“I’m overwhelmed.” It’s a phrase we hear often from business owners, especially those who're also parents. There’s always so much to do, so many details to track and deadlines to manage. Nobody wants to feel overwhelmed—but in today's busy world, what can you do about it?
When I work with EMyth clients, most of them feel overwhelmed by their business at one time or another. They usually describe the overwhelm as something that happens to them, a state that occurs so fast and with so much force that they feel it’s totally out of their control.
That always gets my attention. I challenge them, “Out of your control?”
The truth is, the problem is usually the opposite. These owners won’t give up control.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, you probably recognize that you have more things to do than time permits. But if you’re like the business owners we know, you still may feel unable to say "no" to new demands on your time. Letting go of being involved in all the details feels impossible. You want to focus on the strategic work you know you need to be doing, but instead you find yourself running around, driven by a need to make sure everything is done "right." (Sound familiar? You’re not alone!)
A while back, I was working with three clients who were in business together. As we began the call, they all—in one way or another—expressed that they were feeling “overwhelm.” Seeing a chance to expose a blind spot, I asked for a volunteer to be in the discovery hot seat. One of the partners, Jess, agreed.
“What do you get out of being overwhelmed?” I asked him.
Jess paused, then replied, “I get to push myself harder.”
His response had an odd ring to it; I could tell he was looking for a positive spin, and it was obviously a stretch for him.
“That may be,” I said, “but that’s not quite what I’m looking for here.”
I went on:
“I’m not suggesting that you do it on purpose. I’m suggesting that there's something you actually get—like a benefit—from telling others that you’re overwhelmed.”
Take a moment and think about this yourself. How do you respond when someone tells you they’re overwhelmed?
Do you bond with them over it?
Do you praise them for their superhuman efforts?
Do you commiserate over the lack of appreciation for how hard you both work, how the business or project would fall apart without you and how no one understands?
In that meeting, everyone could empathize with Jess. After all, they were dealing with their own overwhelm. You must be too, if you're reading this article. The idea of facing one more “Hey, can you…..?” or “When will you get that done for me?” can have us wanting to shut the door and put up a sign that says "Go away."
But Jess was surprised by what his partners said next.
It turned out that because they understood exactly this position Jess was in, they realized they weren't justified in expecting him to finish every task they'd asked of him on their timeline. By doing all the tactical work in the business, he had no time for the real strategic work. Each business partner had to admit they were all doing the same thing.
The worst thing about overwhelm isn’t even the feeling itself, as unpleasant as it is—it’s the way it distracts a leader. By focusing on their overwhelm and talking constantly about their frazzled state as if that were their biggest problem, these business partners lost sight of the most important thing: moving the business towards its vision.
A recipe for having too much to do
Expecting yourself to do everything in your business is unrealistic. No one person—not even the boss—can do everything exactly when it needs to be done, all the time. Yet I continue to meet more and more owners who fall victim to this expectation of themselves and feel overwhelmed as a result. They believe they don't have a choice.
Last week, I had a new client email me at the last minute to say they were cancelling our coaching meeting. Why? They had to go and install some equipment for a client and there was no way they could work on the systems we were developing, show up for the meeting and ensure that their client job would get completed in time.
How could this be? Why were they the ones installing equipment? Why did they think that was more important than the work we were doing on their business?
It’s sad that most business owners put the business and themselves last on their list—or scratch themselves off entirely—when they should be at the top. After all, isn’t it their business?
But how can you stop doing everything yourself?
Here are three systems to help you:
- Create position agreements and identify accountabilities.
Get down in writing who does what in the business and which position they report to. Some of these positions may be you, but they can’t all be you (if they are, you may need to hire a manager). Writing this down will help you see where your business is too dependent on you—a simple recipe for overwhelm.
- Schedule time for system and strategy development.
If you try to “fit it in” or wait until you get around to it, we both know it will never happen. So make an appointment on your calendar for this important work. One of the perks of having an EMyth coach is that you know there's scheduled time set aside to work on the business. (That is, unless you cancel your session!)
- Meet with employees individually to support accountability and performance.
Talk to your people and make sure everyone is clear on their responsibilities and reports. This makes it less likely that their work and crises will end up back on your plate.
Putting these simple systems into place will instantly make you feel more in control. The positive effects will only improve over time as your team members learn the new way we do it here and begin to own more tasks so you don’t have to.
Join the conversation! What makes you feel overwhelm in your business? What one system could you start using today to make the biggest impact? Comment below!