My 3 Step Process to Fighting Overwhelm (Try it, it works!)

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Building a new freelance business is tough.

I don’t know how many posts I’ve started with that one line, but I bet it’s at least a few. And when I asked the 30 Days or Less private Facebook group what they are currently struggling the most with in pursuing their freelance writing goals, the overwhelming answer was:

“Feeling overwhelmed!”

And I get it. Boy do I get it! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself in the very same position.

But instead of throwing my hands up and quitting, I intentionally implemented this three-step approach to fighting overwhelm. I hope it helps you too!

1. Take a Step Back

If you let it, overwhelm will kill your “new and excited to conquer the world” buzz. It’s kind of the next step in the process of committing to something new.

But instead of letting overwhelm (or fear, which it really is) get the best of you and tempt you into quitting, take a step back first to refocus. Ask yourself why you’re doing this in the first place? Is your motivation strong enough to keep you going through good times and bad?

If it’s not, then maybe freelancing isn’t the right business for you. Or maybe you just need to figure out a new, more compelling why.

Life’s too short to do something you don’t really enjoy. Figure out if this is the right thing for you. If it is, move on to step number two.

2. Cut What’s Not Important

Provided a freelance career is what you really want, you need to compile a list of all of the things that you think you need to do. Use a pen and paper, a Google doc or a Trello board (my new favorite).

Screenshot 2015-07-07 at 10.46.31 AM

Then analyze each thing on your list to see if it’s really necessary (now) to get you closer to your goal or if it just feels urgent and necessary. If it’s not, either put it on a “future board” (I tend to not actually ever get to these things and then realize they weren’t really important in the first place) or delete the task altogether.

Once you’re left with the things you actually need to do to move forward, assign them a deadline. I like to do this by assigning each task to a day of the current or following week. Then I have a to do list that I can focus on and limit new seemingly urgent distractions (cough, email, cough).

I also like to keep my daily to do list to 10 tasks or less. I find that if there are any more, it feels overwhelming to me to even start my day (“There’s just too much to do! How will I ever get it all done?”). You can always add things later or have a bonus list for when you complete what you’ve got assigned.

3. Take the Very Next Step

Now that you have a to do list filled only with the things that you need to accomplish to get closer to your ultimate goal of having a successful freelance business, take the very next step. Pick the top to do from that day’s task list and dive in!

If you’re having trouble getting started, try the Pomodoro method. There’s nothing like a timer to get your rear in gear!

Once that task is done, cross it off, take a moment to bask in your success and then move on to tackling the very next thing. Rinse and repeat.

Bonus Step: Stop Reading Everything!

Honestly, the plethora of information available today (much of it for free) is what attributes to most of our overwhelm (IMO). We’re worried that we’re not doing the right (or perfect) thing, that we’re wasting our time or not doing it correctly.

But here’s the thing, there’s no perfect roadmap. Just because something worked for someone else, doesn’t guarantee that it’ll work for you. Don’t let this prevent you from trying someone’s method. Just don’t keep moving from method to method without giving the first one a fair try first.

If you’re currently taking a course (mine or otherwise), finish it. Don’t move on to the next shiniest object, article or course. There’s no magic fix. You took that particular course for a reason. See it through and see what you can implement from it. Note: You don’t have to implement everything!

In Conclusion

Feelings of overwhelm are real. Real frustrating!

Overwhelm (and many of our other excuses) are often fear in disguise. We’re afraid of failure (or success) or of not doing it perfect.

Instead of letting fear paralyze you, take a step back, cut what’s not important and take the very next step. Stop reading EVERYTHING and focus on finishing the method that you’re currently committed to.

We can do this. We are strong and determined. Overwhelm (or fear) can’t keep us down!

What’s your very next thing?

Photo credit: Austin Ban via Unsplash

10 thoughts on “My 3 Step Process to Fighting Overwhelm (Try it, it works!)”

  1. I have to do the cutting back periodically. I am definitely guilty of signing up for too many courses, then getting nothing done. I realized this week that my primary purpose and ultimate goal is to get at least one of my novels finished and ready for publication so, to that end, I’ve done some house cleaning (figurative as well as literal) and gone back to basics. What this means for me is that the only course I’m focusing on is Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways writing course and the only project I’m giving my attention to is the revision of my first NaNoWriMo novel (started back in 2013!). Other than that, regular blog posts both on my regular blog, Leaps of Faith and in the writing blog on my website will more than fill the rest of my time.

    These were some tough decisions given other things happening in my life, but since I’ve made them, the pain and tension in my shoulder has been significantly reduced, I’m sleeping better and am finally making some forward progress again.

    Thanks, Gina, for putting this information out there if for no other reason than people like me who need to be reminded now and then that we don’t need to try to do it all!

  2. Thanks for sharing such a tangible example Sheri! Can’t wait to hear how it works out for you over the upcoming weeks (you know I’ll ask, right?). You got this!

  3. Ah Gina! You beat me to it but saved me from myself! I spent (too much) time today writing on this very subject, mostly for my own benefit as I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and under-productive. In the end I’m not happy enough with it to post it but I still needed to hear this message. Thank you!!

  4. The one thing I relate to and heartily agree with is Stop Reading Everything! Because of FOMO, I want to subscribe to so many lists and them keep hanging on to emails I haven’t read. I belong to too many membership sites with content I could never consume and I have classes I’ve started and haven’t finished.
    On my to do list today is to look at the the courses I’ve signed up for and haven’t finished and membership sites and start slashing.

    • Awesome Vicky! You can always start a “future list.” Likely, the moment will pass though and you won’t get to much of what you put on there. It’s kind of like putting something in your online shopping cart overnight and seeing if it’s still as appealing in the morning:-). Good luck girl!

  5. Great post, Gina, and spot on! Reading everything was my weakness. I got into that mode because I wanted to learn as much as possible, but it can be a black hole that sucks you. Last month I went through and cleaned out all the free reports I’d downloaded, keeping only the good ones (yours was one of them), and unsubscribed bloggers who I didn’t connect with to reduce the emails filling my inbox.

    My next step is finishing eight articles due the end of this week, and updating my website.

  6. Loved this article, Gina! I agree that not everything online needs to be read (or even skimmed). It’s a tough habit to break, but I’m working on it. I also struggle with feelings of guilt or inadequacy if I don’t check every single item off my to-do list everyday, which is why I also love the idea of prioritizing each day’s tasks. I pick the most important three, and anything beyond that is gravy!

    I often write about the freelancing life on my business’s blog, as well. Feel free to check it out–maybe we can brainstorm together someday. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Gina–great advice!

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