This is the transcript of Episode 2 from a post-pandemic business series requested by a South African radio station. The recording is available here.
When you feel your mind racing and it seems as if you can’t hold on to a single thought long enough to think it through, make a decision and get things done, you’re not broken. You’re not weak. You’re not a failure. Your brain is simply feeling overwhelmed with the things that it is holding on to.
Here’s what I do when I feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of owning and running a company.
The first thing I do is take a really really deep breath. Hold it in for as long as possible, and let it out slowly.
It sounds silly, and it definitely doesn’t solve any problems, but it does signal to your nervous system that it needs to switch from fight or flight mode to logical thinking mode.
Make a "worry list"
The next thing I do is to list everything I’m worried about. Not a list of things I need to do, but a list of things I’m worried about. While you’re making this list you will most probably still feel anxious and overwhelmed. That’s OK.
Next, go through each item on the list and ask yourself what you can do about it. Rather than thinking about it in formal business terms, keep it really simple. In business the basic things you can change are what the business does, how it gets done, who does it, how much it costs and for how much it sells. There are of course many more complexities to consider, but to deal with feelings of overwhelm you need to keep things as simple as possible at the start.
Take disciplined action
Next have a look at the answers and decide what you’re going to do first. We very often already know what we should be doing, but feeling overwhelmed robs us of the confidence and the faith that we can get it done.
Then the hard part starts. You have to implement one solution at a time as soon as possible until every task you’ve identified for yourself is complete. At this stage it is very important to keep things simple and just start somewhere. Do the first thing you know how, and then the next thing and then the next thing and so on.
This takes pure discipline.
Your mind will keep reminding you about things you are worried about. If it’s not on the list, add it. If it is already on the list, don’t spend time and effort worrying about it … rather spend the time and effort working at it.
Somewhere in the process a sense of control and confidence returns, and this makes it easier to continue working through the list of solutions you’ve written down.
Remember, it’s not enough to just have the list. You actually have to do all the things you decided to do if you want to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the same things later.
You don’t need to be crystal clear on how you’re going to solve a problem. Know what you want to change and be flexible about how you’re going to get to that changed state. Make sure that your solution will not harm yourself or others, start implementing your solution and review it every so often to see if it has the desired result.
Above all, remember that you can get everything done, just not all at the same time.