The Only 3 Lists You Need to Tackle Overwhelm

Recently, a newbie woman entrepreneur asked me, “When does starting your own business stop feeling like a sprint and start feeling like a marathon?”  After I stopped laughing, I told her that, after 18 years as an entrepreneur, I’d let her know when I got there.

When we start out in business, we are buoyed by exhilaration and drive.  Everything is new and exciting, we’re learning what we’re made of and we’re making something for ourselves.  That “new business smell” is intoxicating and it keeps us on a high as we put in the long hours and intense focus needed to birth our new venture.

As time goes on though, the work becomes….work.  We have to implement systems, tackle payment issues, deal with difficult clients.  Maybe a project goes sideways, or your website crashes.  The everyday-ness of running your business can sometimes be, well, boring.

Add to that the demands of being a mom, a partner, a daughter, and a friend.  Sometimes things come up – good and bad – that pull our attention and energy away from our business.  A sick parent.  A daughter who gets the lead in the school musical.  A husband who’s travel schedule suddenly increases.

And, yet, even when our focus is required elsewhere, we still have to give attention to our business in order to maintain our success. And it can be a struggle to stay motivated. This is the time when it helps to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.  You created this business because you loved it.  You wanted to build something by yourself for yourself.  You’re inspired by what you’ve accomplished and want to see it thrive.

When I start to feel overwhelmed by the demands of running a business – and a life – I can lose track of what’s necessary.  Sometimes it’s hard to figure out the next step to take when the length of my to do list rivals an encyclopedia.  If this sounds like something you struggle with, I’d like to share the system that keeps me moving forward.  First, I brain dump everything that has to get done into one, big, hairy list.  Then I divide that list into three smaller lists:

  • Urgent: These are the things that have a direct, immediate effect on my income or the success of my business.  Client projects, billing and invoicing, proposals…these are the tasks that absolutely, positively cannot be delayed without suffering financial loss.
  • Immediate: These are tasks that will have a direct effect on my income or success, but there’s a little more leeway in timing.  Usually, if I have two to four weeks before a task becomes urgent it goes on this list.
  • Low-Value: (I’ve never come up with a better name for this list – got any ideas?) This list is for those tasks that, you know, would be nice to complete.  They will benefit my business or clients in some way, but they aren’t vital to the current success of my business.

Once I’ve divided my huge list of looming to-dos into these three, more manageable lists, I tackle the urgent tasks first.  Once that list is complete, I move on the immediate tasks and do it all over again. This system means that the most essential projects and tasks get done, and keep me moving ahead on other issues as they become more critical.

Most importantly, remember to take time out to reward yourself for doing the hard work.  Those urgent tasks aren’t always going to be your favorite things to do, so treat yourself for knocking them out.  Take yourself out for a coffee.  Go on a long, relaxing walk with the dog.  Give yourself an extra 15 minutes on Facebook.  Whatever it is that fills your tank, do it.  Replenish your energy regularly by being kind to yourself and you’ll create an incentive for knuckling down and getting shit done.

Listen, sister, overwhelm is the normal state of existence for an entrepreneur.  You’re constantly digging deep and using all your reserves to go, go, go.  It is, most definitely, a sprint. I don’t know any new or established entrepreneurs that haven’t experience significant periods of overwhelm at some point.  Be prepared to push through any crazy busy periods and get the work done by taking control of your to-do list; tackling the most high-value tasks first; and building in some rewards for a job well done.

If you’re having trouble focusing and prioritizing what needs to happen to help you succeed, call me.  We can work together to create an actionable plan that will keep you moving forward to help you and your business thrive.