The case of the overwhelmed small business owner

by on December 19, 2010

I thought it fitting that my last post of 2010 covers a topic that abounds at this time of year, with people running around in a harried frazzle, too much to do, too little time, feeling seriously overwhelmed.

Now, have you ever felt overwhelmed by your small business?

If your answer is yes (as I suspect it is unless you are some kind of super hero or zen master), then first off, congrats. Feeling overwhelmed means that you are moving, shaking, taking action, making things happen.

But, let’s face it, feeling overwhelmed sucks…

What happens when you are overwhelmed by your small business?

People will react in different ways. Anxiety might take over and nervous thoughts will race through your head. Negativity may arise where you start to question yourself and your abilities. Or, you might just withdraw completely, pretend your business doesn’t exist and settle in on the couch with a big bag of chips.

So many of my friends have asked me  how I stay motivated to work when I’m the one in charge, and how I can possibly focus on work each day when I have the freedom to just go out and play instead.

Well, certainly needing to pay the bills keeps you going! But I find that for me, when I’m motivated and in my zone, I have no trouble working. I’m jazzed, revved up and ready to make things happen. I love my little business!

It’s when I start to feel overwhelmed that sh** hits the fan. And yes, it happens to the best of us.

Let’s tune in first

You are totally normal

OK, let’s get this one out of the way first. You are a small business owner. This means that you not only run a business and provide a product or service, but you might also be in charge of sales, marketing, customer service, accounting, HR etc… You are responsible for a zillion things. Of course you feel overwhelmed sometimes!

Your mind is getting in the way

Often when you feel overwhelmed, you have your reptilian brain in stepping in and calling the shots. You know, the part of your brain that is supposed to protect you from taking crazy risks and killing yourself, but has evolved into an alarm system that goes off whenever things get hard.

The majority of people in this world are run by this lizard (Everett Brogue has deemed them drones). The little voice that says conform, work a steady job, be responsible, don’t rock the boat, take the safe route, and on and on…..

As a small business owner, you’ve no doubt told that part of your mind to shove off (several times). But it’s a sly little fellow, and finds ways to sneak in. When you’re feeling overwhelmed to the point that you want to throw in the towel,  it’s probably your lizard by for a visit. As Marie Forleo  shared, the mind and body have an incredible way of wreaking havoc when you’re trying to do awesome stuff.


When those waves of “oh my god what have I gotten myself into, get this girl a beer”, start washing over you, accept them for what they are. Recognize them. Give them a name or a persona if you wish. Oh, look, it’s Winnie the wet blanket again telling me I can’t do this.

When Winnie tells you that you’re a crappy business owner, and you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, smile at her antics. She can talk, but you don’t have to listen. Thanks, but no thanks. It’s amazing how simple recognition and acceptance gives you back your power. Rather than resisting your feelings, you’re accepting that they are there and that they are perfectly normal.


I know that I often feel overwhelmed because I feel that I have so much to get done, and I tell myself that it needs to get done now. Otherwise, my business won’t move forward. That’s a lot of pressure. But even if I managed to tick every thing off that to-do list, I can guarantee you that I would not reach my goals overnight. Because everything takes time. And sometimes, time is exactly what you need. To firm up ideas. Leave space for new ones to come in. Change direction. Alter your goals.

By reminding yourself to be patient, that building up a small business takes time, that the world won’t end if you don’t get something done, you are taking back control.


Now, imagine if you actually embraced those feelings of overwhelmedness. Instead of resisting Winnie, picture yourself giving your little creature a hug and a welcome. Sounds crazy? I assure you, it’s not. Feeling overwhelmed might just be your lizard getting in the way again, or it might be a signal to you that things in your business are a little out of whack. That you have some adjusting to do. Embrace the potential lesson to be learned.

Take charge and see what you can learn from feeling overwhelmed

Get your to-do list working

Don’t have a to do list?

That might be part of the problem. Whether you jot things down on a piece of paper, get your Outlook or Google calendar going, or create an electronic document with the things you need to get done, having it written down really helps to give you back a sense of control. You can see exactly what needs to get done, and you no longer have to worry about forgetting anything, cause it’s right there.

Or is it your list itself that is overwhelming you? It has just reached 20 pages long, and you would need an army to make it all happen. This probably means that it’s time to do some prioritizing and reorganizing. Maybe divide out the list into chunks (like top priority, nice to get done, future to-dos).

Or is it the stuff on the list that freaks the bejesus out of you? If one of your tasks is create a website for my small business, no wonder you want to run in the opposite direction. That’s a hell of an undertaking. Take these huge monsters, and break ‘em up into manegable bits. Tasks such as write an about page, and choose pictures, are much less daunting.

Come up with a plan

Devote yourself to doing things to keep your business moving forward. Whether it’s one thing each day to move your business ahead, or one full day a week devoted to only bolstering your business. Whatever works for your schedule, but make sure it’s scheduled in.

And these don’t have to be crazy time consuming things either. It could just be making one phone call or sending one email. As long as you’re moving forward and getting something done, you will feel better in having accomplished something.

Scrutinize your productivity and hunker down

Look carefully at what takes up your time during the day. Time yourself if necessary. It can be quite shocking to find out how long it actually takes you to do certain things.

Once you’ve got that down, reassess. Is it really the best use of your time to spend an hour on Facebook? Probably not. See where you can make adjustments. Maybe this is just the wake-up call you need to look at your productivity.

Nobody expects you to be perfect

Are any of your tasks taking longer than they should be because you’re a perfectionist spaz? I’m not pointing fingers, I’m simply asking if we share this trait in common. We do? Oh boy.

Perfectionists probably get more overwhelmed than anyone, because there is so much more that they think they have to do. Going back to the website example above, imagine if your task was to build the PERFECT website. Holy heck, stick my head in the ground won’t you?

Being a perfectionist can be positive (and if you’re one of my clients, I’m sure you’re loving that part of my persona). Refusing to have typos in your website is one thing, spending 6 months researching ALL of the elements that a good website has so that you don’t miss not even one solitary aspect, is quite another.

Practice being a reasonable perfectionist. This will take time, but training yourself to kick those perfectionist tendencies to the curb will change your world.

Can you take anything off your plate?

Maybe you actually do just have way too much going on.

Assess all the tasks that you do.

Do they all really need to be done by you? Think about outsourcing what you can. Definitely try to get someone else to do the stuff that you suck at and that drains your energy. And because you hate it, it probably takes you way longer to do.

This way, you can focus on using your strengths to build your business, which according to Danielle LaPorte is the best way to propel your business forward (and trust me, she knows what she’s talking about!).

Appreciate the teachings that feeling overwhelmed has brought you. Maybe you simply need a mental health day. Maybe you are wasting your time. Whatever it is that you have learned, you have just made your business stronger. Cue the gratitude brigade 🙂

Wishing all you fabulous readers a fantastic holiday season! See you in the New Year…

Image source: Michal Marcol /

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessilicious December 24, 2010 at 6:03 am

Hi Martina!

Great tips here! I liked the little bit about “Winnie”. Love the idea of giving that whiney voice a name… 😉 That would definitely help to make it more FUN to ignore it, or to just notice and be aware of it. 🙂


Martina December 24, 2010 at 9:55 am

Hi Jess,

Thanks for stopping by! Yes, I really find that giving that negative voice a persona helps to suck away its power. Makes it that much easier to tell it to get lost 🙂 So that you can continue on your journey of awesomeness!


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