How To Avoid Being Overwhelmed And Exhausted


This article first appeared in Forbes, and is shared here with the permission of Vanessa Loder, our opening keynote inspirational speaker at WomanCon, taking place on September 18, 2014 in NYC.

As entrepreneurs, your business is incredibly important to you, and there is no official “off” switch. You get to decide when you are working and when you are not. In some ways, this is a double-edged sword. Brigid Schulte, an award-winning journalist and New York Times author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time, found through her research that there are tools to manage the incredible overwhelm and exhaustion that many American workers and parents face today.  I recently had the honor of sitting down with her and talking about so-called time contamination—the universal affliction also known as “work creep.”

Here are seven tips to make your life somewhat easier that came out of our conversation:

1.   Recognize and Release the Pressure.

“You are not alone,” Brigid told me. “Recognize you are not alone in struggling with this. You are not a failure. Start to notice those pressures that are out there to over work, over do, over schedule your kids, over parent your kids. This is an act of mindfulness, to notice the inadequacy you are feeling and then turn down the volume. Don’t listen to it even though you know it’s there. Take a breath.”

As an entrepreneur, notice when you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself to grow your company at an accelerated rate.

When I worked in private equity, we had entrepreneurs come through every week to pitch their businesses to us. One company in particular was raising Series C funding at such a high valuation that the partner at my firm took me aside and said “That guy doesn’t even realize the treadmill he’s putting himself on.” Once you raise outside capital at a high valuation, you are putting yourself on an accelerated path to growth – which can be a great thing, but the downside is you are suddenly setting yourself up for failure if you don’t hit very aggressive targets. Consider bootstrapping your business and taking a more relaxed approach. What if instead of shooting for the IPO, you kept things simple with three virtual employees and a solid annual income? Can you reframe success to include a situation in which you still hit your target but you do it three years later, and enjoy lots of time with family and friends in the meanwhile?

2.   Align With Your Values.

Set your priorities, and make choices aligned with your values. Brigid; “The pressure won’t go away. That’s why it is important to pause and to get to know yourself; to know your own internal compass.” Here is a great resource to help you get clear on your priorities with this simple yet powerful Values Exercise.

As an entrepreneur, YOU get to decide how much time YOU devote to YOUR business versus the other areas of your life, which means being clear on your priorities is even more vital. It’s easy to become a workaholic or to build a business that is not sustainable because you’ve made too many personal sacrifices in the process. Look at Chip Conley with Joie de Vivre, he claims that he felt as though he had imprisoned himself while building this incredibly successful company. Remember that it is the journey, not the destination that truly matters. And make sure you are clear on your values so that you can enjoy the journey.

3.   Cultivate Leisure Time.

Brigid also advises how important it is to invest in PLAY and unstructured time. See if you can let go of busy as a status symbol and invest in creativity instead. “Know that you need leisure; you need downtime. You really need to have an uncluttered mind. This is how you will achieve creativity and it will make you better at everything you do.”

As an entrepreneur, it is vital that you practice self-care. Crushing yourself to build a company is not heroic and it’s not sustainable. Plus, neuroscience haslots of evidence that all the big “Aha” moments come when we’re in a state of leisure or play. You’re more likely to have a breakthrough idea in the shower or on a hike than while sitting in front of your computer, so why not create more moments like that?

4.   Simplify Your To-Do List.

“Pick one thing a day that is most important to you and then do it first,” Brigid says. “Then you have a win for the rest of the day. You did your one thing where you will never do your 75 things. Many of the most productive people that I’ve talked to like to be creative in the morning and then set meetings for the afternoon when their energy has dropped a bit. Find that time that you have the most energy and then shut everything else down.”

When you are running your own business, it feels as if there is ALWAYS more to be done. In order to let go of the exhaustion and overwhelm, you need to start feeling as though you have accomplished enough at the end of each day. Having one priority thing To Do and doing it is a great way to achieve this sense of accomplishment. Here is some advice on how to make your To Do list work for YOU.

5.   Work Smarter, Not Harder.

Brigid also talks about America’s penchant for being “busy” and dispels the myth that working harder means being more productive, “We need to value the creative class. Understanding where creativity and innovation comes from. It doesn’t come from coming in early, staying late, eating lunch at your desk, and never taking vacation. There was a fascinating study on musicians. It showed that the best musicians’ days looked like peaks and valleys and this is the way they lived their days. Intense periods of work, intense periods of rest, intense periods of work, intense periods of rest. Just like we have 90-minute intervals of sleep cycles, we have 90-minute intervals of attentiveness cycles during the day. If you can harness that and understand the importance of rest and relaxation before you move on that’s huge!”

One solution to improving your productivity that I suggest is a Power Hour (No, this “power hour” does not involve shot glasses).

6.   Get A Support Group.

Brigid recommends that you “find a network of support that will help you as you steer your own course, take a breath and set your own priorities. It’s so helpful to have others who are encouraging you in making these new choices and reflecting similar values back at you.”

One way to do this is to form a Master Mind group with other entrepreneurs. This is a great way to create a strong support system with like-minded individuals to share resources and hold each other accountable. From my experience, groups of six to ten people that meet at least once a month and commit for a minimum of six months have the most impact. It helps to have a facilitator who creates the agenda, a secretary who takes notes, and a timekeeper to ensure the group is staying on track. These roles can rotate each session. There is incredible power in getting a group of people together to support each other in making their dreams a reality, and if you form or join a Master Mind, I believe you will see a noticeable shift in your life.

7.   Practice Appreciation And Gratitude; Be Mindful.

Brigid also talked about mindfulness and how important it is to pause. Whether it be to read, meditate, pray, or just be mindful of the moments around you. Take a breath to notice them.

If you want to shift from overwhelm to ease, it’s helpful to turn your anxiety into gratitude. Instead of worrying about what you haven’t gotten done, make a list of what you are grateful for at the end of each day. You can start to practice mindfulness with a simple daily meditation practice, even just five minutes a day will make a difference.

“Understand the larger pressures,” Brigid told me near the end of our interview. It is not just you; you are not alone and you aren’t crazy. It is important to pause and to get to know yourself; to know your own internal compass and then to find the network of support that will help you as you steer your own course, take a breath and set your own priorities. Know that you need leisure; you need downtime. You really need to have an uncluttered mind. This is how you will achieve creativity and it will make you better at everything you do.”

Originally blog post, as it appeared in Forbes How To Avoid Being Overwhelmed And Exhausted