Staving off New Year’s planning overwhelm

Show me a small business owner, and I’ll show you someone who’s been making plans, setting goals, and dreaming dreams.

That’s what happens during this transition from one year to the next.

Excitement runs high.  The struggles of the previous year are set aside.  The new year lies ahead like a field of fresh snow, trackless and pristine.

And then overwhelm creeps in.  Memories of what you didn’t get done last year start to dim your excitement.  You notice that January is half gone – 1/24th of the year is over! – and your focus begins faltering.

How can you be feeling behind already?

If this seems familiar, it’s okay.  You’re far from alone.  It’s just New Year’s Planning Overwhelm – a common experience for small business owners at this time of year.

Here are a few ways to slow down, settle down, and stave off the overwhelm.

What needs attention?

In the inspiration of planning and beginning new projects, it’s easy to forget that your business still needs the same day-to-day work to keep going.

Your excitement for those new projects can urge you into amazing feats of productivity.  And you need to harness some of that energy to keep up with the routine tasks that keep your business afloat.

Sending out invoices, meeting with long-term clients, going to networking events, and doing your bookkeeping and filing – in some ways, these things need more attention, not less, at this time of year.

By all means, enjoy the thrill of those new endeavors.  They’re a crucial part of growing your business – and the excitement is invigorating.  But save some of your time and energy for the ongoing routine work.  Because if you don’t, you’ll quickly find yourself feeling exhausted, behind schedule, and – you guessed it – overwhelmed.

Projects versus tasks

Brainstorming and planning create big ideas and big projects.

Then when things settle down, those big projects start looking like Mount Everest:  VERY large and looming.

But no one climbs Mount Everest in a single bound.  There are a myriad individual tasks – one foot in front of the other – that go into a successful ascent.

If something on your to-do list feels huge and overwhelming, that might be because it is.  It doesn’t mean you’re procrastinating, or lazy, or that you’ve lost your enthusiasm.  It just means you’ve put a project on your list, instead of a task.

What’s the smallest next step you can take?  When you break down those big projects into individual, incremental tasks, you’ll be much more productive – and you’ll feel a lot less overwhelmed.

Hold your plans lightly

Plans are great for getting started, and they’re necessary for keeping track of details.  Yet plans can also limit your perspective.  Tying yourself to a particular course of action just because you’re following the plan is an invitation to overwhelm.

Your business, and all the projects you’re working on, have their own pace – and that may not be what you expect.

Don’t assume you know what will happen.  You really only know what you believe or hope will happen.

That doesn’t mean giving up on planning and schedules – far from it.  It does mean easing up on the struggle to keep things under control and to know exactly where you’re going and how and when you’ll arrive.

Hold your plans lightly. Allow them to evolve and change.  When you allow flexibility to play a role in your business, you’ll have more fun, feel less overwhelmed – and arrive at better, more interesting results.

Be curious

Approach the year ahead with curiosity.  That snowy field hides many surprises.  Your trip across it won’t be in a straight line – and you’ll meet many experiences and people that you can’t even dream of, standing here on the edge.

Be curious.  Explore the unexpected.  Take your time.  And enjoy the journey!

“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”  Thomas A. Edison, 1847-1931, American inventor, scientist, and businessman

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  John Lennon, 1940-1980, English musician and singer-songwriter; from “Beautiful Boy”

“I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.”  E.B. White, 1899-1985, American author of children’s books (most notably Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web) and co-author of The Elements of Style

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1890-1969, five-star general and 34th President of the United States.

“Adventure is just bad planning.”  Roald Amundsen, 1872-1928, Norwegian polar explorer.