I have always thought of myself as a well organised person. You may know that I love a list and I am quite partial to a good spreadsheet. However, lately I think I have been spreading myself too thinly. Sometimes I have so many things buzzing around in my head that it’s hard to focus on those that are the most important. So how can you stop feeling overwhelmed? There is no doubt that writing a list and prioritising what is on there is a good start. But I do this already, so I am clearly missing some tricks. Maybe I am simply trying to do too much? Although I get great satisfaction from crossing things off my list, there is no doubt that I often feel a lot of anxiety when I consider all the things I ‘need’ to achieve.
Being self-employed with more than one stream of income is brilliant in many ways. There is definitely something to be said for not having all of your eggs in one basket. However, it also means lots of small projects on the go at the same time, deadlines that sometimes all arrive at once and a brain that is leaping from one thing to the next without fully focusing on any one thing. It’s not just work either, although that is often the main cause of my sense of being overwhelmed. I also want to redecorate the entire house with no time and little money, have a beautiful garden, exercise regularly, walk the dog twice a day, keep the house clean and tidy and cook good, healthy food. Not to mention that is it also nice to spend time with family and friends or have a day out from time to time! Since I am not superwoman, I decided something has to change. I thought I would ask a bunch of clever and busy people from the UK blogger community what they do to stop feeling overwhelmed when life gets stressful and there is too much going on. You don’t have to be a blogger to find their advice useful and can apply much of this to most life situations I think.
How to stop feeling overwhelmed
Lynne from Mrs Mummypenny is one of the busiest bloggers I know. As a single working parent, to stop feeling overwhelmed she advises you need: “Very clear rules and boundaries. I work really hard on days with no children about, and then do the bare minimum when I have them. Working hours are strict. I try to get everything on my to-do list (I only ever have 3-4 things) done between 5 am and 10 am. I never have more than four meetings a day on a non-child day (and that can include yoga!), and no more than one meeting on a child day. I say no to so much work, and have clear guidelines for the brands I will work with, which makes the no decision easier.”
There seems to be a lot of list writers amongst us. But how you organise your list does seem to matter. Kemi Shobowale from Fine Stewards says, “For me, I write my to-do list the night before. I add a priority score and make sure I add a task from each of my projects so I don’t feel I’ve neglected something. I keep my list short (about 5 items) so I’m not overwhelmed and its a realistic target for me. This helps me focus quicker the next day, especially since I’m home with two kids aged 4 and 1.” Tracey from Mind Over Money Matters makes herself do the tough tasks first: “I have my ‘must do today items’, ‘would love to do but don’t have to’ and ‘have to but don’t really want to do’ things. So my rule is – do the ‘don’t want to dos’ first. Then the ‘have tos’ and then reward yourself with the’ would love tos’. It means the day starts a bit crap but everything gets done, and ends on a high!” Claire Roach from Money Saving Central schedules her work around the family too. “I set a task list every day, and ensure that I have 3.30 until 7 pm off every evening in my schedule so that I can get the kids home from school and focus on them until bedtime. Then once they are sorted and all my prepping is done for the next day I can log back in and work (if I haven’t finished the day’s tasks). I have to be strict with myself because I find it so easy to get distracted”.
Review time spent
Emma from Sunshine and Rain says, “Regularly checking in with my work load and myself works best for me. I do have a habit of getting excited about new ideas and projects, so every week or so I’ll take a look at how I’ve been spending my time and work out whether I’ve been productive and made progress or diluted my efforts due to attempting too much. Then I’ll adjust to suit!
Aimee Starck from Money Saving Aimee uses the time management tool of time blocking. “I set certain time blocks – or am trying to. For example, with Pinterest, I try and do what I call a ‘power hour’. I focus purely on that, no distractions, and I find I get a lot more done then if I was to keep coming back to it.” With time blocking you need to review the week ahead and roughly block off chunks of time to achieve each necessary task. This way, you don’t have to constantly make decisions about what to focus on. You just follow the schedule and work on one task at a time. You can read more about time blocking here. Apparently it works for Elon Musk, so I am definitely giving this one a try! Jennifer Graudenz from Monethalia has a tip to help you block that time: “Having a nice good quality diary really helps me. Because it’s so pretty, I like looking at it which at the same time makes me more aware of the time.”
The Pareto Principle
Martyna Sroka–Lalewicz from Money Saving Girl follows the Pareto Principle to organise her time. She says, “Twenty per cent of my work brings eighty per cent of the results, so I set up clear goals to ensure I don’t spread my time to thinly on things which are irrelevant.” The Pareto Principle shows that 80% of the effect results from 20% of the effort. Therefore, the crucial part of this is to identify the crucial 20% of the work you do! The principle is explained in depth here.
The temptation if you are self-employed, or if you are a people pleaser working for someone else even, is to show your willingness and enthusiasm by saying yes to everything. But if you want to stop feeling overwhelmed, learning when to say no is crucial. With the best will in the world, you simply can’t do everything without getting stressed and burnt out. Faith Archer from Much More With Less also tries to focus on what really matters. She says, “I don’t think I am remotely good at time management, so I focus on well paid work with deadlines and say no to lower paid projects or to work from companies I don’t believe in. I went freelance for a better work/life balance and don’t want to be working all hours. I should say though that I am incredibly lucky to have that choice. Cutting our living costs and clearing any debt means I can afford to turn some work down and I appreciate not everyone can.” Dan from The Financial Wilderness agrees: “Learning to say no has been important – not a skill I used to have but I did learn that if you stand up for your boundaries well, people actually generally respect you for it and I’ve found it more empowering than anything. Takes a while to build that skill though!” Pete Chatfield from Household Money Saving also knows where to draw the line and avoids agreeing to too much work. “I’m definitely a say ‘no’ person. After almost four years, I still enjoy blogging because I don’t take on too much. Yes, I could earn more and grow a lot quicker, but I don’t want the stress. If it started to feel too much like work, I would probably give up!”
Financial Expert Si Oates has the same trouble that I do, and can easily spread himself too thinly. “I’ve found that by following my excitement and energy I’ll start too many disparate tasks and never fully complete projects. The great irony is that its usually the prospect of generating more income that causes me to go down each different path. “So I like to visualise a simple business like a food truck or a window cleaner. They don’t build their business by creating 10 mediocre dishes or lots of ancillary home services. They just focus on their skill and use this to create the most value. When I reflect upon this, I’m reminded that my time would almost always be better spent on editing and improving my existing content, than covering a brand new topic or building a new section of the website.”
Make time for relaxation
I think it is super important to make time for rest and relaxation, which is why I start my days with some yoga. Then it doesn’t get sidelined or forgotten about. Emma from beemoneysavvy.com agrees: “I have to schedule in relax time. It’s so easy with today’s technology to be constantly tuned into work. But making time to relax with your family, partner or just by yourself is key to staying motivated and not allowing yourself to burn out. I write relax time (away from my phone) into my schedule and even add self-care activities onto my to-do list.” Consumer champion Jane from ladyjaney.co.uk also struggles with spinning too many plates and believes that scheduling in down time is essential: “What I do find useful is to make sure I have some much needed switch off time at the end of each day just for me. It’s probably the only thing I schedule in properly! A bit of self care can go a long way in a busy day. And of course there’s always wine, thank goodness!” For anyone who struggles to do nothing, Emma Drew goes for the idea of ‘productive rest’. She says, “With blogging and side hustles I can easily find myself working on them until late into the night because I am so passionate about them. I have set working hours and I am learning how to tell when I am getting burned out. I try to have ‘productive rest’, which isn’t just watching Netflix but seeing friends, baking, crafting or exercising. Time away from working that is still productive. Of course there is also Netflix time too!”
Change your posture and breathe
As a trained yoga teacher, I know the power of a slow deep breath or ten (preferably the latter). However, when I am stressed I still have to remind myself! Being quiet for a few moments and simply breathing slowly and deeply can do wonders for your anxiety levels. Changing your posture can also help you to stop feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes we fail to notice our shoulders hunching and the muscle tension building up in our bodies. A good yoga session will make a huge difference to your state of mind, but failing that, just consciously relaxing, lifting your head and dropping your shoulders can really help.
Focus on the positive
It sounds too easy to actually work, but finding small things to be grateful for and switching your mindset to focus on the positive can have an incredibly healing effect on your mind and your body. So, for example, if you are stuck in a traffic jam or a queue, be grateful for the opportunity to have some thinking time or to listen to some nice music. Instead of seeing the mass of weeds in your garden, be thankful that you have one. On my way into work doing a job I disliked, I would find the things I was grateful for and focus on those. I was grateful to have a steady income, thankful for my lovely work colleagues, happy that I could drive in the rain rather than wait at a bus stop, etc. This is something I still do. There is always something to be grateful for. This article from the Huffington Post explains some of the science behind why positive thinking works. How do you stop feeling overwhelmed when it feels as if you have too much to do or expectations of you are too great? I hope some of these tips are helpful, but if you want some more ideas you might also like this post, 8 easy ways to relieve stress.