Overwhelm, I don’t think I’ve met with a VA who hasn’t experienced it at one stage or another. If  you’re a VA who has kids, overwhelm often kicks in once summer holidays are over and the kids have gone back to school. For other VAs, clients may have had time out over the summer period, but are now back, delegating lots and/or starting to think about Black Friday promotions and Christmas. [Side note, VAs can also do Black Friday deals on their own business – check out this blog on what VAs can offer as Black Friday promotions!] For some VAs, September is seen almost like a new beginning and this can be a good thing. However, for other VAs this can lead to feelings of overwhelm, as they realise they have to get focused back on their own business activities and tasks. It can feel like you can no longer hide from that huge growing list of jobs to do and there are no more excuses. You need to get back into work mode – fast. [Edit for 2020] I think this year, these feelings are intensified and so if you are feeling slightly overwhelmed the following tips will help. Perhaps you are nervous about the children going back to school after being off for so long, you are still on furlough from your employed role, you have been made redundant – the list is actually endless. I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed instead I want you to feel on track and in control.  So let me share these simple tips to help you end the summer overwhelm and regain focus and control.

Start by clearing your space

If your house is anything like mine, your office becomes a bit of a dumping ground during the school summer holidays. If this is the case, start by giving yourself 15-30 minutes max, to tidy up your surroundings. Clear out the kids stuff, give your surfaces a dust and file or store away anything that needs tidying. However, don’t use this as a procrastination technique of its own. Set a timer and focus on tidying and clearing – not rearranging and redecorating! This can help get you back into work mode, especially if your office space looks clean, clear and ready for action. As stated in my recent blog post on top interior design tips for a productive home office, clutter can increase stress levels. As this article in Psychology Today states, clutter can also affect your mental health and visual processing! Once you’ve tidied and cleared your space, and before you turn on your laptop, get your head free from overwhelm. For this, I’d recommend carrying out a brain-dump.

Brain-dump exercise to clear overwhelm

This is a great way of getting back in control of any overwhelm you may be experiencing. It helps to clear your head and your creativity, as you’re not having to think or remember everything – it all gets written down and categorised.  I use this exercise myself and it’s also one I recommend to other VAs. Anyone who’s in my Facebook VA group and listened to my Facebook Live on overwhelm will know it’s one of my favourites. I often find myself talking through this exercise with stressed out VAs, during my drive back from Sainsburys or the school run! So here’s the steps I use and recommend:
  1. Start by getting yourself a notepad and pen. Now an A3 sized one is perfect, but if you don’t have one, don’t use this as an excuse to procrastinate – especially if you need to get a handle on your overwhelm now! Instead, grab the biggest notepad you can find.
  2. Sit down and spend the next 15-20 minutes getting everything that’s in your head, down onto paper. Don’t try to make it look pretty, stop worrying about how to word something or get the spelling right – and definitely don’t grab different coloured pens to illustrate or colour it in! Just get all of those jumbled thoughts, to-do lists, tasks, worries etc down on that paper until it’s all out of your head.
  3. Now this bit’s important – walk away from it for 15-20 minutes. Go for a walk, have a coffee or a glass of wine, but take a breather and have a time away from it.
  4. Once you’ve had a break, go back and look at your brain-dump. What categories are there? Usually I find there’s 6-8 categories, for example: personal, family, clients, website, marketing, etc.
  5. Get another A3 piece of paper and make a grid of however many categories you have. Then look at your brain-dump and start writing everything from it, into the relevant category. Keep going until everything is categorised on that second piece of paper.
  6. Your next step? Schedule time in your calendar for when you’re going to carry out those actions. You want not more than 3 things on any one day – but if they’re big tasks, make sure you break them down into smaller ones.
  7. It’s also worth remembering – it’s ok to have a ‘one day’ to-do list. This is where you write down things you don’t need to do now, anytime soon or even ever, but that are currently rattling around inside your head, taking up brain width.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, regardless of whether it’s down to the kids going back to school or a growing to-do list, why not use the steps above to carry out your own brain-dump? Not only can it help clear your head, it will also help you get back in control and focused on your business – ready to end the year on a high! How did you get on with the above brain-dump exercise? Why not share your thoughts on it, in the comments below. And if you’d like some additional help to get focus and clarity on your next steps towards business growth, why not book in a Power Hour with me? You’ll find all the details on my Power Hour here on the Coaching pages of the VACT Website.  This blog was first published on 6 Sep 2019 but has been updated.