Feeling Overwhelmed And Stressed

You know that feeling.  The one you get sometimes in the pit of your stomach when you think about a particular project you’re working on, maybe there’s something going on in your business or perhaps you’ve got a critical deadline coming up at your job.

You sit there, staring at the ceiling feeling overwhelmed and completely stressed out.  You know what you need to do next but for some reason it just isn’t happening.  The sense of overwhelming stress has paralyzed you and everything in front of you looks like a mountain to climb.

Let me just say, it happens to all of us.  I’m a pretty cool customer most of the time and even I sometimes look at what I’m doing and feel a bit overwhelmed.

Today was one of those days.

There are a bunch of things that I want to do with Casual Marketer.  The list of tasks and features I want to add is pretty substantial.  I’m normally very good with prioritising and focusing on what’s important, but lately there have been a couple underlying elements that have gotten me a bit stuck.

I’m reasonably self-aware, so when things aren’t happening for me the way I want them to, I usually have the ability to take a step back, look at myself and take stock of why things aren’t working.  That’s what I did before writing this, so I thought I’d take the time to share my process with you while it’s fresh in my mind.

What Is Overwhelm?

Before I go into that, I want to talk about exactly what “overwhelm” is.

Being overwhelmed is a lingering form of stress that can lead to depression and anxiety in some people.  I’m pretty lucky that I don’t suffer so much that it becomes a problem to this magnitude, but I know people for whom it does.  If you suffer from bouts of deep anxiety or get depressed, then when the feeling of overwhelm starts happening, you should reach out to your support network for help so that you can get back in control.

Speaking of control, let me share my process with you.  These are one part stress management techniques and another part project management.

But before we begin, you have to take a couple hours away at least and clear your mind.  Feeling overwhelmed is a mental thing and before you can get your mental game back in order, you need to take a timeout and try to reboot your brain.

Strategies To Combat Overwhelm

The first strategy I’m going to share with you is around getting stuff out of your head.  Get a small notepad or open an Evernote note or whatever you use to take notes and just write down everything you have to do, what you’re working on and the things that are holding you back.  Make sure you write it all down.

This is a really important first step because the moment you get it out of your brain and onto a sheet of paper, it frees up your mind to actually start solving the problems logically.  When you’re feeling overwhelmed what’s actually happening is your brain is running “scenarios” subconsciously.  That’s actually what’s holding you back, but by writing it all down you can now consciously attack it.

The second strategy is to prioritize the things you’ve written down.  If you’re anything like me, the things that overwhelm you in your business are really more like tasks or things you want to “build”.  I don’t know about you, but I like working on the fun stuff way more than the hard stuff, so what tends to happen is we get stuck with a bunch of things that need doing and the flow of work gets backed up.

I have a different way of prioritizing things than most people and you might find it helpful.  I have a four part prioritization process:

1) How urgent is this thing?  Is something bad going to happen if I don’t get it done right away or am I really holding myself back by not doing this right now?  What would happen if I didn’t do this thing at all?

2) Is this thing easy or complex to achieve?  The more complex it is, the higher the chance it will take longer than I think and be more problematic.

3) Do other things depend on this part being done properly before I can commence completing other tasks?

4) How much is it actually costing me by not having this thing completed?  Be very clear, am I really out of pocket by not doing this right now or am I talking about opportunity cost which I tend to overestimate the value of?

Based on my thoughts around those four items, I give each item a ranking along the lines of “low, medium, high, critical” and I write that priority next to each item.

The third strategy is to break each item down into actionable steps needed to get it done.  I sometimes use 5×9 cards and write each list item down.  I then break down the steps needed to complete that task.

This is really helpful because it’s like another brain dump.  In the back of your mind, you probably know what you need to do to get these items done and by writing those things down as well, you again remove them from your subconscious which further purges your brain from things to think about and reigniting the overwhelm.

Don’t get too detailed, just stay at a high enough level that if you were to go back and look at these things later, you’d be able to pick up your train of thought when you wrote them down.  This is important because one of the things that happens is when you start dumping these things out of your brain and onto paper, you actually give yourself permission to forget them.  This is a very positive aspect, but it’s good to have stuff written down so that you don’t miss anything critical.

The fourth and final strategy is to review your 5×9 cards and put the tasks in the order you want to complete them in.  The reason this is the final step is because the preceding three strategies have allowed you to logically give yourself some context to the things you’re struggling with and what you have to accomplish.

Context Is Very Important

The context goes quite deep.  When you start considering what order to do these tasks in, you now know how highly you value them, how complex they are, what the dependencies look like and you probably have a rough idea of how much work each item will be.

With that level of context, you should be able to establish a logical order based on where you’re at in your business right now.  If you’re just starting, then the tasks you’re going to prioritize more highly are likely focused on getting yourself up and running rather than any long term project that won’t bear fruit for six to nine months.  Likewise, if your current business model has plateaued and you need to develop a new leg to what you’re doing, then maybe your first up task will be more complex and time consuming because it’s so valuable and important to get moving.

Basically, what I’ve tried to give you is a framework that will get you past that feeling of overwhelm, that gnawing stress and anxiety, and allow you to evaluate what you’re doing with a clear mind.  The idea was to give you a way to take stock of everything that lays in front of you so that you can come up with a plan to knock them over.

The last tip I would give and it’s something that I do; find the things on my list that are easy and quick to do and knock a few of those over right away.  Momentum is a massive force and when you get some wins under your belt and gain some momentum things will get easier.  You may also find yourself entering “the zone” and really making impressive progress.

The most important thing though is to cut yourself some slack.  If you’re anything like me, you’re probably your own worst critic.  When things start to back up on us, we all tend to start getting much harder on ourselves than we need to be.  That just makes things worse.  You’re not going to do your best work when your biggest critic is hammering on you, so just remember to give yourself a break so you can attack the situation with a clear mind.

Just a quick heads up, I’m putting the final touches on the April issue of the Casual Marketer Monthly Newsletter and that should be going to print next weekend.

I’ve had a couple people ask me if it’s available in their country and I just wanted to let you know that the newsletter gets sent out worldwide, so no matter where you are you can subscribe and I’ll send it to you directly!

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