How to Beat Overwhelm when Starting a Business

Sitting around a bamboo table of successful entrepreneurs in Bali, Indonesia, one particularly blunt Asian Canadian leans over her coconut water and says with utmost confidence “Starting a business is like *&^&*%! therapy.” She’s the owner of “Screw The Cubicle”, a coaching business that helps corporates escape the cubicle and start a business on their own terms. Badass right?

She continues on about how building a business exposes all your weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and insecurities. In a traditional job, you have a very specific role and deliverables. It’s so easy to simply focus on what you’re great at, what you studied, or what you were hired to do. You’re not ultimately on the hook for the business to be successful as you’re not the owner.

For creatives in business, the feeling of overwhelm can be even more intense. There are normally no co-founders or tech teams. It’s all you (or you can feel that way) The feeling of overwhelm is centre stage. It’s all me! I have to do everything! Even more so as creative businesses are so deeply personal and therefore adds the element of taking things personally.

Overwhelm is emotional paralysis which brings on feelings of lack of control, inability to handle the circumstances, and plain old indecision. Your chest may feel tight and you hear the voice in your head say:

  • I don’t have enough time
  • I don’t know where to start
  • I can’t do this all alone
  • I need to make money now
  • This is just too much
  • What’s the priority? What’s most important?

5 Reasons for Feeling Overwhelmed

1) High Expectations & Standards

This one is absolutely my personal nemesis. When starting a business, you want everything to be perfect, look polished, and turnout exactly how you pictured in your dreams. However, it’s just not going to happen. To once again quote that foul-mouthed Canadian, “Sometimes good enough is good enough” Getting something DONE and out to the public is 1000% better than perfect. Let me say that again, done is better than perfect. You can always improve things with time. I bet you have looked at a business that is very similar to what you do or what you dream of doing and said, “That website is terrible, I could do it so much better.” Harsh truth…no one cares. That person has their product on the shelves. That person is doing it. Ideas and thoughts are nothing. Execution is everything.

Example time: When I first started my video company out of Bali, Indonesia I spent a month trying to make the most slick looking website. Eight months later, multiple international clients, and $40,000+ in profit – looking at my Google Analytics, not a single one of my clients had even seen my website. What a waste of time, money, and energy.

2) No Plan

Most people that feel overwhelmed have some sort of plan. Perhaps it’s in a Hello Kitty notebook or an Excel spreadsheet. However, the way you create your plan really sets the tone for your work and in the end your feelings/mindset. One planning style may work brilliantly for one, but make another feel completely overwhelmed. You need to find a system that works for you (more below)

3) Imposter Syndrome

This one really hits me hard some days and used to contribute significantly to my feelings of overwhelm. Imposter syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. Basically:

You’re faking it and someone is going to find out.
You’re a fraud. A phoney. Not good enough.
You don’t have the experience or background to do what you are doing.
These feelings are so normal both in business and especially with creative entrepreneurs. There are no certificates or licences to be an artist, so these feelings run deep.

4) No System or Routine

I challenge you. Go find your favorite celebrity, business guru, sports hero, or famous artist and have a look into their routine. From crazy morning routines to systems that help the mind to get work done… 99% of successful people have one. George R Martin, writer of Game of Thrones writes all his books an an old PC with no internet connection or spell check.


5) Trying to do Everything

Even really successful business people struggle with this one. The idea that YOU have to do everything contributes greatly to overwhelm. I have to stop myself daily and ask “is this the best use of my time?” and “could I pay someone else to do this?”

Just because you CAN do something does not mean you should in business. Yes, I can mess around with my website for 8 hours to make my new sales pages look perfect….or I could pay a designer to get it done in an hour. For the $25.00 USD I paid the designer, I freed up 7 hours of my time to move my busineses forward and generate revenue. Simply put, focus on your strengths and contract out what you can.


1) Set a Timer

If I give you a task and tell you you have 5 hours, 90% of the time it would take you 5 hours. An interesting psychological thing happens called “Parkinson’s Law” which states “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. When building a business and feeling overwhelmed in the process, you may simply wake up and start list making. The problem with lists is there is no time restriction or time prioritization.

Working with timers really did change my day and how I feel in terms of overwhelm. The idea behind timers is that the human mind can only really focus on something effectively for about 25 minutes. The Pomodoro Technique is a method where you break your day and tasks down into 25 minute periods with short breaks in between. I personally, use one hour periods as this works for me. I say to myself “Joel, you have one hour to get this done” and you know what? It gets done in one hour. If not, I take a break and come back to it later in the day and focus on something else for an hour.

Here is a great timer that I like. Try breaking your day into 7 one-hour blocks with a timer set for each hour with breaks, and watch the magic happen to your feelings and productivity.

2) Eat the Frog

This technique basically says, do your least favourite or worst task first thing in the morning (or eat the frog first) The worst task and the task you are most liking to procrastinate on should be done first thing.

Building this into your routine will ensure a few things:

-You get the highest priority task done first

-Your energy level is at its best and therefore helping you through the worst task

-You will feel amazing for the rest of the day

3) Have a Routine

Go ahead and Google “Morning Routines” and you will get a whole weekend-worth of reading material on interesting, famous, and successful people and their routines. Having a routine will kill overwhelm by training your brain to focus on your normal day-to-day tasks instead of the feelings of what needs to be done.

4) Learn to Delegate and Contract

This goes back to the point earlier on trying to do everything. Of course you will feel overwhelmed if not only you are doing everything, but you are also doing things that you are NOT good at. As an entrepreneur, you should focus on your strengths and growing your business. Everything else should be delegated or contracted out. An important point on this is that often we try to do things ourselves because it saves us money. However, you really need to ask yourself what the opportunity cost or trade-off of what you are doing.

– Doing things you are not good at drains your energy.

– Yes, you may save $100.00 dollars by hacking together that Facebook banner yourself over three hours. However, could you have had someone professional do it that would only take an hour? How much is three hours worth to you and your business?


Everyone feels overwhelm at one point or another when building a business.  The important thing is to concentrate on the reasons we feel overwhelmed and what habits and actions we can implement to make sure we are being truly effective with our time and energy. Now get out there and build the busineses and lifestyle of your dreams!