Sunday, March 18, 2012

How To Stop Running Behind & Feeling Overwhelmed


I wouldn't have admitted it when it was happening, but now that I've learned how to manage and overcome it, I can be completely honest in saying that I have been behind in my business and overwhelmed with the amount of work ahead.  This didn't happen just once, nope- it happened several times until I learned how to deal with it and prevent it from happening again.  I hope that my experience can help you learn how to pull yourself out of a never ending hole of bad decisions, and put yourself back in a place of feeling like you have control and can give your clients the best of everything you have to offer.  It wasn't easy for me.  Being so behind on various projects put me in a deep depression and made me want to give up my business and everything that I loved.  I'm here to tell you it's NOT the end.  You CAN turn it around.  Even if you feel like your business has been completely ruined, there's still hope and you can still make a living doing what you love.

After consulting with many different photographers, I generally see this feeling happening somewhere in the second or third year of running a business full time.  Just after you feel like you've had a great year in your business, but now you have more business than you can handle.  Several circumstances generally lead to this feeling:
  • You have not streamlined your workflow or communications
  • You are not priced to make a good living or stay out of debt
  • You have not created healthy habits for good life/work balance
  • You have made business more important than family & friends
  • You have focused more on money than creating great art or fantastic service
Do any of those sound like you?  Do all of them sound like you?  You aren't the only one.  It WILL be OK.  You CAN turn this around.  It has happened to me and it has happened to many other people.  The weak give up and do something else.  The strong use it to help us become better.  It's not easy and it will require change.  The habits that got you to this point won't get you out of it.  You have to be willing to make immediate changes or else you'll continue to run your business and your life ragged until there's nothing left to give.  We're only human.

Step 1: Have Patience With Yourself & Making Changes
Smart, creative, independent people often lack patience when things aren't going the way we planned or envisioned.  When we are in a good place, our impatience makes us creative, inventive, and productive.  However, when we're feeling stuck or lost, impatience makes us compulsive, erratic, and impossible for other people to deal with.  What makes us a great artist, can also make us a bad business owner.  We have to recognize that learning to have more patience when things aren't going well, is one of the keys to overcoming problems.  Problems that took months to create aren't easily solved overnight- much like losing weight takes months of dedication to a healthier lifestyle- so does practicing healthier business habits.  Every small change adds up to something greater.  The only people who fail are those who give up or never try in the first place.  Success is the regular and continual practice of learning how to solve our problems in a way that works for us.

Step 2: Identify How Changing Habits Will Improve Your Life
If we don't continually remind ourselves of the larger benefit in making drastic changes, we will have little incentive to keep pushing ourselves through the process of change.  We need to keep our reminders clear, visible, and accessible wherever we spend most of our time.  We need these reminders to help encourage us to keep making healthier decisions for ourselves and our business.  We also need to put our business in the context of our larger life priorities in order to help us make the best business decisions for our life.  Start by putting simple notes on your wall and only add photos or clippings when you come across something that inspires you and represents one of your ideas.  First, just start with writing out your ideas.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself in order to find out what you really want:
  • What will your ideal day look and feel like?  When will you wake up?  How will you start your day in order to feel healthy and refreshed before getting on your computer or smartphone?
  • How much time will you spend working each week?  What time will you stop answering calls or emails each day?  How much time will you spend with your family and friends and on which days of the week?  How much alone time will you keep for yourself and when will it happen in your day or week?
  • What will you do to relax and unwind?  Where will you go when you need fresh air and inspiration?  What hobbies or activities would you like to do more when you're not working?
  • How many clients will you serve each month or week?  What products and services are you excited to share with them?  How will they let you know you've done great work?
  • What will having a successful business provide for you?  How will it enhance your life?  What will it allow you to do more or less of?
By focusing on the outcomes we want to see in our life, rather than just the immediate problems we need to solve, we put ourselves in a position to make decisions that help us lead a healthier and happier life in general, rather than just quick fix decisions we think we need right now.  By taking the time to finish this one step, you will have started a powerful rewiring of your mind to help you achieve long term and short term goals that will make you happier and healthier.

Step 3: Prioritize Your Problems
Often we are overwhelmed because we have too many things we want to do all at once.  This overwhelm often leads to confusion and doing nothing at all or waiting until someone threatens us to take action on something specific.  Making excuses and procrastinating only digs a bigger hole that takes more energy to climb out of.  Day after day this will lead to loss of energy, excessive worry, and ultimately a mental and emotional meltdown.  The brain can only keep spinning its wheels for so long before it needs to drain energy from the rest of the body and initiate complete shut down just to recharge and take a break.  

I'm not a neuroscientist, but from my personal experience, worrying is far more draining on the mind and  body than doing hard work.  The end result of hard work is feeling productive and accomplished, but the end result of worrying is just breakdown.  In order to take yourself out of the cycle of worrying, you need to prioritize your problems to determine what to do the hard work on FIRST.  The sooner you start doing the hard work on any ONE thing, the sooner you'll start feeling productive and accomplished.  The more productive and accomplished you feel, the more energy you'll have to deal with the rest of your backlog and overwhelm.

There is one simple questions I ask myself to help me focus and prioritize on the FIRST thing I need to do:
  • What action can I take right now that will help me feel better tomorrow?
Notice that I am NOT asking you to make a list of everything you need to do.  You've been making that list in your head over and over and it's been driving you crazy.  What you need to do is take action on ONE thing.  ONE thing that will help you feel productive and accomplished.  ONE thing that will get you closer to the life and business you want for yourself.  Only after you have finished that ONE thing should you ask the question again to determine what ONE thing you need to do next.

Despite what you may believe about yourself, the human brain and body is not good at multi-tasking.  If you consider worrying one of your multi-tasking skills, I would say it actually drains your energy from anything else you're attempting to do.  When you decide to get your mind off the treadmill of worry and onto a walking path of action ONE step at a time, you'll start to see your energy increase, your mood improve, and it will become easier to solve any problems that arise.  If you aren't feeling inspired to get off the worry wheel yet, it's because you haven't done Step 2 and given yourself a reason to start making changes.  How much longer do you want to feel like this?  When will you start creating change for yourself?  How about now?  You can do it!!

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Anne,

    It loved reading your post :)

    ReplyDelete

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