I'm not sure if it's just the natural resting state of over thinker and worriers, or if it comes as part of the freelance/solopreneur package, but the feeling of being overwhelmed is a pretty common experience for me. Sometimes I think it's just because I tend to work better when I have a little pressure applied - but whether I have plenty of client work or I'm taking on other opportunities at break-neck speed, I think I secretly push myself into this state with alarming regularity.
At times it can get too much, and I've started to use the ideas below to simplify, prioritise, and focus:
+ LISTS AND PRIORITIES
I know it seems a little self-explanatory - but in my case, it is more about compiling every single task I've created for myself on a big google sheet to-do list, and choosing only two or three to tackle a day (depending on their complexity). I split my giant to-do list into different sections (client work, general business, store/products, blog, and life). I also know that I work better in the morning than the afternoon, so I try and choose one task that will require full-brain activity, and another that can be done when I'm listening to music and focussing a little less after 2pm each day.
This list and de-prioritize system seems to keep the overwhelm away - because if everything task is documented I don't need to keep track in my mind and can instead focus on the tasks I've prioritised. That way I am getting through my workload in small bite-size pieces, I feel great about getting each task done, and it doesn't let anything fall through the cracks to be forgotten.
+ A MORNING ROUTINE
For the last month I've been implementing and editing my morning routine into exactly what I need to work at my best. This will be different for everyone, but I've found that there are elements I enjoy (tea in bed, leisurely breakfast, walking Iggy) and some I don't (high intensity exercise) that in a particular combination create the best environment for a productive day. I'll write a longer post about rituals and routines soon with some more information about how to create your own best daily structure - but in the meanwhile start playing around with how you begin your day to kick it off with the best intentions. The more you practice, the more momentum your routines will build, and you'll be able to continue to craft the best routines and schedules for your productivity.
+ LIMIT EMAIL AND SOCIAL MEDIA
This is a hard one for me. I thought it was relatively harmless to quickly check Instagram, Facebook Groups and Twitter occasionally throughout the day when the desire arose - but after tracking my time in 15 minute intervals for a week I realised just how much time I was wasting jumping into social media off and on throughout the day. I don't have a clear solution to this one, but I've found in the past few weeks putting my phone in another room, turning off all notifications on my computer, and making a point to check email and social media at particular times in the day (usually before I start work, when I am about to head to lunch, and at the end of the day) it makes it a little easier not to stray.
+ PRIORITISE YOURSELF
Because of the ever-increasing list of tasks, projects, and processes - we tend to let other important activities that balance our life fall off the radar. You may find yourself putting off your morning run to get a jump on work, postponing coffee with your friend to get a one more thing done, or never picking up a book from the pile next to your bed. I've not solved this dilemma either - but two little things have helped immensely. I've scheduled the activities I know I need to do but always put off (ahem - high intensity exercise) into my non-negotiable morning routine - that way I've finished before I realise I've started, and I don't have the chance to postpone. And when it comes to things like meeting up with friends or have coffee, I'll try to schedule them into the times that I am least productive anyway (late afternoon) so I don't feel like I am missing out on productive work time.
+ GIVE IT PERSPECTIVE
Yes, in the moment, it's easy to think that you if you don't send off your project off early, get the inbox down to zero, mail that present to your friend, and get all those invoices out immediately the world around you will crumble. It might, but I'm betting unless you are some kind of international peace keeper, that everything will be okay if all of those tasks aren't completed on the spot. It can be easy to get emotional and carried away when your tired and panicky, but if you take a breath, relax your shoulders, and take each tasks on one-by-one it will all happen.
Hopefully these tips might help the next time your feeling overwhelmed, and please let me know in the comments if you give them a try, or have any other ideas to help keep it all at bay.
Image: David Shrigley, Untitled (How Are You Feeling?), 2006