vice versa.

You can start to specialize and only work for certain types of customers who are a perfect fit for you so that you can raise your prices and take on less work for the same money.

You can take some of your business online so that you can sell stuff without having to physically be there.

But sometimes all you can do is GET THROUGH IT as best you can and ask for help as soon as you feel it starting to build up.

Face up to it and deal with it instead of sticking your head in the sand and hoping it will all go away.

If you’re feeling overloaded right now, do a ‘Brain Download’ right away. Work out what you’re really dealing with – deal with some, delegate some and ditch some.

You’ll feel much better for it.

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3 Comments

  1. Modupe

    Love this – so so practical.

    Reply
  2. Johanna

    Hi Claire

    I love this and can totally relate, I run my own consultancy business working flexibly around my hubby and three children (6, 4 and 2) which means for the last 18 mths I have been constantly getting by on 4-5 hours sleep for 5/6 nights a week – sounds crazy but it worked for me! Unfortunately it did not work for my body 🙁 so in December I took a bad lung infection, followed by a nasty post viral illness and finally doctor certified exhaustion which resulted in three weeks on the sofa. Strangely the timing worked out great I was able to cook Christmas dinner, Santa was very good to the little ones so I spent the holidays on the sofa watching endless family movies being treated to regular Frozen shows and Pirate kidnappings – with my three little nursemaids on hands for constant hugs. Just when I thought I was back on my feet I got shingles at the start of February which resulted in a full three weeks out of work (I tried to go back too early which was just plain silly and made me worse) and even now five weeks on I still need a nap in the day just to get by! In the middle of all of this I still have my successful (thankfully) but fully loaded business schedule.

    BUT there is a positive purpose of my story – I promise 🙂 I have NEVER cancelled on a client commitment and pride myself in excellent service… so I was sick to the stomach at the thought of telling my clients that I was so ill this last month and couldn’t work. Being a solo entrepreneur there is no “team” to delegate to – so I was scared of the damage to my business. But do you know what – clients are people – they are human and they understand that sometimes people get sick!!! I was totally unprepared for how EASY it was to tell clients, “listen I am really sorry I have shingles and have been put on bed rest for the next two/three weeks so we need to postpone……” Everyone of them said “its okay – call me when you are back on your feet. Get well soon”. I couldn’t believe it!! The fear of making those calls was excruciating but you know what it had to be done. I am now on the other side of it, my lovely loyal clients are delighted to have me back and not one of them has gone elsewhere for their services. Yes I did pass on four potential new projects that came in as cold enquiries during my time in bed, but I simply sent an email that I was on leave for a month and would not be able to commit to new projects until after Easter”. So I just wanted to share with anyone else out there who is sick or stressed – that clients are not monsters, be honest, push back the work and you will get through it. For me it was an obvious choice to prioritise my existing client base rather than chase the potential new work. My reputation is my business and also I am lucky to have loyal clients. Other opportunities will be there in the future so when I am 100% I can go for it! Sorry I didn’t mean for this to be such a long post… I actually never comment on these types of things but I guess this just spoke to me and if this helps one other business owner out then then that is great. We all think we are Wonder Woman but sometimes our wee bodies need a bit of TLC. Treat your clients with respect and honesty and excellent service and in times of need they will give you respect and loyalty in return. Good luck xoxo

    Reply
  3. Kate Roberts

    I regularly brain dump and then begin to break it down into the right areas, it’s amazing what’s swimming around in there flooding everything else – once it’s on paper your head is clearer and you can see what you are dealing with, although it’s tempting to ignore it once it’s out of my head. I now need to perfect the over 3 D’s

    Reply

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