7 things to do when you’re struggling with work overwhelm

We run our business well. We do a good job, have a healthy roster of clients, and we take on huge responsibilities every single day. We love it. But for better or worse, pushing ourselves harder is both a blessing and a curse (rhyme unintended but happily left in there). Struggling with work overwhelm is practically an inevitable rite of passage for the self-employed.

Work overwhelm is something none of us want to be very honest about. It’s not pretty, and it feels like failure. But we have ALL been there.

What to do when the overwhelm is seriously affecting your happiness and your work? Try these seven things.

Take regular breaks

Not rocket science, but there’s something about working for ourselves that makes a screen break feel kind of treacherous. As if we’ll miss something if we leave our laptops for any amount of time.

Reality check: Almost everything can wait, and the world will definitely go on turning without us. The fact that no one will miss us for 20 minutes makes our ego feel a bit sad, but it’s not a patch on how much better our minds work when we’ve had a short time to recharge.

Download this brilliant Be Focused timer if you’re liable to forget screen breaks. Working with the principles of the Pomodoro technique, it gives you a 25-minute run at the task in hand before telling you that you need to stop for a five-minute break (at which point, get up, stretch, make tea, whatever – just leave the screen!). After four of these cycles you get a 25-minute break which your brain is fully entitled to.

This timer is free, and you can even set your work tasks on it and tick them off when each one is complete to review how much you’re really getting done in a day. It’s a productivity checker and to-do list rolled into one.

Look at your vision board daily

We didn’t even have a vision board until we joined Claire Mitchell’s Awesome Marketing Planner group (better known as ‘The Plannerinas’). All it really comes down to is a reminder of the big things you’re aiming for.

In our case, we want to make enough money to continue living in North London and to be able to afford to eat healthily without having to cut back on our budget every time we shop at Sainsbury’s.

A vision board is a visual representation of your goals, and how succeeding in business will positively impact your life. Lots of people grab the scissors and Pritt-Stick when it comes to putting their vision board together, but since craft projects of ours emerge looking like offal that’s been drop-kicked down a lift shaft, we stuck with a sleek and digital secret Pinterest board.

Put some downtime aside and create a vision board of your own, and keep it somewhere where you remember to look at it daily. It’s just a small thing, but when we’re feeling completely unfocused, it helps us to remember the bigger picture and edges us back into the zone.

Post-it note method

We recently cleared out just one of our bedroom drawers and pulled 14 notebooks out of it. 14! The worst part is that every single one had a scribbled brain-splurge or half-finished to-do list in there. This isn’t a problem day-to-day, but when concentration is scattered it’s time to ditch all those half done lists in favour of the trusty post-it.

The method is simple. Take a block of post-its. Write one task on each, preferably in priority order. ONLY work on the task on each post-it note. When it’s done, screw up the paper and chuck it away, and move onto the next.

Combine this with the Be Focused Timer and start the day with a peek at your vision board and you’re onto a winner.

Crunch your numbers

Not so straightforward, but if you have a niggling feeling that your overwhelm is coming from not really knowing what you need to do to bring in the money this month, it’s time to swallow your fear and crunch your numbers. Properly. In basic terms, you need to:

  • Work out how much you need to make to pay the bills and cover tax this month
  • Determine what products you’re going to market to make that amount, and how 
  • Clarify exactly how many of that product you need to sell to make your target.

You’re almost certainly in for a ball ache of an afternoon with this one. But accept it will be hard, take breaks and power through to the end. It will not take as long as you think it’s going to – that’s the overwhelm talking.

Belly breaths

Stress makes your breath shallow. In fact, just being human makes your breath shallow – we only use 70% of our lung capacity to breathe. Which is limiting the oxygen flowing to the brain and is generally just a bit of a silly habit for us all to have gotten into.

When you feel that pressure mounting, stop and take five huge, deep, from-the-belly breaths. Watch how it stops your mind reeling and releases the tension in your shoulders. Feel better now? Thought so.


Meditation in the mornings and evenings is a great way to rest and focus a scattered mind. The most commonly used meditation guidance apps tend to be Headspace and Calm (which we love because you can set your meditative background noise to rain – our favourite sound).

Our personal favourite though is the Mary Maddox Meditation Oasis podcast, on which there are loads of different programmes to choose from. She has some dedicated specifically to stress and anxiety which are perfect for tackling overwhelm.

Take a mental health day

If nothing keeps the demons at bay, sometimes there’s simply nothing else for it but to delegate whatever you need to be done, switch everything off and take the day or afternoon off. Time away from the pressure won’t get things done, obviously, but you can’t pour from an empty cup. There’s no reason to feel guilty about taking some much needed time to take care of your mental health and return to work when you’re ready. Take care of you.

How do you stop yourself struggling with work overwhelm? Tweet us with your tips!

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