The Overwhelm Factor

The Overwhelm Factor

By David C. Miller

Have you ever encountered this?

  • It happens at the most inopportune times.
  • It paralyzes you in your tracks.
  • You feel powerless to do anything.
  • It makes you avoid the tasks that will make the biggest impact on your business or career.
  • If you can muster up the willpower to work on the task, you find your efforts futile. Your mind stays distracted on the prospects that your efforts may be wasted or—plain and simple—that you will fail... so why bother.
  • When it happens, it's downright PAINFUL!

What am I talking about... OVERWHELM.

These days it's impossible for any business professional to completely evade the feelings of overwhelm. You may be humming along and then one day it hits you like a ton of bricks.

What Causes Overwhelm?

Things like:

  • Being behind on an important deadline.
  • Working hard to grow your business and feeling like you're going at a snail's pace—or even slower!
  • Being buried by work that—even as you strive to complete it—feels like a fruitless pursuit of your professional goals.
  • Feeling unprepared for an upcoming presentation.

The list goes on...

The bottom line is that we feel overwhelmed when we try to take on too much at once. We're trying to eat the elephant in one quick bite.

The Consequences of Overwhelm

Overwhelm can cost us a lot if we stay in it. The symptoms of overwhelm can be summed up as a "deer in the headlights" effect.

Sometimes this may look like you staring at your computer screen; sometimes you may look very busy, but you're doing things that have little effect on your business (like cleaning your desk and reading e–mails); or it may even look like you working on the main task at hand, but your mind just isn't cooperating.

There's nothing more frustrating than spending a day on a project and feeling that you've gotten nowhere with it.

If this season lasts too long, it will cost you hard revenue dollars, career advancement and personal fulfillment. It will start negatively impacting your self–esteem.

Overcoming Overwhelm

The problem with being overwhelmed is that it shuts down the creative centers of our brains. So trying a brute–force–mind–over–matter approach rarely works.

We must get out of overwhelm first so we can be in a more resourceful place to tackle the challenges that face us (i.e., that big project, presentation, sales goal, etc.).

Here is a recipe you can use to get yourself out of overwhelm:

  1. Breathe.
  2. When you're overwhelmed, you're in a fight–or–flight state. The adrenaline is kicking in and the stress levels are high. As simplistic as this strategy sounds, taking some deep breaths can be extremely effective at lowering your stress level.

  3. Refocus.
  4. Whatever we focus on gets bigger and will dominate our thinking. We're overwhelmed because we're focusing on the immensity of the task or the impending failure. We've lost perspective—it's imbalanced. Take a walk, look at the beauty of creation and take inventory on all that's great in life. Create a more balanced perspective.

  5. Re–strategize.
  6. Now we should be able to better access the creative part of our brains. So let's get practical; we need to take action. But we need a different approach or else we'll be back in overwhelm.

The Key: Break Your Big Project Into Bite–Sized Pieces

We get overwhelmed when we try to do too much at once or strive to make things happen too fast. Ironically, when we portion out our task into manageable pieces, we make progress much more quickly.

Take things in a step–by–step fashion. Remember, these big goals are often marathons, not sprints. Small steps forwards—consistently each day—win the battle!

Overwhelm is inevitable, no matter how successful you are. The goal is NOT to never be overwhelmed. Rather we achieve personal success when we recognize when we're overwhelmed and respond in a way that brings us back to a resourceful place.

David C. Miller, MS, PCC, is a professional business coach who works with actuaries, consultants and executives who desire to attract more clients and be more influential in their organizations. He conducts seminars and one–on–one coaching in business development, consultative selling, influence, leadership, team building and communication effectiveness. He can be reached at or 215.968.2483.