Preventing overwhelm from stealing your momentumDec 21, 2022
As a content creator, have you ever struggled with feeling overwhelmed? And when you start to get overwhelmed, what happens to your momentum? I completely understand that struggle, and there have been many moments over the course of my life that have left me feeling stuck and so stressed that I didn't feel like I could get anything productive accomplished.
I remember one season of life when I felt particularly overwhelmed, and that feeling was keeping me from finishing some very important tasks. I learned some lessons through the experience that have had a huge impact on many areas of my life, my family, my leadership, and the process I utilize to help me consistently create content.
Back in 2006, I had a lot on my plate. My wife and I had just welcomed the birth of our fourth child (in six years). I was juggling the leadership responsibilities that came with two jobs. I was volunteering my time with several ministries. I had a side business as a licensed mortgage broker, and I was starting to create online content while dabbling into various forms of print and broadcast media.
If you asked me if I liked what I did, I would have said, "Absolutely!" But the problem I was running into was the fact that I had said "yes" to way too many things. And if you looked at my life closely, you would have seen a lot of evidence to prove that I was completely overwhelmed.
Most often, when we become overwhelmed, we stop making meaningful progress in a variety of areas. In 2006, my sense of overwhelm was making itself visible in several ways.
Most obviously, I was noticeably gaining weight. When I'm stressed, I tend to over eat, and I was so stressed that I needed to purchase a new wardrobe.
We had also moved, and I was trying to sell our old house, but the property needed some work done before I could put it on the market. I wasn't getting the work done in a timely manner, and for some of the projects, I really didn't know where to start. My budget was also limited, and I wasn't sure I could afford to get the repairs made.
At the time, I also had a 1990 Mazda Miata that I enjoyed owning, but something was wrong with it. So it sat for many months in our carport and I didn't feel like I had time to investigate what it needed. I was pretty sure it was an easy fix, but I was usually too exhausted to worry about it, and since I had other priorities that felt much more pressing, that car didn't move for almost a year.
As I handled the responsibilities of my jobs, side projects, and volunteer ministries, I felt like I was robbing my family of my time and I hated how that felt. But I wasn't sure how I was going to offer them more time because I didn't have spare time to give.
In exhaustion, I said to my wife one evening, "Andrea, we need a vacation. Let's drive to Florida." She laughed and didn't really take me seriously because I had a habit of not taking time off. But I meant it, and she became convinced that I was serious the moment I reserved and paid for our hotel. I still remember her saying, "Wow! So we're really taking time off and going?"
That vacation was exactly what I needed to get my internal clock reset. I needed a true vacation to help liberate my mind from the many responsibilities I was trying to juggle on a daily basis. I needed to press pause on everything I was doing and spend some time with my family so I could reevaluate my outside commitments and the pattern of life I had grown accustomed to.
Here's what happened next...
The trip to Florida was unbelievably restful. I was able to spend time with our family and gain some much needed clarity on some of the changes I needed to make in my life. When we came home, I began the process of stepping down from many of my volunteer positions. I prepared to leave one of my jobs and helped find new leadership to fill my role. I hired a contractor to repair the problems with the home we needed to sell. I fixed the minor issue with my car and I sold it. Then I set aside a night each week as a date night with my wife and blocked off another night dedicated to doing something fun together as a family with no outside interruptions.
Inspired by all this change and the new margin I had in my life, I also ended up losing 50 lbs. because I had time to eat better and take daily walks. It honestly became one of the happiest and most productive years of my life.
So what lessons can we pull from that experience that might help us if we're in the process of developing an online platform, yet we've been feeling overwhelmed with everything we feel we need to do and that feeling is causing us to lose momentum?
Here's what I would recommend...
Step 1: Take a break. I'm guessing that you'll feel a lot like I did if you allow yourself to press pause on many of the things you're juggling. If possible, schedule some time away with your family, and don't take work with you. Give your mind time to heal. For me, it usually requires more than a week, so if possible, see if you can find a 10-day block to disappear and do something with those you love. And if that's not possible for you right now, get creative and give yourself permission to schedule a break that will work for you.
Step 2: Stop saying "yes" to everything. I realize you'd like to be good at everything, and I realize you'd like all aspects of your online platform to be running at full capacity, but it isn't realistic to get it all going at the same time. You're going to have to say "no" to something. For me, I often say "no" to worrying about social media. Maybe someday I'll care more about it, but I prefer focusing on my writing and recording. I think I've gained good traction in those areas because I'm focused on what I enjoy doing and not what I feel like I "have to do" just because someone else tells me I need to do it.
Step 3: Clear up your incomplete projects one at a time. If you're feeling overwhelmed, you most likely have a series of things you've started or at least committed yourself to, and those projects are just hanging around in an unfinished state. Start making some decisions with these projects. Pick one and decide if you're going to complete it or let it go. If you're going to complete it, let it become your primary focus until it's done. Don't worry about the others until it's finished. And if there are projects on your list that no longer seem critical or valuable, it might be time to let them go. It's OK if you part ways with some of these things. In most cases, I'm sure they were self-imposed ideas anyway. You aren't a bad person if you need to make a pivot or a change. Just own your decision, move on, and clean up your list until it becomes manageable and enjoyable again.
Step 4: Learn to focus on "next steps." If you're a "big picture" thinker, this can be quite a challenge because your mind probably can already see your online platform in its fully developed state. But for it to really reach a place of full development, you need to take the incremental steps that will help you get there. So, instead of worrying about whether or not your podcast has a million downloads, just focus on producing this week's episode. The downloads will take care of themselves. Instead of worrying about whether your blog gets indexed in your favorite search engine, just focus on creating this week's post. It's nice to have big picture goals for what we're building, but much of that isn't under our control. All we can really do is take intentional, consistent action one step at a time.
Every content creator eventually seems to reach of place of overwhelm and exhaustion, and maybe you're there right now, but you don't need to stay there. As I've learned from experience, and continue to learn, we can regain momentum after pressing the pause button, clearing out the clutter, giving ourselves some much needed margin, and focusing on today's tasks instead of tomorrow's "what ifs."
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