You’re overwhelmed. Your head is about to burst, your stomach is fluttering, and your chest feels tight.
You’re feeling like you can’t get all of your tasks done in the time you have, and God bless the poor person who asks you for a favor right now. Oh, boy! Will they ever get an earful!
You're probably also unfocused. You know that you have a lot to do, but can’t decide what is the best use of your time in this moment. So maybe you open up your inbox or scroll through Instagram because it feels like you’re doing something.
This is where I’ve been for the past couple of weeks—except for the Instagram scrolling. I didn’t have time for that. Chaos. Technology meltdowns. Imminent deadlines with demands for my attention coming from all angles. Extreme irritability. Don't even come near me!
As we like to say in our Art Biz Connection community, I’ve been so busy working in the business that I haven’t been able to work on the business.
Working in the business is the daily work that you carry out on behalf of your boss (probably yourself). It's nose-to-the-grindstone. You have blinders on because of this busy-ness, which often means you're in the muck and can't see the future and possibilities. Busy work might be absolutely necessary to keep things rolling along, but it is rarely fulfilling.
I recently talked about working in v. working on your business this on an Instagram livestream.
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Working on the business means evaluating your busy-ness—taking time to look critically at your next steps, if only briefly.
Instead of staying the course without looking up, you're acting as the CEO you signed up to be and analyzing, questioning, and strategizing. Is it the right direction? What else is possible? What do you need to address? It's taking a deep breath and giving yourself enough space to make wiser decisions (and check to see that past decisions are still right for you).
There is a deep sense of satisfaction when working on your business. You aren't checking boxes and crossing items off of a list, but you are feeling more in control. You begin to see possibilities that weren't previously evident.
When we've been working in the business for too long, we're in dire need of a reset.
Here's how you can begin the process of eliminating your current state of overwhelm.
Move The Energy Around
As a first step, move some energy around by trying any of the following.
- Take a walk, do a workout, stretch, or just move your body.
- Tidy up your physical space by decluttering.
- Tidy up your computer desktop, files, or inbox.
- Recycle or throw away whatever is in eyeshot that you don't need.
- Move the furniture, change your view, or switch out your pillows or throw blanket.
Any of these can forge a path for higher vibrations to enter. Now you're ready for your brain dump.
Prepare For Your Brain Dump
If you have more warning than I did … In other words, if you didn't have a total meltdown and feel the need to cancel everything else on your schedule immediately … You can prepare for your brain dump (Brain dumps rarely make it to my calendar as I tend to need them for immediate relief).
You're going to need a good hour for the process. When the time comes, close your computer windows, light a candle, play mood music, say a prayer, try EFT tapping, or perform whatever ritual you require in these moments.
You'll need a couple of pieces of paper or, my preference, a 2-page spread in your journal or notebook.
I like to begin tasks with focused intention and name the task: Now, I am sitting down to get whatever is in my head onto this piece of paper. Sometimes I even say it out loud.
Naming it provides space. You’re not doing anything else at this time. You’re only working on this one thing.
Lay Out Your Projects
In the Artist Planning Sessions, I define a project as a goal that contributes to your vision and takes place in a defined period of time. It consists of multiple steps (tasks) that must be completed in order to be successful.
Your projects might look like any of these.
- Planning an upcoming exhibition
- Developing a new workshop
- Promoting a class or workshop you are teaching
- Ongoing marketing
- Completing a commission
- Writing a grant or residency proposal
- Gaining gallery representation
- Overhauling your website
On your two pages, make headings for specific projects that are on your plate at this moment, leaving plenty of space in between each.
If you find your attention is wandering away from the objective of completing your brain dump, get up and run in place for 1 minute, walk up and down a flight of stairs, or lift your free weights for 10 reps. Physical movement should jolt you into an improved mental state.
You understand, don’t you, that you’re in real trouble if you can’t focus long enough to do a brain dump that will help you focus?
Under each heading, make a list of smaller projects that contribute to the success of your bigger project.
For example, if your larger project is ongoing marketing, your sub-projects might include any of the following.
- Posting to Instagram
- Sending monthly emails
- Making 2 videos a month
- Giving public talks
There's no such thing as perfection here. Your mission is to document everything that is in your head right now.
You might also want to prioritize the sub-projects. Which ones must be done first? Either they have to be completed before you can move on to other tasks or the deadline is closest.
I sometimes label mine with a 1, 2, or 3 (and sometimes add a decimal point if I need to squeeze something in between two digits).
Add Tasks to Your To-Do List
You can use your brain dump paper as a to-do list only briefly. It’s too nutty to use it for more than a couple of days.
From your sub-projects, you should be able to identify related tasks and deadlines. Add these to your master to-do list.
Work The System
Your final step is to maintain this level of control for as long as possible. You have to work the systems you have put in place.
You have to look at your task list, review your projects, work on your business.
As hard as you try to stay in control, the overwhelm is likely to show up again. You'll recognize it. And then you'll have a proven process to get back on track.
This post was first published on January 28, 2016. It has been updated with original comments intact.