We’ve all been there, looking at a full inbox and a full to-do list – when suddenly, that feeling starts creeping in. Our bodies are telling us, “You’re doing too much, take a break!” even while our brains say, “You’re not doing enough, keep going!” Overwhelm always seems to pop up at the worst possible times, and trust me, it happens to every entrepreneur I know. Running a small business is no small feat! Thankfully, over the years, I’ve found a few tools that help me immensely when overwhelm strikes – or even better, prevent it from sneaking up on me at all.
Every job comes with a side of stressful moments, but those moments can really feel overwhelming when you’re working solo. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious at work, here are a few in-the-moment tips that will hit “reset” on your mood and your workflow.
Breathe. (Yes, really.)
Stress may seem like an emotion, but it has some serious physical effects. When overwhelm starts creeping up, it’s important to remember to reset your body and not just your mind. Taking a few minutes to breathe deeply, whether that’s on your own or with a quick yoga flow or a meditation exercise on an app, will remind you that you are safe and you can do this.
After a few deep breaths, take it one step further and check in with your body. Do you need a quick walk in the fresh air? Would stretching help? How about a snack? It’s important to take care of our work, but it’s also important to take care of ourselves. Checking in with my body on a regular basis has been incredibly helpful for me, because keeping myself healthy lets me create my best work.
Remember why you started.
Most of the time, when I feel myself getting stressed, it’s because I’ve focused on the final outcome of the situation instead of the process it takes to get there. Of course, everybody has bills to pay – but I didn’t become a designer only to make money. I became a designer because I love design (and helping my clients build brands that make them money). Creating is what brings me joy, not deadlines or invoices. When I get too focused on my deadlines or my finances, it actually ruins my creativity – and I bet I’m not alone in this.
If you’re getting anxious about turning in a brand on time or hitting your quarterly financial goals, let me invite you to take a step back. There’s definitely a time for planning, scheduling, and strategizing, but it’s not while you’re creating! If you’re stuck creatively, remember that you do this because you love it. Get back to the joy of making art, and you’ll probably see improvement in those other areas of your business, too.
Take a break.
Entrepreneurs are classic overworkers. (Myself included!) That’s because we love what we do – but no matter how passionate we are about our work, we all hit a wall sometimes. If you’ve been stuck on a project since 10:00 this morning and you’re staring at your screen at 3:00, it’s time to call it a day. I promise, your business will not fall apart just because you give yourself the occasional break. In fact, you and your work will probably be better for it!
I’ve heard it said that the best way to get “unstuck” is to engage the opposite side of your brain. When your mind is racing, using your hands is the best way to give it a break. It sounds counterintuitive to say that doing the dishes will help your creativity, but it actually works. (I have tried it) Next time you’re overwhelmed, take a break and do a physical task. You might be surprised that the reset button has been right under your nose all along!
Those are my top tips for breaking out of a stressful moment and finding your rhythm again. But if you’re not currently overwhelmed, I’m still glad you’re here, because this is the best time to build some habits that will help you keep overwhelm at bay for good – or at least keep it from knocking on your office door so often.
In a world packed with technology, creative work is always just a click away, and one of the beautiful parts of entrepreneurship is having flexible working hours. But I’ve found that setting boundaries around my work has made all the difference in my creativity and kept me from entering many stress spirals too often.
Here’s the great part: you can set work boundaries that work for you! There’s no need to take early morning meetings if you’re a night owl, and there’s definitely no rule that prohibits you from working on weekends. But whatever you choose, stick with it. An example: if you decide not to check your email after dinner, turn off your notifications and take a breath. It’ll all be waiting for you in the morning. At the end of the day, we teach others how to treat us. If we want clients, families, and friends to respect our working hours, we have to respect ourselves enough to keep them, instead of letting work bleed over into everything else.
Build a system.
This may be my most valuable tip for keeping overwhelm away – build a system that works, and stick to it. Maybe you need to block off two days each week for doing deep work and getting creative, which means no calls or meetings on those days. Maybe you only want to check your email at 9:00 when you get started and 4:00 before you close up shop for the day. Maybe you want to invoice on the 15th and 30th each month.
These are just suggestions, of course – but when you have a system in place, it’s much easier to keep tasks from piling up, overwhelming you, and keeping you from doing your best work. I would encourage you to create a system and write it down. Test it out for a while and see if it works for you! If something doesn’t shake out, you can always change it. Remember – you’re the boss. This is just a great way to lead yourself well.
If you’ve been an entrepreneur or business owner for more than a few weeks, you already know that work can get seriously lonely sometimes. Thankfully, the internet has given us endless opportunities to connect with others in our field! Find a few designers or creatives you connect with and ask them if they’d like to create a group to support and encourage each other – or join an existing community online!
Friends and family may not be as familiar with the ins and outs of your work, but I’m sure you have a few people in your life who want to support you however they can. Pick up the phone and check in with them from time to time, too! Sometimes, an outside opinion or a kind listening ear can completely change your outlook on the day.
With boundaries, systems, and support, you’ll be well on your way to kicking overwhelm to the curb and thriving, in your work and in your life. When stressful moments pop up again (and they will), I hope you’ll think back to this post and implement a few tips that’ll be sure to get you right back on track. If you are looking for help as a creative entrepreneur, I would love for you to check out my mentorship program!