#187: A Systematic Way to Tackle Overwhelm

Most of us have too much to do in too little time.

We feel overwhelmed.

So, we look for solutions. And when we do, we often turn to the latest tools, gadgets and apps as a way to get more done.

I call it the “shiny object” syndrome.

These tools promise that they’ll help us be more productive. And they might even work for a while.

But then your circumstances change. Or you discover issues with your new shiny solution.

And you’re back to where you started.

I’m a big believer in the fundamentals. If you really want to work more productively, you need to make some REAL changes to your business, life and work day.

These changes don’t have to be huge. Sometimes they’re subtle. But done consistently, they can make a real difference — and help you feel less overwhelmed.

In this podcast episode, I’m going to look at actions you can take to work more efficiently and reduce feelings of overwhelm.

Actions that will serve you well now — and in the long term.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

I’ve organized these “actions” in a pyramid shape:

The actions in the base of the pyramid are the low hanging fruit. This stuff is relatively quick to implement.

As you go up the pyramid, the actions become more challenging to implement — but they can also have a greater impact.

I recommend starting at the base and working your way up.

To-do lists

Surprisingly, some writers don’t use to-do lists. They spend every day reacting to what comes across their desk. They have no plan in place.

Before you dive into any project, you should take a step back to see what else needs to be done. What are the other priorities? What else is on your list?

Sure, sometimes you’re on a deadline and don’t have the headspace to think about anything else. That’s fine. But it shouldn’t be like that every day.

Prioritize your to-do items

Which items on your list are “A” items? “B” items? “C” items?

“A” items are high urgency or high importance (or both).

“B” items are next in priority.

“C” items are “nice to have” but aren’t top priority.

Your to-do list should only have a small number of “A” items. You have to be realistic about how much you can get done in a day.

Trim the fat

On your to-do list, you’ll have some items you want to get to… but are pretty far down your list of priories.

Rather than carrying these items forward day after day, trim the fat by punting these items to the following week or month.

That doesn’t mean you won’t get to them eventually. But you’re not in a position to deal with them right now.

Schedule your day hour by hour

Start each day by laying out your schedule hour by hour.

This schedule doesn’t have to be ultra detailed! It can be as simple as:



The idea is to plan your day early in the morning when your mind is clear.

If emotions run high during the day or unexpected things come up, you can use your plan to guide your actions.

When you don’t have a plan in place, you can get taken off course easily. Before you know it, the day is over and you haven’t gotten anything done.

Use the 50-minute focus technique

Typically, I work on projects in two hour increments. I like variety — so any longer than that and I start getting bogged down.

I use the 50-minute focus technique to manage my time. Here’s how it works:

  • Set your timer for 50-minutes. Close your office door and turn off email. Work on your project.
  • After 50 minutes, walk away and recharge for 20 minutes.
  • After 20 minutes, return to your desk and work for another 50 minutes.

This fills a two-hour block.

I try to do two of these two-hour blocks every day. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you do!

Outsource personal tasks

Outsource personal tasks, such as mowing your lawn, cleaning the house, cooking, child care, etc. It can make a big difference.

Outsource professional tasks

Proofreading is an excellent candidate for outsourcing.

Transcriptions are another no-brainer. You can get interviews transcribed very cost effectively.

Charge enough for your work so that these add-on expenses are a non-issue. Consider them a cost of doing business.

Use a capacity planner

A capacity planner lays out your total work capacity for any given day.

I try to keep to an eight hour work day. I use the capacity planner to plug tasks into this time.

If I can’t get things to fit, I know I need to make some adjustments and move tasks around.

Say “no”

Saying no to clients that aren’t a good fit. Say no to repeated rush projects. Say no to commitments you made a long time ago that have run their course.

Saying no is one of the most freeing things you can do.

Fire a client

You use “no” to set boundaries with clients. But maybe that’s not enough.

Consider letting go of clients that aren’t working out.

Pitch a retainer agreement

When you have a client you love working with, pitch a retainer agreement to them.

Retainer agreements are a great way to free time and reduce overwhelm. They give you predictable revenue. You’re also able to get the work done faster as you get more familiar with the client.

Bring in outside resources

This action sits at the top of the pyramid. Unfortunately, a lot of people want to skip all the other levels and go right to this. That’s a mistake.

Only once you’ve taken all these easier actions should you consider bringing in a virtual assistant, project manager or writer.

At the same time, some writers are already at this level but fail to realize it.

People get focused on keeping profits to themselves. They resist investing in their business by bringing in support.

You have to stop thinking “I can’t afford it.” When you say that, you’re setting yourself up for burnout and frustration. You have to invest in resources to create a business that’s sustainable.

Start Working Your Way Up the Pyramid

As you go up the pyramid, each action requires more time, commitment and resources. But the impact of that action also increases.

So work your way up the pyramid little by little. It won’t happen overnight.

But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, the only thing to do is work your way up.

By the way … whenever you’re ready, here are 4 ways I can help you grow your freelance business:

1.  Grab a free copy of my book for ESTABLISHED writers/copywriters.

You’ll discover how to quickly and predictably reawaken dead leads, generate new client opportunities and convert not-yet-ready prospects into freelance writing clients. — Click Here

2.  Download a free copy of my new book for writers who are NEW to freelancing.

I’ll show you the 3 things you need to do to get your business off the ground safely and land your first paying client faster.  — Click Here

3.  Join my implementation program and be a case study.

I’m putting together a new implementation group this month. If you’d like to work with me to grow your income quickly with better clients (and become one of my new success stories). Just email me at [email protected] and put “Case Study” in the subject line.

4.  Get a 1:1 strategy call with me.

Are you a 6-figure writer who’s trying to earn more in less time with less stress? Let’s jump on a quick call and brainstorm some ideas for getting you there. Just email me at [email protected] and put “Brainstorm” in the subject line.