It happens to all of us.
We take on too many clients, miss a couple deadlines, and project timelines start falling further and further behind.
Recently I got a message on Instagram asking for my top tips to give someone who overbooked themselves and was struggling with meeting deadlines because of it. Whether it was financial reasons or just your lack of planning that got you into this situation, there is a way out of it.
Because I understand not everyone can simply hire a VA or an assistant to immediately take on some of your work, I wanted to share 8 things you can do when you’re overwhelmed and overbooked without hiring someone.
So let’s dive in!
01. Walk away
When you’re overbooked and falling behind can affect your mindset. All of the thoughts of not being good enough, not organized enough, or not talented enough start flooding your thoughts and can psych you out.
When this happens, take a break. Walk away from your computer for 15 minutes to clear your head. Do something that’s been nagging you (the dishes, laundry), take a walk, or grab something to eat (because most likely you haven’t eaten something healthy yet). Try to avoid scrolling social media as it can often make things worse.
Once your 15 minutes are up, take 3 deep breaths and pick one thing that’s stressing you out the most to work on.
02. Make a list
Often what gets us overwhelmed is the lack of planning. Whenever you get overwhelmed and start scrambling with what to work on first, who’s project is more important, and seeing your inbox notifications skyrocket, start with a list.
If you aren’t using a PMS (project management software) like Asana, Trello, or Clickup to manage your projects, I’d recommend starting to after you’ve gotten through this busy season.
Whether you’re using a PMS or not…
- Write out all of the projects you’re working on in order from the oldest project to the newest project. I always recommend getting the oldest project done first as that’s the one you’ve probably had to push the most deadlines for.
- Break the project down into the tasks you still need to complete.
- Start adding deadlines to each task, and don’t forget to be reasonable with how long it will actually take you to complete them.
- For today, choose 3 of them that you’ll work on and work on those until you complete them, then if you finish those add another from your list until the day is done. Tomorrow, pull your top 3 tasks from the list and below it 3 tasks you’d like to get done if you complete the top 3.
03. Turn on Do not disturb
Notifications are one of the biggest sources of distractions. Whether your computer keeps popping out notifications, your watch keeps buzzing, or your phone keeps dinging, you’re constantly being bombarded with things trying to get your attention.
If you’re an Apple user, here are a couple ways to turn off your notifications for just a little bit.
- Put your computer on do not disturb by clicking the small icon in the top right corner (looks like a tiny list) and scroll up. This will reveal the Do Not Disturb toggle switch. Any notifications you’d normally receive from your phone, email, etc. won’t pop out for the rest of the day.
- Turn Do Not Disturb on on your phone. You can either swipe up and click the moon icon or go to your settings to turn it on. With DND on you’re able to choose the time frame it’s on for and if you allow calls from anyone. I personally make sure that “allow calls from favorites” is turned on in case I have to be reached by one of them during this time.
- Take your Apple watch off or put it on do not disturb (the little moon icon)
Tell your partner that you’re “going dark” for X amount of time and you’ll check your phone after. But if they have to get in touch to call you. This will help set clear boundaries while allowing yourself to still be accessible.
Or, if you don’t want to go to that extreme, place your phone on silent mode and flip it over so you can’t see the blinking light.
04. Set your Out of Office responder
One of my favorite things lately has been having an autoresponder constantly turned on. For me, it has helped set boundaries with clients (and potential clients) that I’m not always accessible, most likely because I’m trying to work on their project. Below is the autoresponder email that I have turned on most of the time:
Thanks so much for your email! In an effort to give my complete focus on the task in front of me, I’m limiting how often I check my email. However, I will make every effort to respond by the end of the day—if you’re emailing after 4 pm on a Friday, I’ll get back to you on Monday when I’m in my office.
In the meantime, here’s some resources you may enjoy:
I’ve had several leads and clients hit respond or tell me later how much they appreciated seeing this email because of the boundaries and focus it represents. If you’re in the middle of an email conversation with a client, you can either turn it off during your conversation or let them know you’re still going to be responding but that it’s for all other incoming emails.
05. Try time blocking
Time blocking might just be one of the best things you can do to help keep you on track. There are 2 ways you can try time blocking.
01 | Use the Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro Technique breaks your time into small sprints, typically 25 or 52-minute intervals with an 8 or 17-minute break in between. You can use a timer or try apps like Focus app, Tide app or WorkBreaker to help set up those sprints easier.
02 | Time block your calendar
Sometimes it helps to plan out your entire day so that you get things done. As a creative, I know it’s hard to stick with the same schedule every day as it causes boredom or it’s just honestly not how they work best. And that may be true, however, when you’re overwhelmed and overbooked, trying to get everything done, you may need to try something like time blocking in order to get there.
Know that you don’t have to rigidly stick to the schedule. Things happen, but I’ve found having this kind of guideline has helped me finish projects that I’ve been putting off. On the calendar below you’ll see the entire day blocked from 8am-5pm. This is merely a guideline for how you could block your day, so don’t worry if you work different hours or you have a different number of clients or projects.
Each day has been varied slightly to show 5 options for how you can structure your day. The big thing to see is how there are small breaks and lunch scattered through the entire day. I know how crazy it can get when you’re overwhelmed to not take breaks. But taking breaks is key to keeping your mental health strong, your body physically strong and fed and your energy up. With this schedule, you’ll be able to take calls from clients, work on multiple projects and not work 24/7.
06. Set the right environment
Running a business, I’ve learned that I need the right environment to GSD (get 💩 done). You may have a perfectly styled office and a quiet house, but that may not be what you need right now to GSD. Your environment can play a huge factor in your productivity level, so here are the 3 things you can do right now to increase productivity:
01. Change what you’re wearing
You normally may wear yoga pants, a comfy T and no makeup when you work, but if you’re not feeling that today, take a shower, do your hair and makeup and put on some actual pants and a cute (but comfy) top. This small change can make you feel more professional which in turn will help you GSD. Or the opposite may be true. Normally you’re all dressed and ready to go, but realistically you need to be comfy so you can cross your legs and just dive in. Whatever you need to be wearing to GSD is what you need to do.
02. Move locations
If you work from home and your office or kitchen table isn’t cutting it for you no matter how many candles you light or how quiet it is, you may need a change of scenery. When I’ve needed to really get things done for a project I’d been avoiding, I would head over to a coffee shop and be able to get more done in 2 hours than I could’ve in a whole day. My funny little secret of getting a ton of work done in a short amount of time? I go to the coffee shop knowing that I will leave when I really need to use the bathroom. Weird, I know, but it’s one of those things that has helped me put a physical timer on how much can I get done before I gotta go?
03. What are you listening to?
Music can make or break your focus. For me, I can’t listen to anything with lyrics when I’m working as I’ll start singing and typing the lyrics instead of the email I need to get out. Often you’ll find me listening to soundtracks from action movies like Gladiator, Enders Game, or basically anything by Steve Jablonsky. When I need something a little more chill, I’ve got a couple playlists that I’ll grab, still, they’re all instrumental, but they’re a little slower and less intense than the previous playlists. My favorites are Perfect Concentration and Deep Focus from Spotify.
Sometimes you just need to have a little bit of company while you work. Coworking is one of my secret productivity boosters. There are a lot of days when I’ve tried changing my environment, writing down my list, and picking 3 things, and all those tips I’ve listed above, but I’m still just not feeling it. So I’ll text a couple biz besties, see if they’re working, and if they want to hop into Zoom and cowork for a couple hours. It’s amazing how much I get done and how focused I am when I’ve got that little screen in the corner showing me that they’re working hard. It forces me to stay focused and on task.
If you live in a city where a physical coworking space is available, give it a shot and see how you like it! Or if you’re like me where there aren’t any, then virtual coworking will be perfect—plus you can mute everyone, turn off your video and focus even more, while still knowing that your besties are working too.
Occasionally on Instagram, I’ll put out a story seeing who wants to cowork, so make sure to follow me and join when you see that story!
Virtual coworking sessions tend to work best when everyone hops on at the same time and for the first few minutes, shares what they’re going to be working on and then mutes themselves. Each hour, check in with each other and see how that task/project is going and what they’ll be working on for the next hour. You can continue doing this for however long you decide to cowork, but make sure that it doesn’t become chatty hour because then it’ll become more of a coffee chat than a coworking session.
08. Buckle down
Last but not least, suck it up, buckle down, and GSD.
Here’s a little bit of tough love for you.
This overwhelm is a result of everything you’ve said yes to, and now you need to do the work. I know it’s going to suck. Maybe you want to give up, but you’re more than capable of making it through.
You may need to work late nights or early mornings, but it’s not forever.
Take a look at your calendar and start rescheduling anything that is not absolutely necessary. Right now you need to focus on finishing your projects, and getting back to a place of balance.
Send emails to your clients and let them know that you’re working on finishing up their project and apologize if necessary. You don’t have to go into detail about why you’re late, or explain or make excuses, just own up to it and tell them you’re going to be working on their project and to expect an update by X date.
Just remember, this is only for a season, and once this time is over you’ll come out smarter and more aware of how you got there.
If you want extra insurance you don’t land here again, consider hiring someone who can be your right hand.
Wrapping it up
Overbooking yourself can lead to overwhelm, but you are more than capable of getting these projects done. Take a deep breath, come up with your game plan and dive in. If you’d like to see a couple more productivity tips along with how I have one whole day dedicated to internal tasks (aka CEO day), read this blog post I wrote on 4 tips to wild productivity.