It’s inevitable. That disorienting feeling washes over you at the worst times. You have too much to do, you’re burning through cash, you don’t have much help, and others’ outsized expectations make your head spin and your stomach churn.
I’m not sure I’ve ever met a founder who hasn’t experienced the intense feeling of entrepreneurial overwhelm at one time or another.
The question isn’t how to get through this paralyzing feeling, it’s how to overcome it more quickly so you can focus and get back on track.
You have probably read or heard the same trite advice time and again. Get some sleep. Exercise. Meditate. Eat some fruits and vegetables. Take a break. Great advice, but not overly helpful.
I’ve interviewed and or coached over 200 Founding CEOs. Here’s 7 things that have worked for them:
1. Write down your why
Dan Shapiro, CEO and Co-founder of Glowforge, always starts his board meetings by reading the company mission, out loud. He says it annoyed his investors at first, but they gradually appreciated the constant reminder of the company’s why. They needed to be reminded regularly. So do you.
The key is to write it down and post it in multiple places. Use some index cards and tape it to your laptop, your bathroom mirror, the inside of your refrigerator, and or the dashboard of your car. You might be surprised how helpful it is to keep your mind focused on your mission in such a visible manner.
“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.” – William Barclay
2. Discard your hidden distractions
Distractions rob us of our energy. They are like appliance vampires that are constantly plugged in and cost you big electric bills.
Put the book piles away, throw out the garbage, and shred piles of unimportant paper. Turn off watch chimes, email alerts, smartphone push notifications, Facebook, and the endless electronic noise that add up to pretty significant stress triggers.
Just get rid of the pointless physical and digital junk that surrounds you and you will start to feel better almost immediately.
3. Prune your people tree
We all have them. There are people in your life that take more from you than they give. They could be a friend, a relative, family member, or even an employee that creates that pit in your stomach every time you hear their voice or see their number appear on your phone.
Temporarily remove these people from your life. Let them know that you’ll be busy over the next 2-3 weeks and will be unavailable to meet, talk, or engage. Don’t accept that coffee appointment, lunch date, or Skype chat. Prune these people from your life, just long enough for you to regain your balance.
4. Banish your brain baggage
It’s common to be told to “talk to someone” when you are stressed or feeling overwhelmed. Fine advice, but not altogether helpful for entrepreneurs. What you need is help getting stuff out of your brain. As an entrepreneur you accumulate a bunch of junk in your head: new ideas, people to meet, tasks to complete, research to conduct, etc.
Get someone to facilitate just two 30 minute sessions with you. They ask you questions. They capture your responses on a flipchart or whiteboard. They take pictures of this info and upload it into your Evernote app.
It’s hard to do this yourself. You just need someone to help you clean out some of the brain junk and brain gems so they can find a temporary home outside your head while your mind rejuvenates. This works wonders.
5. Refocus your resources
Entrepreneurs are action takers. You like to take care of things yourself. You forget to refocus the resources around you to work on those things that you don’t like to do. When you have to spend hours on things that you don’t enjoy, it’s often a huge contributor to the snowball effect of overwhelm.
If you don’t have a huge team, ask a family member or friend for some temporary help. See if your co-founder can handle those tasks that don’t bring you joy. Find someone on your team who needs some professional development and really likes doing those things you hate. Just try to refocus your resources in a way that gets you working on what you love, even if it’s just one thing.
6. Switch up your surroundings
It’s truly amazing what happens when you work from a different location, even a different corner of your office. Your entire perspective begins to shift. Go to the lobby of your building. Use your phone as a hotspot and work from a park for a few days. Hang out on the rooftop. Set up shop at a local museum café. Work from your local library for a week. Coffee shop hop for a week. Meet with your team on the top of a local hill, mountain, pond boat launch, or even a sandy beach.
Just find unique surroundings that stimulate your brain differently long enough for your body and mind to relax, recharge, and remove the familiar sights and sounds that remind you of the typical places where overwhelm occurs.
“I think it’s important to get your surroundings as well as yourself into a positive state – meaning surround yourself with positive people, not the kind who are negative and jealous of everything you do.” – Heidi Klum
7. Work your one small win
You crave traction. You long for progress. You just want some indicator that your business is headed in the right direction. Give it to yourself. Work toward one small win. Forget the big, lofty, disruptive goals that drive your every conscious thought. Get real and reduce the size of your expectations to one small weekly win that will tell your mind that progress is occurring.
Any number of these small steps can reduce entrepreneurial overwhelm. Implementing all seven will get you there quicker.