Overcoming overwhelm in your small business

April 11, 2022

Running a small business can be overwhelming at times. Here are some strategies to help you calm the chaos and take back control.

Overcoming overwhelm in your small business

What causes us to feel overwhelmed?

Being a small business owner is not easy. There are so many hats to wear and so many demands on our time. Juggling between what we want to do and what we need to do, keeping commitments with family, providing an excellent service to our clients, and somehow trying to squeeze in some 'me time' - it's a lot. In fact, 72% of small business owners feel overwhelmed by their roles and responsibilities, so rest assured you're not alone.

Overwhelm raises its head when we feel we cannot cope with the demands of our life. Deadlines, distractions, and information overload are just a few of the things that can trigger this feeling. Getting overwhelmed with work can quickly become a vicious cycle. We begin to feel overwhelmed, which causes us to feel stressed and anxious. This impacts our rational and logical thinking, leading us to catastrophise. We then become more overwhelmed, and if we don't do anything to break the cycle, we start to suffer burnout. 

If you notice you're feeling slightly overwhelmed, it's crucial to get a handle on it to prevent it from escalating.

How can we feel less overwhelmed?

When we're feeling overwhelmed in our business, many people's first instinct is to work harder, frantically trying to get everything done to bring about a sense of calm. There are a few problems with this technique:

  1. You will never get everything done - there is always something that needs doing when you're running a successful business.
  2. Your quality of work will suffer because you're feeling rushed and stressed.
  3. Working longer hours is counterproductive - you will eventually burn out and land straight back at square one.

Rather than frantically trying to get ourselves out of the overwhelming situation, we need to find a way to reduce our feelings of overwhelm.

So here are some steps to limit the overwhelm in your life and reduce your chance of becoming overwhelmed in the future:

Take a Deep Breath

It's a cliche, but it's a cliche for a reason - it works. Science shows that deep breathing can induce a relaxation response in the body, and when we're feeling overwhelmed this is exactly what we need. 

Try out this simple breathing exercise:

Write Down Everything You Have To Do

With so many things running through our minds it's no wonder we can start to feel overwhelmed. One of the best ways to clear our minds is to perform a 'brain dump'.

Brain dumps help us to organise all of the information running around in our minds, and it's easy to get started. Grab a piece of paper and a pen, or open your notes app and write down everything that's on your mind. When I say everything, I mean everything - write down everything you need to do, everything you're trying not to forget and anything you're worried or excited about. Include things from both your business and your home life.

You may find that writing it all down is enough to declutter your mind, in which case go forth and enjoy. If you're still feeling overwhelmed, you can set about organising the results of your brain dump. 

If you've been trying hard not to forget something, set a reminder. If it's something that needs actioning, add it to a physical to-do list (i.e. not the one in your mind). If you're worried about something, set aside some time to process it. If you're excited about something, consider how you can use this excitement to propel you forwards. Organising each item and creating a plan of action will soon reduce your overwhelm.

Review your to-do list and prioritise

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the number of tasks you have to do, take a moment to review your to-do list and prioritise the important and urgent tasks. The Eisenhower Matrix is an excellent tool for this. The Eisenhower Matrix provides us with four categories in which to place our tasks, and it then tells us exactly what to do with the items in each category.

The four categories of the Eisenhower Matrix are:

Categorise each task on your to-do list and tackle them in the order set out above.

Check out this blog for other genius ways to prioritise the items on your to-do list.

Evaluate expectations

It's a lot of pressure to live up to everyone's expectations. On top of this, many of us are guilty of setting unrealistic standards for ourselves. Add these two together, and things can quickly become overwhelming.

This is why it's so important to set realistic expectations for yourself. We cannot be superhuman every day; when you're setting your schedule make sure you're not expecting too much of yourself. And for all the perfectionists out there - it might be time to evaluate the standards you expect from yourself. Show yourself some compassion and think about what you would expect from someone else in your shoes.

When it comes to the expectations of others, be careful not to make assumptions. It is important to clarify expectations with others. Instead of assuming that your client needs something done immediately, why not ask them when they need it by? Let people know when you'll get back to them. If something will realistically take you one or two weeks to complete, just say so. Having clear and open communication about expectations builds stronger relationships and helps to prevent overwhelm from assumed expectations.

Delegate some of your work

There are a lot of moving parts in running a successful business, and it can be overwhelming. Sometimes it's best to focus on what you want to do and need to do while letting others take on the rest.

You don't have to do everything yourself.

Virtual assistants often have wide-ranging skillsets, so they're a great option to get things off your plate and reduce the overwhelm you're experiencing. They can also reduce the overwhelm that comes with growing your business, allowing you to increase your capacity without increasing your working hours or stress levels.

Virtual assistants are experienced in stepping in when you're feeling overworked and overwhelmed. They'll take tasks off your hands straight away, giving you a clear mind, reducing your feeling of overwhelm and remaining there by your side for as long as you need them to keep the overwhelm from resurfacing.

To find out more about virtual assistants, check out this blog or get in touch.

Get organised and minimise distractions

It's hard to stay focused and motivated when you're constantly overwhelmed by distractions. Emails, phone calls, notifications, tasks, and the desire to procrastinate are all competing for your attention; it's no wonder it can all get a bit much at times.

As they say, a tidy desk equals a tidy mind. The first thing to do is clear away any clutter from your desk. Tidy away paperwork, throw away any rubbish, and for those post-it note fiends; place them in a notebook.

Then turn your attention to your computer's desktop. Is it full of documents and shortcuts? Do you really need that many? Place items into folders to keep your desktop neat. The aim is to have as few items on your desktop as possible, so you could even just put them all in one folder. You might be surprised at the effect this can have on reducing your overwhelm when you log on in the morning.

You should also consider your notifications. Muting notifications during certain times of the day will create some focus time for you to get on with some work. Spend a week noting down all of the notifications you receive and ask yourself, "is this really necessary?" Check the notification settings on your apps and remove any you don't need. Unsubscribe from mailing lists that no longer pique your interest to reduce the number of emails notifications you receive.

By limiting the number the things vying for your attention, you will benefit from a clearer mind which can go a long way to reducing the overwhelm you're feeling.

Focus on One Task at a Time

If you ever have those days where you feel like you've been exceptionally busy and yet you've not crossed much of your to-do list, it's likely to be down to multitasking.

Multitasking is not as efficient as it seems. When we're multitasking we're trying to complete multiple things at the same time. In doing so, we repeatedly switch our attention between tasks or leave one task unfinished to continue with the other. Doing this has a detrimental effect on both the quality of our work and the speed at which we get things done.

When we rapidly switch from one task to another, our brains find it difficult to concentrate on the new task because it's still processing thoughts or feelings from the previous tasks. This is called 'attention residue', and it's caused by our brain's limited capacity to process information. This can quickly leave us feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

So, to gain a clear mind and reduce the feeling of everyday overwhelm, concentrate on one task at a time and try to complete it before switching to another task.

Click here to discover the best ways to increase your productivity and get more done in less time.

Take time out 

It can be difficult to take time out when you're running a small business. You might feel that taking time out is a luxury you don't have the time or money for. However, when you take time out from your business, it can help reduce the overwhelm and stress you experience in everyday life and prevent you from burning out.

There are many ways to take time away from your business. It could be a quick 15-minute break to focus on something else, a lunchtime walk to refresh the mind, or switching off from work entirely to enjoy the weekend. It could even be a two-week holiday on a tropical island (we can all dream, can't we?). The point is, finding the right method of downtime will help to reduce the stress and overwhelm that comes with running a small business.


If you're feeling overwhelmed in your business and would like a helping hand, check out our services page to see how we can help to generate some freedom for you.