How to Overcome the Overwhelm Monster

Yesterday, I realized that I had way too much Web writing stuff to do.

OK, granted. This is not an abnormal occurrence. Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to have multiple irons in the fire. I like to be busy.

But yesterday, was different. I had a bunch of writing projects — new home page copy for my site and new email autoresponders. I also had a client project and PowerPoint to complete. Plus, various other things that popped up.

I was busy (Sound familiar? I bet you have your own super-busy story to share.)

Unlike most days when I buckle down and just do it, yesterday was different. My inner Heather-child was having a temper tantrum. It was too much stuff. I didn’t have time to finish it. I messed up and packed in too many deliverables in one day.

(OK, that last one may be true…)

If you could look inside my brain, you’d see me kicking and screaming and saying, “Nooooo!”

Why? Because I let the overwhelm monster get the best of me.

The reality is, I’ve worked this pace before. I actually thrive on it. However, I made a few crucial errors that pulled me out of the flow and allowed time for the overwhelm monster to sneak in and grab me. Here’s what happened – and here’s what you can do.

  • I was forcing myself to work when I wasn’t “on.” I can write a kick-butt sales page in 60 minutes. Or, it will take me six hours if I’m not in the flow. One of the hardest things to do (but oh, so important) is to pull away from the computer when the writing isn’t flowing. If you’re sitting slack-jawed in front of your laptop, you’re not working. You’re wasting time. Stop it.
  • I was working without any downtime. When I’m in a creative flow, nothing can stop me. I can wake up at 6 a.m. and work until 8 p.m. and not even notice that it’s dark outside. That pace works for so long, but it’s not sustainable. Unfortunately, I felt like I had to “make up for lost time” and push that creative flow a little harder. That was dumb.
  • I wasn’t making lists. Lists are a SEO copywriter’s best friend. You can get stuff out of your head, track your progress and have that sublime feeling of satisfaction when you cross things off. If I keep everything in my head rather than committing it to paper, it makes it hard to “turn off.” I keep thinking, “Don’t forget to…” and “I need to remember this tomorrow.” What’s worse, I was thinking about stuff like that at 3 a.m. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think anyone has “happy thoughts” at 3 a.m.

Fortunately, I wasn’t a complete dunce. I did keep up on a few things – and I think having some self-care foundation helped me slay the overwhelm monster faster. Those were:

  • I exercise. A lot. It helps me sleep, it keeps me fit – and most importantly, it burns off my stress. I may not like running three miles. But I do like the runner’s high that comes after it. When you have your nose thisclose to a monitor all day, you gotta do something to move.
  • I eat well.  I learned my lesson the hard way around this one. I used to drink about 6-8 shots of espresso a day. Plus use yummy treats like donuts to spike my blood sugar and force a writing focus. Not anymore. After my doctor had a little talk with me (the word “hospital” was used,) I realized that I was revving my engines way too much. Now, I eat a lot of protein. I monitor my carb intake. I avoid sugar — mostly. And I feel way, way better.
  • I’m learning how to balance work and play. Some folks would work all the time if they could. I am one of them. However, my work is fresher and I’m feeling happier when I pull myself away from the keyboard and do something fun. Maybe that’s a walk. Maybe it’s a movie. Maybe it’s lunch with a friend. I used to feel guilty about “taking time away from work.” Now I know – activities like that enhance our work. Not detract from it.

The good news is, I got all my work done. The overwhelm monster almost got me this time. It was close. Fortunately, I was able to pull away from the computer, cook a good meal and take a little downtime. By the time I got back, the writing just flowed…and the overwhelm monster was nowhere to be found.

What about you? What techniques do you use when you feel the overwhelm monster creeping up on you?

21 replies
  1. Heather Mueller says:

    I love seeing posts like this one – giving a little love to the subject of work/life balance is key when you’re an entrepreneurial workhorse.

    I live by http://www.toodledo.com – I’ve found that maintaining an ongoing, electronic “to-do” list keeps me from getting overwhelmed.

    And sometimes, I just give up. Not altogether – but if it’s 5 p.m. and I’m hitting hour 3 of a project that should only take one total, I go to the gym or watch a movie, then set the alarm for 6 a.m. and start fresh in the morning. Works (almost) every time.

    Thanks for the great post!

    Reply
  2. Marjorie S. says:

    Perfect timing! Thank you for the useful – and humanizing – pointers. I too often force myself to sit in a creative (or overwhelmed) slump, wasting time and feeling miserable. Thanks for reminding me I need to alternate human with superhuman to get that creative power burst.

    Reply
    • Heather says:

      Hello!

      I had no idea that this post would “hit home” with so many people. It sounds like there are quite a few of us who beat ourselves up for not being “on.”

      To all those overwhelmed folks out there – it’s Friday! Try to take a break – even if it’s just for an afternoon. You’ll feel so much better….

      :)

      Reply
  3. Jacqueline says:

    I know the overwhelm monster is taking hold when I start the random clicking of links and then wonder where all the time has gone, so now I try and be aware of what I’m doing, step away from the ‘puter and engross myself in my kids. A walk in the woods hunting gruffalos or stomping in puddles works wonders.

    Reply
    • Heather says:

      Hi, Jacqueline!

      Ah yes, the “random clicking of links.” I know that one well! :) It’s so easy to surf from site to site while ignoring what we *have* to get done. Good for you for recognizing it and pulling away from the computer!

      Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  4. Sarah Clachar says:

    Heather,
    Was I writing this or you? It sounds exactly like what I was going through/am going through!

    Your suggestions are spot on. Take a break, recharge and then CHARGE!! ahead.

    Jacqueline – as a WAHM, I love your puddle-stomping therapy – it was ice skating for me when I had a 45 minute break.

    Shameless plug. I’m about to release e-class/book Your Healthy Home Business on how to try to keep this balance, stay healthy and grow biz. WP site barely up but stay tuned if you’re interested.

    Reply
    • Heather says:

      LOL. Sarah, I pride myself on having a psychic link with my readers :) Overwhelm is something we all go through – and it’s so important to catch it early (whenever possible) and take a puddle-stomping break!

      Good luck with the e-class/book! Ah, if you’re in the middle of marketing, it’s no wonder you’re overwhelmed….

      Reply
  5. Anthony Pensabene says:

    This is ALL great information and insight for writers of the intensive sort down to the occasional bloggers.

    It’s especially important to know your routines and body rhythms. Personally, I’m a writing “monster” up until about 2,3pm then I don’t get my brain back again until mid evening.

    Savvy tip regarding the connection between the mind and body. If you’re neglecting your body, you’re neglecting your mind..and writing. Eat well, exercise, and allow time for rest..and fun.

    Also, writers are creative. You never know when you’re muse may pay a visit. Carry around a small notebook or a recorder, or utilize a smartphone to make notes if you have a sudden idea. If you wait, it may be lost..

    Reply
  6. Thomas Smith says:

    Just a stark reminder that I’m not the only person in the world who slumps at my keyboard desperately wanting something to just… be there.
    Great piece, highlighting the most important parts of being a writer (and arguably applicable to most IT situations).
    Unfortunately I feel a word with my doctor will soon contain words I don’t like, but until then my chocolate and coffee will keep me awake ;-)

    Reply
  7. Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

    @Thomas – you’re not the only one. Trust me. I had “one of those weeks” this week…I really did have to re-read my blog post and remember, “OK, Heather. It’s time to breathe!”

    Beware of the chocolate and coffee…it’s a great short-term fix, but it sneaks up on you and does bad things (my vice was coffee and cupcakes!). It’s a pain to totally change your eating habits, but once you do, you’ll notice a HUGE difference. You won’t even want chocolate anymore! ;)

    Thanks for your post!

    Reply
  8. Jen McGahan says:

    Heather, you are speaking my language here! Thanks for the reminder to push away the computer when I’m not producing anything of quality. What a waste of time better spent with a friend or family member! (I’m an exercise addict, too. Thank goodness for that!)

    Reply
    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      @Jen – you’re welcome! I KNOW how hard it is to push away from the computer. If you’re an extremely focused person, it’s a challenge to say, “Nope, that’s it. I need a break.” It almost feels lazy. But wow, it makes a huge difference.

      I stopped work at 4 yesterday afternoon. Wow, do I feel better today!
      :)

      Reply
  9. Derek Booth says:

    I can so relate to that mindset. I tend to find if I am under pressure and I have to get something done it really focusses the mind. The worst bit is when I sort of take my time during the day because I think I am working in the evening so it doesnt matter. The entire day then is a work day with no time off. Recently I have broken this cycle by not working after 6pm, it really helps with the extra push on jobs during the day.

    Reply
    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Derek, hi!

      I SO understand the “well, I’ve got time to finish this, so I can take my time” mentality. Yes! Like you, I have a pretty firm work cutoff time now. It’s helped me feel less overwhelmed — especially during this wacky time. How long have you had your 6pm end time?

      Reply

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