This post accompanies my interview with Sterling Valentine of Debossified. Listen to the audio where Sterling interviews me about reducing entrepreneurial overwhelm here.
Let’s face it—it’s an ADD world, even for those without ADD. People, things, and situations move fast. We have so many responsibilities, so much depends on us. There are so many options, so many ways of doing things. Everything is important. Everything needs to be done right now. It all needs to be done well. It all takes focus and concentration. And there is never enough time.
Everyone is overwhelmed to some degree or another. And if you’re a business owner with ADHD, the degree of overwhelm is likely to be higher than it is for most people.
So why is it so important to get out of overwhelm, anyway? Besides the fact that the feeling of being overwhelmed is awful for you personally, being in a constant state of overwhelm is also very bad for your business. Most of us are not very good at making money when we’re paralyzed in a state of overwhelm.
Here are some practical steps to help you grab ahold of overwhelm, slap it in the face, and calm it down a bit. These steps will put you back in charge.
Step 1: Think of your business as a separate entity
Often, because we get so attached to our businesses and they’re on our minds 24/7, we forget they’re actually separate things, and not part of us. Getting a bit of distance between your business and yourself can be the first step in helping you see it objectively, so you can deal with it practically.
The Big Blue Monster
This is a crazy idea that came to me years ago when I had my design and branding firm. I knew the best relationships in my life flourished when I paid attention to them and nurtured them, and floundered when I didn’t, and I wanted this for my business as well. If I paid attention to my kids and my spouse, my relationships with them were better, and they responded better to me. If I paid attention to my dogs, my relationship with them was better, and they were better dogs. If I paid attention to my plants, they did better, too, and most of them didn’t die as quickly—although I’m not good with plants so most of them did die in the end anyway. But you see my point.
It was hard for me to picture exactly how to “pay attention” to my business, and since I’m a visual person, I invented a visual for it—the Big Blue Monster. I chose Sully, the big blue monster played by John Goodman in the animated movie Monsters, Inc., as a matter of fact—the big, strong, fluffy blue guy who hung around with the short round eyeball monster played by Billy Crystal.
It helped me to be able to picture my business as something apart from myself, because then I could see how much it needed my attention. I told you it was a crazy idea . . . but it worked for me.
I pictured my Big Blue Monster sitting in the corner on a three-legged stool, and he’d be content for awhile, but soon, he’d get bored, and get in trouble, just like a small child or a puppy would, if left alone too long. So, every once in awhile, I knew I had to go over and pet my Big Blue Monster, or take him for a walk, and then I could get back to serving clients. As long as I paid attention to him every so often, he thrived, and he took good care of me, too.
So this is what Step 1 is all about—finding a way to think of your business as a separate entity, apart from yourself, in whatever way you can, so you’ll pay attention to it. And knowing that if you neglect it—by not paying attention to your money, your marketing, your planning, or your team—and just plow blindly ahead serving clients, it will get into trouble. Leading to lots and lots of overwhelm.
Step 2: Get an accountability partner
ADHDers need accountability. We just do. You know you do better work when you’re accountable to someone. And one of the easiest ways to get that accountability is to get an accountability partner. This is also a great strategy to keep you out of overwhelm.
This person doesn’t necessarily have to have ADHD, they just have to have an interest in moving forward faster in their business and being more productive. Find someone who is serious about their own business and likes the idea of regularly meeting with you for mutual support and accountability.
This doesn’t have to take up a lot of time—the idea is to be more productive, not to find more things to do. I like the idea of virtual accountability buddies, where you can just check in by phone to make sure each of you is on track. One rule with accountability buddies is that you have to set a regular time to check in and a time limit for your meetings, and stick to them religiously—otherwise, things fall apart pretty fast. Have a list of agreed-upon questions you’ll ask each other or a checklist you’ll use to make sure each of you is making progress, and don’t get involved in a lot of other chit chat.
The best thing about having an accountability partner is that it’s an external strategy—it doesn’t depend solely on you for success. As Sterling says in the interview, when we have only ourselves to rely on, we can be “like the guy who wanted to go to the bookstore to get a book to improve his memory, but he kept forgetting to go.”
When your accountability partner kicks you in the pants, it helps. Getting moving with someone else’s help is a major boost when you’re trying to get out of overwhelm.
Step 3: Use a timer
NASA has determined that the human mind can only pay attention for a total of 27 minutes in one sitting, and that’s a regular, non-ADHD mind. So it’s crazy for us to expect ourselves to be able to focus on things for hours and hours at a time, especially when we’re overwhelmed.
A timer can be a great tool for getting out of overwhelm because you can set it for any length of time you want—even five minute chunks of time can help you break through a stuck place. There’s something about knowing that timer’s ticking away that helps your brain focus in and move, maybe because you know the time slot will be over soon and you can stop. Whatever the reason, most people can work in short spurts, and I know people who have written entire books this way. Try it to break through overwhelm.
Step 4: Track your time
Most people hate tracking their time. But if you really want to get out of overwhelm and get your business moving in a positive and profitable direction, tracking your time is one of the most important things you can do. And if you really do hate it, you don’t have to do it forever.
The idea is to find out the ratio of time you spend on profitable vs. not profitable things, necessary vs. not necessary things, and things you can get off of your plate. Plus, the information is very eye-opening. Don’t be afraid, you don’t have to share the results with anyone.
If you’ve never done this before, you’ll be amazed at what you learn. Just start keeping track of all the time you’re working, not just the time you’re going to bill to clients. Track the time you spend on email, doing your billing, standing in line at the post office, and goofing off on Facebook. Track everything.
The human mind can fool itself very easily, and even if you think you know what you’re doing during the day, the results of keeping a record can be very powerful and motivating for you. You’ll find out what’s keeping you overwhelmed, what you need to get help for, and what you need to stop doing, if you track your time.
If you get through the first four steps and want to keep going, the next best thing you can do to get control of overwhelm is to develop systems for your business, and write down the systems you already do have. This keeps you from having to reinvent the wheel every time you go to do something, and you’ll get more efficient—and, you’ll have a checklist to follow for when you’re overwhelmed.
You can develop systems for how you intake a new client, how work flows through your shop, how you pay your bills—anything. Write down the steps as you do them, and make a checklist out of them. Your systems will be invaluable for training new employees, or for days when brain fog overcomes you. There’s no guesswork and nothing falls through the cracks because you’re following your system, and the bonus is you’re also more productive.
Catch all of my interviews with Sterling Valentine on Debossified at these links: