The 5 Things I’m Doing to Overcome Overwhelm

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Whether you’re organizing a major project (such as a move or a wedding), taking on a new role at work, becoming a parent for the first time, or starting a business, there are times in all of our lives when overwhelm is bound to set in. Some people are natural problem solvers who can effortlessly break down a large undertaking into small action items and tackle them one-by-one. I, Marisa Morrison, am not naturally one of those people. My tendency is to throw myself into a major undertaking, go off instinct and excitement tackling whatever shiny, sparkly part of a project seems the most fun, and then get overwhelmed and stressed out when I have all the logistical parts left to manage. I blame the Pisces in me for this frustrating trait.

When I think about it, the tendency to become easily overwhelmed is something I’ve faced all my life, but it has become particularly challenging for me as I take on the not-so-minor task of starting a business. On a given day I could be working on any combination of 52,398 things to help grow the business, improve marketing efforts, or expand our content offering and product selection. I could be networking, contacting potential clients, planning photo shoots, or interacting with people on Instagram. The act of writing out this list alone has my head spinning.

For me, what inevitably comes along with overwhelm is an intense feeling of self doubt about all the things that I could or should be doing instead of whatever tasks I’ve chosen to take on that day. My blog SEO is wonky, my media kit is only half done, and don’t even get me started on my lack of Pinterest strategy. These things keep me up at night, accompanied by a sense of drowning in a sea of never-ending to-do’s. In recent months, this feeling of overwhelm has become so paralyzing that I decided to seek out therapy to help me get my head on straight. For the past few months, I’ve actively been addressing this issue and trying out different tactics to help me break down everything I could be doing into smaller tasks, as well as planning my schedule to be as productive and balanced as possible. I’m happy to report that I’m seeing gradual improvement and am confident that I will achieve a rhythm that helps me remain happy and productive.

Here are five methods that are working for me so far:

Defining “on” and “off” hours

For much of TNTP’s first year, creating my own schedule made my feel that if I were home I should be working. Because I frequently went to lunch with friends, ran errands in the middle of the day, and didn’t hesitate to add a Friday or Monday to a weekend out of town, I had to make up for that time spent not working whenever I there was a hole in my schedule, regardless of time or day. Mostly, this meant that my schedule was totally misaligned from Sam’s and much of the time we were home together was spent doing opposite things–me working and him hanging out post-work–making it hard for us to have any form of unscheduled down time together. This lack of schedule also made me confused about my on and off hours — I felt guilty for the times I wasn’t working, even though much of it was probably well deserved.

To remedy this issue, I decided to put myself on normal work hours that more-or-less mimic Sam’s schedule. I equate it to the “sleep while the baby’s sleeping” method. This change has both relieved much of my stress while maximizing my precious quality time with my husband. Not to mention, my weekends have become more relaxed and refreshing, giving me the energy I need to tackle the week to come. While an 8:30-6:30 schedule works for me, you may find other hours make more sense for you. The point is to define the times of the week (or number of working hours in your week) and make them pretty much non-negotiable. I can almost guarantee that you’ll feel more intention when you’re working and a greater sense of presence when you’re not. It’s pretty amazing.

Going to bed and waking up earlier

To help get me on my new aforementioned schedule and maximize my “working” hours, I’ve actively shifted my schedule to be asleep by 11:30pm and up by 7:30am. I’m a night owl by nature and, if I’m not careful, can find myself futzing around past 1am on a weeknight. When my schedule was more all over the place, I would stay up working well after Sam was tucked into bed and frequently wake up scarily close to 10am. While in another world this weekend-style schedule sounds pretty ideal, I knew it was greatly impacting my productivity and, in turn, my happiness. We’ve all heard (and experienced, I’m sure) how morning hours are the most productive, so it seems silly not to take advantage of them. A few tricks I’ve been implementing to help get my sleep schedule on track include: leaving my phone in the kitchen at night, replacing my phone alarm clock with an actual alarm clock, and opting to read in bed rather than mindlessly scrolling Instagram. I’m happy to report that I’ve been out of bed by 7:30am and at my desk by 8:30am for the past two weeks–something of which I never thought I’d be capable!

Doing first the things that have to get done that day

This is a tip that my entrepreneurship guru Jenna Kutcher shared at her NYC talk a few weeks back. She said that whether you finish by noon or 10pm, as long as you do first the things that need to get done, you’ll be in good shape. As obvious as that advice might sound, I sorely needed someone to affirm that strategy for me. I used to be someone who would wait until 4pm to write the next day’s blog post, not finish it before midnight, and then have to wake up early the next day to get it up before anyone noticed. Not a fun feeling. For the past few weeks I’ve implemented this strategy and have noticed a huge decrease in my end-of-day stress, not to mention I’ve been hitting my deadlines without fail.

Schedule blocking

My cousin Jason, a successful real estate broker, spoke to me about the power of schedule blocking months ago. At the time, I was in wedding planning land and my schedule was all over the place, so this highly organized method didn’t seem sustainable. Now that I’m in a clearly defined routine, schedule blocking truly is a fantastic method to organize my day. I try to be honest about the amount of time it may take to accomplish a task and often give myself 30-60 minutes extra so that I don’t overbook myself. That way if I finish a task early, I can simply move onto the next thing or use the break for a short task like washing dishes or calling family. If I’m unsure how long a task will take, or if it is something that could go on indefinitely, I’ll give myself a 2 1/2-3 hour block, which is about as much time one can work on a project before needing a break. I’ve also found that putting my phone on silent and out of sight while I’m tackling a schedule block is a surefire way to maintain focus.

Giving myself credit for the things I’ve accomplished

During my last therapy session, we addressed the topic of self doubt. As I previously mentioned, I frequently feel like I’m tackling the wrong task in the wrong order and not getting myself as far in my business as someone else might have. The truth is that someone else might very well have gotten The Neon Tea Party further than I did by this point, but there is no benefit to dwelling on that thought. The other truth is that The Neon Tea Party has accomplished a great deal in its one year of existence and that should be proof enough that I’m doing good work. I’ve found that giving myself the credit I deserve helps mitigate that self-doubt I so frequently feel and give me the confidence to keep moving the business forward at a pace that works for me.

Overcoming overwhelm is no easy task, but there are ways to do it. Maybe some of the changes that I’ve made will help you too. I also suggest chatting with notoriously productive friends and family members to see what methods help them. And if you’re experiencing anxiety along with your overwhelm, it may not be a bad idea to talk to a therapist to see if there’s a more serious root to the issue.

Have you ever experienced and/or overcome intense overwhelm? I’d love to know what methods have helped you! Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Peace, love and neon,
Marisa

3 Comments

  1. Tina on October 31, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Hi Marisa, we have all been there in one way or another as you say. I think your 5 tips are fantastic. Easy to document, hard to implement.

    May I suggest another tip to add:
    Create an “offsite” planning day or 2. If you have a business plan, create one. What is the mission and values for your business? Determine what is foundational to build your business. Think of it as a house, you have lay foundation before you build walls, before you add windows, before you add furniture. Set those priorities and work on them everyday. Set aside time to answer emails.

    During these couple days, you need to lock yourself away in a room and shut out everything else.

    Hang in there. You have accompliced the first step of recognizing an issue and facing it head-on.

    Luv u T

  2. Caitlin Miller on February 20, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    Thank you for sharing these great tips, Marisa! I feel so all over the place sometimes, and you’ve shared some great strategies with concrete examples — I love it!

    I’m going to attempt to tackle the most important things each day. Seems like such a small feat, and it’s so surprising how hard that can be some days!

    • the neon tea party on February 20, 2018 at 1:01 pm

      Yes totally!!!! I’ve learned a trick too that the first thing you should do each day is the thing that absolutely must get done that day, so even if the rest of the day is shot, you’ll still have accomplished that thing. Very helpful!! So glad you found these tips relevant and useful – always here to chat that solopreneur life! xo

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