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From Overwhelmed To Organized: How To Keep On Top Of Your Workload


Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

10 minute read

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A recent survey of startup founders paints a bleak picture of what it takes to succeed in modern business. A full 72% of founders reported that running their business has taken its toll on their mental health, with stress (44%), anxiety (37%), and burnout (36%) being the most prevalent issues.

According to experts, most entrepreneurial stress boils down to role overload. In other words, when the demands of your role exceed your time, energy, and capabilities to meet them.

If you're juggling a million things at once, constantly under pressure to make decisions, and never catching a break, it can make life really tough. Not just for you, but for your business, too.

Your work might suffer because it's tough to concentrate with so much going on, and it's hard to come up with new ideas when you're under so much strain. Plus, it can really take a toll on your health, making you feel down, messing with your sleep, and even causing physical problems like headaches and digestive issues. It's not just work that gets affected either—your personal life can suffer too, with relationships and your overall happiness taking a hit.

When things get this overwhelming, it's easy to forget why you started your business in the first place—all that passion and creativity can get buried under the weight of everything you have to do. So, dealing with feeling overloaded isn't just about feeling better yourself, it's also crucial for the success of your business in the long run.

Let's dive into some simple tips and techniques that'll help you get back in control and keep on top of your workload.

Create a master list of everything that needs to be done

Running a small business can feel a bit like a game of whack-a-mole. What entrepreneur hasn’t started their day with a bunch of tasks they need to do, only to be derailed by tasks that need their immediate intention?

There will always be urgent tasks and jobs that pull your attention in different directions. The problem is that these issues can come at the cost of tasks that are equally or even more important but are less pressing. However, if you don’t give attention to these lower-priority tasks, they will go by the wayside and build up, often to the point that you become so overrun that you don’t know where to begin.

So, what’s the solution? Creating a master list.

Think of your master list like a buffet table, filled with all the tasks and responsibilities you need to tackle. It'd be impossible to tackle it all in one go, but you can approach it strategically. Each day, select a portion of tasks that you can comfortably handle and add them to your plate, creating your daily to-do list.


Prioritize your tasks

We talked above about how unexpected tasks can knock us off course, which is something many entrepreneurs experience. But you can bring more order to your day by figuring out what tasks are most important and focusing on those first.

In a fascinating study titled "When Available Resources Become Negative Resources: The Effects of Cognitive Overload on Memory Sensitivity and Criterion Bias" (Fox, 2007) it was discovered that cognitive overload can significantly impair our ability to recall events. The research also highlights a concerning link between feeling overwhelmed and an increased appetite for risk-taking. For entrepreneurs and small business owners, making poor decisions can have disastrous consequences.

Another thought-provoking paper by David Kirsh sheds light on the constant information bombardment we all face from various sources. This cognitive overload can negatively impact our memory, focus, and decision-making abilities. And for those juggling the demands of running a business, these challenges can be even more pronounced.

Kirsh recommends developing skills that allow us to filter the signal from the noise. He also suggests that we learn to prioritize more effectively.

There are lots of different approaches to prioritizing your tasks. Which works best for you depends on your personal preference. Some of your options include:

  • Eisenhower Matrix: A system that categorizes tasks based on importance and urgency.
  • Time Blocking: This consists of dividing your day into blocks and allocating specific types of tasks for each block.
  • A B C method: This tiered system suggests you split tasks into A (high priority), B (medium priority), or C (low priority) based on their impact on your business goals.

Of course, if you’re feeling too overwhelmed to see the wood from the trees and are finding it difficult to prioritize your tasks, outsourcing to a virtual assistant (VA) can be a game-changer. Learning to delegate effectively can help you gain clarity and avoid burnout, allowing you to maintain focus on what truly matters.

See: How To Prioritize As An Entrepreneur: What To Do When All Tasks Feel Important

Break it down

For more complex tasks or projects, all the steps involved can appear to merge into one big, intimidating task. We often can't differentiate between what should come first and what can wait, making us feel stuck before we begin.

That's why the best line of attack involves dividing up the task into smaller parts, more manageable ones.

This approach not only makes the task less daunting but also allows you to make steady progress. You create a streamlined action plan that helps you to prioritize and focus on one thing at a time. As you work through those smaller tasks, you'll get the satisfaction of ticking them off your to-do list, which can be incredibly motivating.


Always try to finish what you start

We’ve all been there. We kick off a new project full of enthusiasm, but then we hit a snag. It could be that the novelty wears off, the reality of the effort needed sets in, or we just run out of steam by the end of the day. Suddenly, progress stops dead in its tracks. Minor problems start to feel like major roadblocks, and the temptation to move on to something else usually wins out.

However, having so many unfinished tasks and projects floating around can weigh heavily on our minds, so it’s crucial to break this cycle of strategic procrastination wherever we can.

Imposing deadlines and setting reminders can be a great way to break out of this thing. Another idea is to make yourself accountable to a friend or loved one. Find what approach motivates you most and run with it.

Finally, there is an old saying in bodybuilding circles, “Don’t rely on motivation; rely on discipline.” The idea here is that motivation can be fleeting and too reliant on external factors. On the other hand, discipline is about developing good habits that become almost second nature.

So, the next time you’re working on a task and your mind starts looking for a way out, remember the power of discipline. By pushing through and completing the job, you're not only ticking it off your list but also strengthening your resilience for future tasks.

Fuel your mind and body

When it's time to tackle important tasks, you want to be able to really lock in and get them done. But the truth is, you'll struggle to get anything done if you can't focus, and you'll struggle to focus if you're tired, hungry, or haven't moved all day.

Staying up too late or getting up too early means you’re burning the candle at both ends. Failing to strike the right work-life balance is a slippery slope that quickly leads to burnout, which will end up hitting your focus and well-being hard. So, make sleep a priority each night so you can show up each day at your best.

Your diet matters too. Of course, eating something is better than not having anything at all, and not everyone has time to cook fancy meals or hunt down organic ingredients, but there are plenty of simple healthy options out there. Having a balanced diet will give you the energy you need to reach your goals.

Finally, the link between exercise and good mental health is well-established. It can help reduce stress, improve mood, boost cognitive function, and increase overall well-being.

In fact, in a recent study by KPMG High Growth Ventures, founders shared that not exercising enough was at the top of their list of reasons for feeling overwhelmed, with 56% of respondents citing it as a factor.

Again, everyone’s situation is different, and hitting the treadmill at 6 am each morning just isn’t practical for most people. But even if you can't commit to a rigorous exercise schedule, finding time for physical activity a few times a week can help you stay sharp, energized, and ready to tackle the week ahead and whatever challenges come your way.

It doesn't have to be a high-intensity workout; even activities like walking, yoga, or dancing can make a difference. The key is to find something you enjoy and make it a regular part of your routine.

See: The Best Foods To Help Boost Your Productivity As An Entrepreneur


Be realistic

Today's hustle culture has led to some pretty unrealistic ideas about what it takes to succeed. Sure, some big names can handle working crazy hours, like 70 or 80 a week. But for most small business owners, trying to keep up with that pace will lead straight to burnout. We all dream of being the ultimate entrepreneur, but sometimes, being practical and taking care of ourselves is the smarter move.

One of the most important things you can do is set realistic expectations about what you can really achieve. Because let's be honest, you can’t keep on top of everything successfully if there is simply too much on your plate. So, instead of beating yourself up because you’re falling behind, you need to get help when you can get it.

If you want to unlock your productivity, you need to automate, delegate, or eliminate some of the tasks on your to-do list. This is where a virtual assistant can work wonders. They can efficiently handle daily tasks from your master list, allowing you to focus on the value-driven jobs that require your expertise and knowledge.

A virtual assistant can take on various different tasks from your workload, such as administrative work, scheduling, research, data entry, and more. They are skilled professionals who can seamlessly integrate into your workflow, providing support and assistance to suit you.

By outsourcing tasks to a virtual assistant, you're not only lightening your workload but also gaining a valuable partner who can contribute to your productivity and success.

Another healthy habit you can develop is learning to say no. Sadly, too many entrepreneurs end up overwhelmed and burnt out because they don’t know where to draw the line. When your schedule is packed, taking on more tasks is a recipe for disaster.

This is why setting boundaries is so important. It's what allows you to protect the time and energy you need to meet your responsibilities, both personally and professionally. Business owners who hire VAs can ease the pressure and strike a balance between productivity and well-being.

See: How To Say No As An Entrepreneur: Setting Boundaries For Success

What's the bottom line?

As business owners, the constant demands of running your own business, coupled with the relentless pressure to succeed, often tempt us to stack our workloads to impossible heights.

If we're not careful, we end up sacrificing our personal well-being, neglecting crucial aspects of our lives, and ultimately risking burnout and diminishing productivity in the long run.

Remember, success is not solely determined by how much work we can handle, but by how effectively we can manage our time and resources.

Staying on top of your to-do list can feel like an uphill battle, but with the right strategies and mindset, it is possible to regain control and stay organized.

If you're feeling like there's too much to do and never enough hours to do it all, consider hiring a virtual assistant today.

Since 2007, our mission at Time etc has been to help business owners feel less stressed and more organized by matching them with the best virtual assistants to tackle their overwhelming workload. Each step of the way, our expert team will carefully assess your needs to make sure you get the right support you need to succeed.

Speak to our expert team to get started and we’ll set you up with a dedicated professional based on the skills and experience you need.

Or try us out for free!

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About the author

Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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