What is overwhelm? 

Overwhelm is an emotional state that happens when we are not able to process the volume of information that is in front of us. It often causes us to freeze, avoid, or end up doing something altogether different than what we intended. You might feel it in the pit of your stomach, you might not be able to think clearly, or it can make it difficult to make decisions. You’ve probably experienced a moment where the phone is ringing, you have a project to start, you really need to get back to a client, and you just feel stuck or frozen.


How are overwhelm and procrastination related? 

Procrastination is often triggered by the feeling of being overwhelmed. It is the act of delaying something that has a deadline, for something that provides short-term emotional relief.  Procrastination causes problems when it becomes a habit and perhaps the primary way you manage stressful situations. For instance, you might always delay updating your bookkeeping until just before the tax filing deadline because this is the way you’ve always done it and it sort of works. The emotional part of your brain competes with the higher-level thinking and planning parts and wins out.


Why do procrastination and overwhelm matter? 

Procrastination and overwhelm matter because they keep you in a perpetual state of feeling bad. You get overwhelmed, procrastinate, and then feel even more overwhelmed. This cycle can prevent you from taking that vacation you’ve been dreaming of or even that good night’s sleep that you desperately need. You give into activities that help you feel better in the short-term and don’t move forward on longer-term activities. Not only does this keep you in a constant state of stress and exhaustion but it can also cause you to stop trusting yourself since you rarely do what you plan to do. Projects keep slipping onto next week’s To Do list, making you feel even more hopeless. And the cycle continues... 


How do we solve the problem? 

In my work with overwhelmed small business owners and professionals, I’ve found that the following steps can help:


1. Recognize what triggers overwhelm.

The first step is to start to recognize which specific situations overwhelm you. Be very specific. Try writing them down on paper for even more clarity. 


2. Create a positive conversation with yourself that supports moving forward.

Be intentional about changing the mental conversation from “I’m never going to get this done” to “I can take one step forward right now.” Changing the focus to what IS doable frees up energy so you can take steps forward.


3. Set up routines and your environment to support productivity.

Have a flexible plan for your week that includes routines that handle the mundane yet important stuff. That way in a maxed-out week when emotions are high, you won’t have to wonder when the laundry or the grocery shopping will get done.  You’ll already have a plan for that. 


Don’t skip the time off. One of the paradoxical things about reducing procrastination and overwhelm is to make sure that you are taking time off and getting enough sleep.  A tired brain is more likely to get hijacked by emotions. Be deliberate about scheduling time off and getting a good night’s sleep. 


Take control of your physical environment. Our physical environments predict most of our behavior... something like up to 80%. Are you surrounded by beeping electronics and noisy family members while you are trying to focus on work? Turn off alerts and limit your interactions for at least some part of the day. 


4. Get support. 

None of us is an island. Asking for the support that you need is a huge part of breaking through procrastination. Find the right kind of support for you. This might mean asking a coworker for some accountability or asking your team to take over certain tasks. This is the time to identify and lean on your support system; many of the people around you are happy to help if you ask.  


5. Reward yourself for small steps forward. 

This process takes time. Procrastination and overwhelm are emotional management issues and you’ll need to keep practicing using these steps. It really helps to keep rewarding yourself for small steps forward and to get support along the way.


This article was written in partnership with wiseHer - a technology platform that provides on-demand expert advice for small businesses and women to accelerate their business or career.  

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