My trick to avoiding overwhelm

I get overwhelmed pretty easily — especially at work.

It’s always been this way for me… Probably a combination of my high-strung personality and pedigree of anxiety issues.

At one of my last real jobs I worked off of physical tickets. When I’d come in the morning, I’d have a box overflowing with tickets, and it was always way more than I could finish in a day.

That would instantly start my day off on the wrong foot, knowing that no matter how hard I worked, I would never see the finish line and whatever was left would just end up piled on top of tomorrow’s equally impossible list.

Knowing my list was unlikely to get finished actually gave me paralysis on getting anything done (and some days I would just sit and stare at it). What is the point in trying if I know I won’t succeed? 

When I transitioned into my agency, and things started to take off, I saw that same pattern emerging.

To avoid the same burnout in my agency that I had at all my previous “real” jobs, I knew I had to handle this differently.

My project management system (based on an Airtable board similar to this) prioritizes tasks according to their due date; “today”, “tomorrow”, “future”.

Before I leave for the day, I get the next two day’s slate of work lined up — and the key (for me anyway) is making it something achievable.

I know myself, and I know I will quickly become discouraged if I don’t get some “wins”, so I purposefully don’t schedule in more than I know I can finish.

Assigning myself work that I know I can’t get done seems foolish… If I know it’s impossible, then why would I burden myself with it?

Instead, I try to schedule my days to be busy, but not unattainable.

What I’ve found is that in the end, it actually makes me more productive.

As the feeling of accomplishment builds, so does the momentum. Most days I end up working on “tomorrows” list as well (and some days I even completely finish “tomorrow”), but feeling like I’m working ahead is a lot less stressful than working from behind.

A lot of this is just psychological — I know that — but it’s made a world of difference.

You may not have the same anxiety and paralysis when it comes to a huge pile of work — but there’s no doubt you have things that are a constant source of stress. What are the conditions that cause that stress, and how can you avoid it?

The great thing about owning your own business is that you get to make the rules. How can you change the rules to set yourself up for success? Maybe it’s as simple as “tricking” yourself like I do.

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