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How to deal with overwhelm when you work for yourself

You know when you accidentally take on too much at once? It might be because a bunch of exciting projects come together at the same time and you don't want to decide between them, or because you don't want to say no to people you're building relationships with. Whatever the reason, it's easy to find yourself falling into a well of overwhelm.

You know when you accidentally take on too much at once? It might be because a bunch of exciting projects come together at the same time and you don’t want to decide between them, or because you don’t want to say no to people you’re building relationships with. Whatever the reason, it’s easy to find yourself falling into a well of overwhelm. When you work for yourself, there’s no sick pay – so maintaining your health (and sanity) is an urgent priority. So how can we make sure we don’t get sick during those rough periods of working 7 days per week?

Use Premack’s Principle

Harvard Business Review says that this principle can help us balance overwhelm. Essentially, we should be rewarding ourselves for completing difficult tasks, by completing an easy one. Let’s say you’ve wrapped up your client work by late afternoon. Following Premack’s Principle, you can reward yourself by doing the laundry or sending off a quick email. What a treat!

Batch similar tasks

Batching seems to be the answer to all our problems. A simple solution with solid results, business coach Fast Forward Amy has a podcast episode devoted to her Catch, Batch, Act principle. We’re supposed to collect similar tasks together in one list, and then carry them all out in the same chunk of time, while we’re in the flow. It makes sense – I spend much of my days replying to emails at random times and then getting sucked down an unrelated path that usually ends up at a BuzzFeed quiz. Much as I love finding out which character on Modern Family I am, in times of overwhelm it’s probably not the best use of my precious hours.

Look after your health

I can’t be the only person who’s tired all day, and suddenly comes to life at 10pm, right when I should be getting into bed. It’s a strange mentality of “I’ve worked all day, so I deserve this episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” Never mind the fact that the episode is from 2009, and I’ve seen it at least 10 times already. Prioritising sleep is one of my top resolutions for 2020, and with good reason. The Queen of Sleep Arianna Huffington points out that sleeping is necessary to be at the top of your productivity game, and when you’re drowning in work assignments, that’s the only way to be.

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