John Phillips: The Subtle Art of Beating The “Overwhelm” Syndrome

Let me guess…

You can describe your day-to-days as an online business owner in one word – overwhelming.

I have been in that boat too – lost, dazed and confused. Trying to juggle all those chores heading my way all in once – customer support, demanding vendors, marketing, CRO, optimizing the sales funnel, paid traffic. The list goes on and on.

At the early days, I was absolutely alone in this as an entrepreneur – bootstrapping and making things work the best way I could. Yet, it seemed like I was fighting a hydra on a daily basis – marketing problem solved, a development issue pops up. My to-do list was crammed. My social life was nearly non-existent and I felt rather miserable at the end of each day.

Later I successfully scaled my business – it boomed and I hired a great team to help me get through the mess. You know, the cool folks with Ivy League diplomas, a knack for sales and a proven record of growing businesses to six-figures per year and well over that.

Guess what? I was still feeling overwhelmed pretty often.

My email was bursting with unread messages. My phone was always buzzing. I went to a meeting to clear out the current business strategy and left even more overwhelmed with what I learned.

Something was clearly wrong and I couldn’t figure it all out till my path has crossed with Todd Herman – a remarkable business advisor and top-notch business coach.

Here’s what Todd had told me back then:

“Overwhelm can be a symptom of losing your orientation. Pick your head up, find that shining beacon on the next hilltop and take the next step towards it. Re-centering yourself to the task at hand and the reason you’re doing it can be enough to get through the moment with grace.”

It was one of the most valuable words I have ever heard. In fact, I later joined his signature program 90 Day Year so I could learn to not only manage my business but my personal life as well.

Now how do you keep your focus razor sharp and keep finding that beacon even through the dark gloom of your overwhelm? Here are my essential strategies for coping with this dreadful feeling:

Step 1: Accept Your Limitations

There’s no need to play your superman or superwoman card all the time.

You need be ok with the fact that your brainpower is limited and so does the hours in your day. Work around those limitations with grace and take advantage of the resource you have.

For instance, ultradian rhythms.

Some 50 years ago Nathaniel Kleitman discovered that our bodies tend to function in 90-minute cycles of high alertness and afterwards “recharge” for another 90 minutes. During the passive cycle we start seeking for some “fuel” – caffeine, sugary snacks, mildness browsing or our own hormones – adrenalin, noradrenalin, and cortisol. That’s when that sluggishness and lack of focus rolls in.

How to beat that? Time track your work with a timer – get yourself 100% on a high-impact task and shift to some lighter chores afterwards to accomplish more stuff.

Step 2: The Two Powerful Ds – Ditch and Delegate

You are the leader. You should move your business further, rather than waste your time on things someone else can perfectly cope with.

We are often guilty of doing some chores simply out of habit, or because we kind of enjoy them (e.g. posting to corporate Twitter), or as we don’t really trust the assigned executive for the task.

But think of this action the following way:

Do you hire a $ 500/per hour growth consultant and ask them to answer your support emails? I don’t think so.

Yet, this is what you are doing to yourself when you refuse to ditch some chores of your schedule and delegate the tasks to others.

Here’s your mantra for the day: Am I the only person who can do it? And should I be the only person capable of doing this?

This simple decision matrix can help you to organize your schedule and transfer some chores to another person:


Anything that is not listed in Big Impact/Hard to Do tab should be immediately off your schedule. Practice significant accomplishments that can catapult your business fast forward, rather than spreading yourself too thin on irrelevant “small” tasks.

Step 3: Make Those Meetings Count

According to a recent study joint study of London School of Economics and Harvard Business School, most CEOs spend a third of their productive time at meetings. The approximate number is 18 hours per week.

That’s too much. Imagine how many new deals you could have managed to close at that time?

A good number, I know.

Bottom line – stop having meetings just for the sake of meetings. As Stephen Dubner wrote in Freakonomics – let the garden weed itself.

What will happen if you stop attending so many meetings? Will your business fall apart? Unlikely. Even if you stop replying to emails for a month, things won’t go AWOL either.

So how do you beat that meeting/email clutter?

    • Ask people not to CC you except for cases X, Y, Z when your say is 100% required.
  • Each meeting should be set up using the TTOG principle – “Topic, time, owner, goal”, which will help you to decide whether you really need to attend or not.
  • Walking meetings can become your thing – they are likely to be shorter and getting outdoors always feels great if the weather is nice.
  • Block time off on your calendar for a meeting with yourself – that time when you sit down with zero distractions around and reflect on the state of your business and think of that shining beacon.

Step 4: Harness The Power of “No”

Learning to say a firm, but polite “no” can be life-saving both for your business and your personal sanity.

Being constantly overwhelmed often rolls in when you fail to set respective boundaries. Stop committing to more than you can possibly accomplish. Be reasonable with the deadlines you set for yourself.

Clearly outline when you can be bothered via phone, email or chat. Resist the urge to stay constantly plugged-in to your business – checking and answering those emails late into the night, reading some reports in bed and so on.

Don’t be afraid to say “no” to demanding partners and firmly state that you can’t accomplish that right now as you already have other priorities on your list. Say “no” to people requesting your attention or confirmation when they can perfectly carry on without it.

Without giving yourself quality downtime your life will be constantly overwhelming – there’s no way around it.

Self Care on Huffington Post