How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed + be More Productive

Despite what most people seem to think (am I the only one whose friends think running a business means I sit in my pajamas all day eating macarons while catching up on The Bachelor?), being a business owner often means long hours, intense stress, and never-ending to-do lists. Because I also happen to have a family, it means I’m constantly being pulled in different directions, while attempting to juggle being the best mom ever, with making my guy feel important, and managing the 76 moving parts of my business. I won’t get into being a friend, or a daughter, or a woman that enjoys facials at the spa and pedicures, or a responsible dog owner.

Sometimes the enormity of all the things I need to do in a day, and all the things other people think I should do in a day, is enough to make me want to give in to the overwhelm and hide in bed all day, ignoring my responsibilities completely.

Inner chaos creates outer chaos, so when we’re feeling overwhelmed it can be impossible to get our shiznat done!

A while back I decided that I simply couldn’t live in a constant state of overwhelm anymore, so I made some drastic changes and I can happily say my days usually feel less frazzled and more fulfilled. Are you dying to stop the struggle and begin attacking your business like a boss? It starts with giving overwhelm the boot, and I’m going to show you how!

Think about your priorities

Evaluating how you spend your time can be an eye opening exercise in holy crap, I had no idea that took up so much time, allowing you to essentially add more hours to your day (and give overwhelm the boot!)  by nixing the fluff.

Start by making a list of what I like to call your non-negotiables. The things that, no matter what, are your top priories, and be specific! Don’t just say things like family, work, friends, because those are such blanket statements! Be clear on the why behind each priority. I’ve essentially created a mission statement for my priorities and mine looks like this:

ditchoverwhelmmission

Now that you have your non-negotiables figured out, begin making choices based on if things will help you improve or enrich those priorities.

Keep in mind, just because something could be viewed as a potential time suck, doesn’t mean it has to be nixed! My 93 year old granny means the world to me, and I spend about an hour on the phone with her Monday through Friday. An hour! Seems like a total waste, right? Only, family is a top priority, so while I could get a blog post done in that time or have an hour call with a client, connecting with her is not something I would dream of eliminating, because my relationship with her is a huge priority.

When you say “yes”, be all in

Often overwhelm comes from feeling like we’re being pulled in 50 directions. You’re trying to work on your website, but your partner wants you to watch a movie, your friends are texting you, and a client just sent you an email.

For me, overwhelm also creeps in when I know I’m neglecting a priority. When I’m playing Uno with my daughter, but keep checking emails, and telling her to hold on, I feel like crap! Life isn’t enjoyable when you’re always giving half of yourself to everything you’re doing.

So, focus on being all in whenever you say yes to something. If you’re going to take your kids to the park, leave your phone in the car and play. When you and your partner go out to dinner, be in the moment and don’t talk shop. If you’ve carved out an hour to work on a new blog post, close all your other tabs, turn off the TV, and do not allow anything to disturb you until that hour is up. Set timers if you need to!

By living in the moment and giving things your undivided attention, not only will you get more done, faster, but you’ll feel GOOD. Great even! 

Fifteen minutes of saying yes to my daughter when she asks me to play, and giving her my all, feels about a zillion times better than playing with her for an hour while I’m also checking email and running to switch out the laundry.

Whatever you’re doing, aim to give it 100% and do it with purpose, creativity, love, and laser-like focus!

Say “no” to things that aren’t a good fit

That two letter word needs to become your BFF. If someone asks you to do something that you know doesn’t align with your top priorities, and you know your schedule would feel overwhelming if you said yes, don’t do it!

Simply say, That sounds great, but I just can’t do that right now and be done! People don’t need explanations. You’re not a horrible person if you can’t go to your cousin’s kids birthday party, or drinks with a friend, or because you don’t have the time to go feed your neighbor’s snake twice a day for a week while they’re in Maui.

If you’re not sure on the spot, say let me think about that and get back to you. This has made a giant difference in my life, because now I glance at my schedule and can really decide if adding something to my plate would be the best idea. Gone are the days of trying to hit three birthday parties, and a BBQ, and a Baptism all in one weekend. Those are the worst! You plan all these fun things, but when they’re all crammed together they all feel more like chores. Now we pick one place to go, we park it there, enjoy some wine, and don’t feel like we’re spending the whole time staring at the clock to ensure we get to our next destination on time.

This is especially helpful for work related opportunities! If someone asks me to do an interview, but their business has nothing to do with mine and their ideal clients are so not the same as my own, and I’m already swamped as is, I say no. Even though saying yes feels like the right thing to do. Despite the fact that I want people to like me and think I’m so nice and helpful. If I did the interview, I’d be spending an hour preparing, and an hour doing the interview, and going back to check to see if anyone had emailed in questions….instead of getting my own work done, or taking time to recharge, or reading bedtime stories and kissing my daughter goodnight.

Saying yes to things that aren’t aligned with your priorities means you’re inadvertently saying no to something that is. 

It would be nice if we could just spend our days doing what we love, and ditch the rest, but truth is every day there will be things on your to do list that, even though they DO fit with your priorities, they’re not enjoyable.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to work smarter, not harder

Create a Schedule

When you have a clear schedule to stick to, things can get done much more effectively! This also allows you to properly gauge if you have time to schedule in something extra, or if you need to be really strict with your time. I even schedule in buying fresh flowers each week, because it’s something small that could be easily overlooked, but sitting at my desk and seeing the flowers makes me SO happy. Grab our fun printable planners below!

Automation and Outsourcing

Instead of sitting down every Monday to write a new email to your list, write several and load them into an automated email system like MailChimp, so they can be sending out behind the scenes every Monday morning, even when you’re at yoga, or are in a meeting, or are watching Netflix. Make a list of things you can outsource (editing, grocery shopping, customer service, cleaning, etc.) and begin focusing more intentionally on the things you love.

Prioritize Your Lists

I’m a to do list freak, and it used to make me feel horrible when things didn’t get done. Now, I label each thing in order of importance so I can be sure to get the important things done first, and if little things like returning library books or changing the color of a font in some freebie I’d created don’t get done, I don’t sweat it. I just keep it on the list to get done the next day.

Create Office Hours, and Tell Everyone About Them

When you run a business, the line between work and home life can blend. By creating office hours and sticking to them, not only will you free up your time so that you’re not always frantic and feeling at the mercy of your business, but the people you deal with for your business (readers, clients, customers, whoever!) will respect your time and have reasonable expectations. I have office hours listed in my email signature, and set an out of office response every evening and on the weekends so that people know not to expect to hear from me during my off hours.

Be the Boss, and the Worker Bee

When you’re wearing your boss hat, and are setting deadlines and making goals, be fierce. Don’t get lax with your deadlines, because there’s not anyone holding you accountable. When you’re your own boss it can be easy to push things aside, and getting sidetracked is a constant struggle. Don’t fall into the trap! Understand when it’s time to be the boss, and when it’s time to be the worker, and get things done.

There’s no magic spell for getting it all together, or giving overwhelm the kiss off, but by focusing on your priorities and the why behind each of them, it will make designing your business (and your life!) around those things so much easier!

How do you stay organized when the to-do list gets too long? What are your secrets to being a productivity super star? I’d love to hear your tips and ideas – be sure to share them in the comments below!

Author: Kimberly Haydn

Kim is a business and branding strategist determined to help female business owners run successful, profitable businesses that are not only stress-free, but fun. She is passionate about finding ways to work smarter, not harder, so she can spend more time with her growing family. Kim is a self-proclaimed organizational queen that couldn’t live without Lip Smackers chap stick, fresh flowers or dark chocolate. Her true obsession lies in branding; she is every business owner’s biggest cheerleader!

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  • Thanks, Kim! This has helped me to vision how to channel my work, thoughts and school together. I usually get overwhelmed by the to-dos and sidetracks. I hope that your piece can put my life on track and make me organized.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the tips, Tochi! It sounds like you have a lot on your plate! Cheers to staying organized, and getting lots done (plus making time to relax once in a while, you deserve it!)!

  • Preach it, sista! I recently started working from home and the first 1-2 weeks were a chaotic mess. I consider myself a highly organized person (and a planner addict), so having my schedule all over the place was freaking me out! I did exactly what you did – start scheduling everything. Still working on perfecting it, but it’s helped big time! You’re totally right in saying you have to make time for what matters and be there 100%.

    • First off- congratulations on your new endeavor! Working from home can be super stressful, but it’s also absolutely amazing! I hope that as you go you find your perfect formula for getting work done, sans distraction, and enjoying the time when you’re “off the clock” without letting work creep in! Thanks for stopping by, Melissa!

  • These are all great I can’t wait to try them all out !
    I’m going to write my words to live by this weekend and hang it by my computer to remind me not to waste time on things that are not a priority!
    Thinking I’ve been doing to do lists all wrong going to try prioritizing them from now on!
    Off to play uno with my kids ( I love you and your daughter play too!)
    because I’m off the clock and starting tomorrow I’m putting my hours on my website and my emails ( that’s brilliant). Can’t wait to read your next blog

    • Thanks, Nicole! I hope that having those words near you will be a good reminder and will help you stay focused! Uno is the best! Go kick that little lady’s behind- fingers crossed for lots of +4’s :)

  • I’ve just had to bookmark this! How I feel right now summed up in a nutshell. Lots of amazing tips I need to implement asap!

  • Hi Kimberly,
    Thank you for all the tips and thoughts about organizing personal life and running your own business. I really loved reading it, partly because prioritizing is exactly what I recently decided to do. What you say here makes me even more sure about the decisions I made. Oh, and the story about playing Uno with your daughter while checking your emails, so familiar! It feels so much better to just shut the laptop, put away the phone and really play with my children!
    I’m still a terrible planner though so your ideas about working smarter, not harder do come in handy :)

    • Thank you so much for the love, Nina! I’m so happy to hear you’ve decided to get clear on your priorities, and that this reaffirmed your decision. :) I hope that you find your groove; enjoy every second you have with your little ones, sans distraction!

  • I like your formula. I am planning an Amazon FBA business and I am going to need all the advice I can get. I need to learn focus on this business to live the way my husband and I would like to live. Thank you again.

    • That’s awesome Karen! Thanks for sharing. Starting a business is soo difficult but with planning and setting boundaries, you can definitely make it happen :) Good luck on your new adventure!

  • Written as accurately and descriptively of what happens on a whole while overwhelmed constantly. Thank you for being one of few who actually wrote a solution To the given problem!
    Even better than that is that each solution has all been scientifically proven to wotk if you put the efforts in to at least try. Awesome thank you

    • Hey Nina! Thanks for those kind words about the article. We totally agree that taking steps to become less overwhelmed are definitely worth the effort :)

  • I can’t remember the last time I didn’t feel overwhelmed… and I do exactly what you said, I say to heck with it all and watch tv and eat popcorn. I get depressed about it and only do half what needs to be done so then I’m more overwhelmed the next day. I finally decided to take control and get on track. This post is relate-able and so helpful. I will start tomorrow (bed time now) getting my priorities straight, including me, and making my list. Thank you so much for the help! ♥

    • Oh yes! I totally know that feeling. Sometimes if I force myself to go for a walk or work at a coffee shop it helps my brain “defunk” haha! Good luck with your future tasks :)