Overcoming Overwhelm for the Entrepreneur

Column by Marcia McGilley

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By Marcia McGilley
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As entrepreneurs, we wear many hats: owner, HR director, operations and sales manager, marketing guru, and chief cook and bottle washer. It can be a daunting task to keep up with all the duties these roles demand from us, and find time to grow our business and keep our company solvent.

Many of us feel competent, confident and overwhelmed as an entrepreneur. This is somewhat the state of the beast. Information and opportunity overload play a significant role in overwhelm as does a finite amount of time. After attending seminars on balancing life, improving productivity, managing multiple priorities and managing time, I have concluded that it's not possible to do it all, read it all and learn it all. Why? Because time is finite, balance is relative and, frankly, I get tired.

You know you are overwhelmed if you experience some of these signs: trouble sleeping, anxiety or depression, changes in eating habits, weight redistribution to your waist or hips, or constant illness. William James tells us that, "Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task."

After some research and focus groups, I have found three overriding themes and a multitude of tools to help with the "overwhelm" many entrepreneurs feel on a daily basis. This article will be an overview of the 30,000 foot concepts, while follow-up articles on this site will delve deeper into the actual skills to try to apply as you discover what will help you most. This process of overcoming overwhelm as an entrepreneur is one of trial and error, and the results will be unique to you, your style and your ability to be flexible.

The keys to overcoming overwhelm come in three stages: organize, prioritize and strategize.

Step one is to organize. This is the getting ready stage. It is impossible to conquer overwhelm when you are in the state of complete and utter chaos. Some might argue with me, but when the mind is so distracted with piles, files, emails, lists, thoughts and incomplete actions, it's difficult at best to be focused and clear about where we are going, what we need to do and how to actually follow through on tasks or projects. Statistics show that it can take 10-15 minutes to get back to the level of focus and competency on a project after being interrupted while in the flow. Getting organized to do work in the manner in which you like to do work is my definition of organization ... the manner and situation in which you work best.

This process of overcoming overwhelm is very personal. It's important to pick your own style of how to organize, prioritize and strategize. I won't ask you to fight your own nature. I will offer suggestions, options and choices. In fact, there are no right answers or solutions on how to organize. There are simply many tricks of the trade, and your job is to pick those that fit you and your style, and allow you to be the most success entrepreneur you can be.

Step two is to prioritize, this is the planning stage. This step may seem silly or simple at best, but is often overlooked by entrepreneurs because there are so many things to do when you are running your own business. If you don't take the time, and that means stop everything and take the time, to set priorities, you are unlikely to accomplish all that need to be finished in a day, a week or a month. Taking the time to stop and decide what tasks bring you the most return for the time allowed is crucial. I know, we all feel too busy to stop and plan, but 10 minutes a day is all it takes to prioritize the tasks at hand and know what needs to be done, where to start and what to postpone. Alan Lakein offers a way simple way to help you prioritize by asking yourself the following question several times a day: "What is the best use of my time right now?"

Step three is to strategize. This is the implementation stage. This step allows your creativity to come into play in the process of becoming a successful entrepreneur. All the leading and directing comes from this step in the process to overcoming overwhelm. Isn't this why most of us started our own business, to be our own boss? Creating the steps, processes or plan on how to proceed, how to conquer how to accomplish or how to run your business is key to your company's success. Peter Drucker tells us that, "Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all." This quote always makes me laugh. How many times have we set aside time to do something that should not be done at all?

Having been in the entrepreneurial world since birth (both my parents and a dozen other relatives have all own their own businesses in my lifetime), I can say that it is all worth it. Please come back to this site in the coming months to find out the details of the three steps to overcoming overwhelm. Organize, prioritize and strategize: These steps have all helped thousands of entrepreneurs to become less overwhelmed, more in charge and more successful.

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