We’ve all had those moments, when the world seems to be closing in and you feel surrounded by obstacles. You’re under pressure; the weight of the world is on your shoulders and you don’t know where to turn. You’re completely paralyzed. Coffee or tea seems like a monumental decision.

I’m not talking about those days we all have from time to time, where it seems there is no progress; nothing seems to be going according to plan and you just want to go home and get back in bed.

I’m talking about when you hit the wall and you don’t know how to move forward.

Your mind is racing a mile a minute, your breathing is shallow, and there’s too much going on. You’ve reached a point where you’re completely overwhelmed and you’re living in a swirl. Everything that comes up looks like a problem that can’t be solved. Your mindset switches frequency and tries to escape by any means possible. It kicks in and we easily let it take over. We come up with excuses to avoid taking action even if it’s as unrelated as “Did I leave my stove on again?” I sure hope not!

This is a slippery slope and once things start getting a little difficult, everything is spinning in our mind and we end up lost. This is the moment when our reality becomes warped by over-generalizing and blowing things out of proportion. I’d be a millionaire by now if I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I have sooo much work.” Sometimes it’s true, but mostly we feel that way when we find ourselves stuck. In this situation we start exaggerating our reality.

When overwhelm gets the better of us, we start to create false realities of what we think is so, rather than what is actually so.

Lost in The Land of The Wizard of Oz

Think of it this way: your feeling of overwhelm is like the story of “The Wizard of Oz.” You, Dorothy, have been caught in a tornado and find yourself in the dreamlike Land of Oz. You’re living in a temporarily-created false reality until you’re ready to wake up and return back to Kansas. And just like the characters of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, you’re on a journey to find a way back to ‘reality.’ So you follow the yellow brick road to find out what you think is missing or incomplete. While it might be fine to stop and take a quick nap in the poppies, if you want to get back home, you can’t keep making excuses for why you shouldn’t take action.

The most common cop-outs I hear are either “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have enough money.” With this mentality, you start to miss out on potential opportunities that may be coming down the pike. Again, maybe these excuses are legitimate. But a majority of the time, we say these things because we haven’t looked at the bigger picture.

Often entrepreneurs, especially solopreneurs, dive themselves into a flurry of doing, doing, doing. This results in a tornado-like swirl and becomes the biggest source of overwhelm.

“There’s so much to do and only me or my small staff to do it!” You end up moving one unfinished document from one side of the desk to the other. You’re busily working on whatever is the least confronting; insignificant tasks instead of more impactful projects.

For me, it’s emails. I read and reread my emails, not really taking action on any of them. I’m not in pre-vacation mode. You know how it is; when you’re about to go on vacation and you get, like, 10 years’ worth of work done in an afternoon.

Since you’re not taking action on those things that are crucial to your business, this results in a feeling like you’re constantly trying to catch up and avert another crisis. Sometimes it can put you into a state of total action, but usually it’s so overwhelming looking at those things that scream for our attention. All this can lead to us doing anything to escape that feeling: grab a cup of coffee, feed the cat, check in on the kids – all excuses to not deal with the source of the overwhelm.

We all know when we’re in that swirl, but the more important question is, how do you click your heels three times and get back to Kansas (aka home)?

Here are three ways to get out of Oz and back to the business at hand.

Structure Your Day

How you set the stage for your day is the most important thing you can do. It sets the attitude toward that day and you get clear on your intentions. And once you’re clear, the universe is right there to back you up.

First let me say everyone is different and you need to find a structure that works for you. A structure that matches your rhythms and routine. Now, here’s the interesting part: It doesn’t really matter what structure you chose. What makes the difference is that you’re pausing, getting present and becoming clear about your motivation for the day.

Asking “Why” Has Transformed How I Look at Things and Life Itself

Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why am I working on this project? Why am I writing this blog post? When you don’t have an answer for a ‘why’ for your day, you’re inclined to set up your day from the past, from your To-Do list which just goes on and on, and not from your commitment and what really serves your business.

Remember, the motivation, or your ‘why’ for the day, is (big picture) your intention for the day.  

Great Athletes Always Warm Up

With motivation identified, it’s time to warm up. Athletes don’t just jump out of bed and onto the field right away. They have a warm up routine. Do you have a warm up routine, or do you jump right out of bed and, in one fell swoop, use the potty (technical term), nod at your significant other, switch on the computer and you’re off to the races? It all sounds well and good… the only problem is this results in chaos. And I’m convinced I’m not the only one who has experienced this.

Just like a star athlete, you need to create your warm up plan. For me, I drink my water with lemon and I have my tea. When I’m calm and focused, I get present to what I call the “what’s so.” To get to the “what’s so,” I sit down and evaluate what’s going on in my business, what the state of our current campaigns and projects are, and who I need to check in with, then I identify the most important things for me to move forward that day.

Making checklists makes a difference for me when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It’s a great way to warm up for the game. Write down everything that’s swirling around in your head so you can see it in black and white and see “what’s so.” This is not your interpretations or the made-up conversations in your head. When you’re out of your head you begin to see a roadmap of what needs to be done, what actions you need to take and how to prioritize them. It sounds simple, but it’s very powerful. By writing everything down and prioritizing, I can cut through the noise and work through what’s important. There are times when our sense of overwhelm gets us thinking that it’s the end of the world. In these cases we just need to breathe and bring things back into perspective. That full inbox might actually turn out to be only five emails needing a response. And that endless list of people you have to get back to is really just ten calls you can schedule in.

While this is useful when I’m overwhelmed, mostly I just look over everything and sit with it until I’m clear about what actions are going to make the biggest difference. Without this clarity, entrepreneurs get stuck by diving into their inbox with its constant flood of information, requests and comments. They get overwhelmed and get sucked up into the email craziness. Or they get caught up in whatever direction the wind happens to be blowing at the time.

But when you’re clear about your priorities, you know exactly what to do next to move forward on your commitment and purpose. I prioritize what is actually important to do at that very moment.

Pick Three Things to Complete That Day

A couple of years ago, I saw a very successful entrepreneur speak. He said that he focuses on three things he will get done each day. Of course, you can pick as many things as you have the ability to handle. But if you’re a Type A personality (overachiever), pick only three. Why? I work with a couple of those types, and I see the common tendency is to make a To-Do list a mile long and then go into overwhelm! So pick three. And after those three are complete you can take on many others.

When you complete something, magic happens.

When I was just starting out, a brilliant manager of mine shared a very powerful insight. She would complete one thing before she left for work in the morning. It didn’t really matter what it was; it could be as simple as making the bed. What it did was set the tone for the whole day. It’s the same idea as picking three things to complete and then completing them.

Be Present

Now that you’re organized and warmed up, make sure you have a structure to keep your head in the game. Come up with way to check in with yourself throughout the day to make sure that you’re fully present. It can be whatever works for you: a walk, a tea break or a quick meditation session – something simple that wakes you up and keeps you on track.

Set up your day by getting clear on your motivation, warm up by getting present to the work before you and ask yourself, “What three things will I accomplish today?”

This is a very powerful way to design your day. Take breaks from time to time to shut down the noise and have you get present.

This will guarantee a successful day. Rather than living in the land of Oz and being distracted, you remain home for yourself and you’ll be taking the actions that move your business and life forward.