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Dealing with Overwhelm in Your Creative Business
Dealing With Overwhelm In Your Creative Business

Nikki and Laura discuss the overwhelming topic of overwhelm! What do you do when there are so many things going on that you don’t know where to start? How can you break things down into manageable chunks?

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Topics discussed

  • Four types of overwhelm (0:58)
  • Tools we use (2:43)
  • Choose one thing a day (5:43)
  • Weekly planning methods (6:23)
  • Parkinson’s Law (7:50)
  • Estimating (underestimating) time things will take (8:36)
  • Perfectionist tendencies  (9:13)
  • Getting outside your comfort zone (13:07)
  • Nikki’s current overwhelm: completing her artist website program, Make Art Not Websites (14:00)
  • Using ClickUp for managing the project (16:01)
  • Laura’s current overwhelm: planning Skillshare classes (18:40)
  • An old-school method to manage overwhelm (19:31)

Laura

0:07
Hi, this is Laura.

Nikki

0:08
And this is Nikki with the Startist Society, inspiring you to stop getting in your own way, and start building an art biz and life that you love.

Laura

0:17
We are artists who believe strongly in the power of community accountability, following your intuition, taking small actionable steps and breaking down the barriers of fear and procrastination, that keep you stuck.

Nikki

0:31
Follow along with us on our creative business journey as we encourage you on yours.

Laura

0:39
So Nikki, what are we talking about today?

Nikki

0:42
Well, today, we’re going to talk about how to deal with the overwhelming topic of overwhelm.

Laura

0:51
Overwhelm can take a lot of forms, can’t it?

Nikki

0:53
It sure can. And we live there, don’t we?

Laura

0:58
For sure. Sometimes, it’s just because my schedule is packed with other things going on in a given week, and that there’s just no time because of other responsibilities to work, family, friends…

Nikki

1:10
Well, a lot of times for me, it’s just, I have so many things going on that I need to get done that I just don’t know where to start.

Laura

1:19
Yes. And sometimes it’s even the overwhelm of choice. As an artist, you’ve seen my place… you know, I’m surrounded by a million art supplies.

Nikki

1:29
Just a million?

Laura

1:31
Maybe a million and a half, I’m not sure. You know I love having those choices. But at the same time that can be paralyzing. W hen I go to start working on a project, I have 10 different colors of teal paint that I could choose, right? And so sometimes, it can be very paralyzing to know where to start when I want to work on something because I have so many choices.

Nikki

1:54
So then there’s also the overwhelm, for example, when you’re starting something new that you haven’t done before, like maybe launching a podcast. There’s overwhelm that’s due to a lack of knowledge or experience in that area, like all the things you have to learn about doing a podcast. Where do you even start?

Laura

2:17
Right, and even with my website I launched, that we’ve talked about previously. That is something that I was so overwhelmed by, I didn’t start for two and a half years!

Nikki

2:29
So not starting for two and a half years, we may have learned, is not the best approach.

Laura

2:34
Not the best approach.

Nikki

2:36
So where do we start? How do we get past that paralyzing overwhelm and get started?

Laura

2:43
Well, I think there’s some different tools that we can use. I’m a person who loves to use a planner. And I’ve had a planner since I think, grade school.

Nikki

2:53
I’m a person who loves to buy a planner.

Laura

2:58
The question is, do you use it, Nikki?

Nikki

3:00
I do. I use it religiously for at least three days, possibly up to a week. I have a stack of planners with one week filled out.

Laura

3:12
So maybe the planner route isn’t the best one for you?

Nikki

3:16
It probably isn’t.

Laura

3:17
I do love planners. And I probably have had years like you where I haven’t used it as much. But I love a good planner. And I actually love a physical planner that I can write in. I’ve tried the digital ones as well, I have some planner apps and things like that on my iPad. But I love the act of physically writing something down. At the beginning of every week, I go into the week and say… okay, this is what my week is about.

And I also love physical to-do lists. I don’t know if you’re a to-do list, girl?

Nikki

3:51
Oh, I am such a to-do list girl! I actually find that that works a lot better for me than a planner because a planner is a book that I’ll start… and then once I skip days, I’m like “well this is ruined”. I can’t…just this isn’t working for me. But I love a planner pad where you have a page for each day you fill it out. And then you can check things off and scrap it.

Laura

4:19
Love planner pads. In fact, I want to create one someday with my artwork on it.

Nikki

4:23
Me too. I’ve already started doing it. I’ve just never finished.

Laura

4:28
That’s totally a goal of mine because I go into stores all the time… like you go into a TJ Maxx or a Marshall’s store and at the front when you’re checking out, they have that secret stash of amazing stationary products that I can never get beyond.

Nikki

4:43
Yes, yes.

Laura

4:44
I always end up with one or two of those in my cart before I go.

Nikki

4:48
I can’t even tell you how many planner pads I have from different people and sometimes it’s for me to use and sometimes I’m calling it “research” for the one I want to create for myself.

Laura

4:59
Research counts, it totally counts.

Nikki

5:01
Well, it’s a tax write-off, isn’t it?

Laura

5:06
So, I am a fan of planning. And I do love to-do lists. I think one of the tendencies, though, that I have is to write down all of the things in my head. Now, sometimes that’s helpful, because, you know, maybe I can’t go to sleep at night, because I have all these things in my head that I’m thinking about that have to be done. So it’s nice to have a to-do list to dump all of that information on. But sometimes I find that the list of 30 things…

Nikki

5:33
…is overwhelming.

Laura

5:35
It’s overwhelming, and it rotates, right? Like every day, I just move the list, I just write them all down the next day again.

Nikki

5:41
So, what’s the solution to that?

Laura

5:43
Well, in the Zen Habits blog, one of the things that Leo talks about (and we’ll link to that in the show notes)…

Nikki

5:49
I love Leo.

Laura

5:50
Isn’t he great?

Nikki

5:51
He’s great.

Laura

5:52
…is having one thing a day. So rather than having a To Do list of the 40 or 50 things that I know I have to get done. It’s basically saying today, this morning, what is the most important thing that I need to get accomplished today. And if you can just focus on that one thing first, it can really make a big difference, because the other stuff will come after that. But if you know you’ve knocked out that one big thing, you gain momentum on what really matters to you.

Nikki

6:23
That kind of makes me think about these other planning methods that I like to use. There’s two that I particularly like.

One is from the podcast, Courage and Clarity by Steph Crowder, we’ll also link to that… she has a 15 Minute Planner Method that she does at the beginning of each week. And then there’s another one called “Monday Hour One” by the Life Coach School, and particularly a woman who used to work for them named Lauren Cash. And both of these have the same kind of concept where they start out with your original brain dump of your 40 things on your to-do list. So the first thing you do, they both have this in common, is a brain dump of everything you can think of that you could possibly work on towards your goals in the next week. And then you break it down and you assign a priority and a time period to each one and time estimate of how long it’s going to take to each one. And specifically in Monday Hour One, you break each one of those down, and you put that item on your calendar. You say this task is going to take me 15 minutes, this one’s going to take me an hour. And you map it out.

And so we have this human tendency, I believe it’s called Parkinson’s Law, where your work will expand to fill the time you give to it. So if you have an unlimited amount of time, you can spend an unlimited amount of time. But if you say I’m going to spend one hour writing this podcast intro, or whatever it is, stick to that. So I find I’m trying to do that. I haven’t been completely successful with that, but I think that helps with overwhelm a lot. So I love the idea of finding 1 to 3 main tasks for your day, but then also assigning times to all the other little tasks so that you can find a way to fit them all in.

Laura

8:36
So I love that. But I also find a lot of the times that I underestimate the time that something would take. So sometimes I think that something is going to take me 10 minutes to do. And then it takes me an hour and a half.

Nikki

8:48
Now, I get that. But if you listen to Lauren Cash, she will say it doesn’t take that amount of time, you’re giving it that amount of time. So if you tell yourself to stick to that amount of time, you can get it done in that amount of time. I don’t know if I totally believe that, but I want to.

Laura

9:13
Well, I think part of that is my perfectionist tendencies where I want things to be just right. And so I tweak things. Like it could be done enough, right? It could be good enough and be out the door. But then I go, but no, I need to do this. Like the other night I was playing with something on my website. And I decided that “oh, the colors aren’t right” or “oh, I need to change the wording of this specific sentence in this listing”. And let’s be clear, 99% of people aren’t going to look at it.. or care. But for some reason, I made that important to spend time on. So if I said, “You know what, no… I’m giving myself 10 minutes and then I’m done making this listing or doing whatever I’m doing”. I think that you’re right. I think that you could actually complete things way more efficiently.

Nikki

9:59
How do we do that? Because it’s real easy to look at a list and assign it an amount of time. Or in the Monday Hour One, you take your list for the whole week and you actually put it on your calendar for specific times during the week. I’m great at that… planning what I’m going to do. How do you actually stick to it?

Laura

10:21
That’s a great question. I wish I knew the answer for you. Honestly, I think that is practice. I think so many things, so many habits are practice or saying, “Okay, I’m going to assign this amount of time”. And now I’m going to see, can I really do it in that amount of time? And challenge yourself to try to fit it in that amount of time.

Nikki

10:43
So let’s try that. Why don’t we try that for the next week or a couple of weeks, where we actually give everything a time estimate, and stick to it and stop at that time? Step away from it. And see, “is this really good enough”? Or do I have to tweak it for 1000 more hours? Because I think we might find if we step away from it, if we say, “I’m gonna spend 15 minutes per product listing in my online shop, rather than agonizing over it for an hour or more”, give each one no more than 10-15 minutes, and stop at that, walk away, and come back to it later… I think we might find that we actually did a fine job, and we didn’t need to agonize over it for longer.

Laura

11:35
I think we should. I mean, it’s a little bit scary.

Nikki

11:38
It is. It is. But we can always go back and tweak it. But what we’ll do is the next week, we’ll say, okay, some of these listings need some tweaking, so I’m going to spend another 10 minutes on each. Not another open ended time where we could just get sucked in for hours.

Laura

12:01
And some of it is making sure we’re allotting time for the other things we want to do. So when we have a lot of things, we might dedicate so much time to this listing, for example, that now we don’t have time to draw or create or do the things that we want to do. And making sure that on our calendar, we have those things that fill us up, that don’t drain us. But those things that give us juice that we love to do, and things that further our own art careers like taking the time to be creative. Sometimes that gets eclipsed by all of the other things that we’re doing business-wise. So I think if we can let things be “good enough”, then we can give ourselves the time to be able to do the things that we love.

Nikki

12:40
So how does a lifelong perfectionist give themselves permission to let things be “good enough”?

Laura

12:51
I’m working on it.

Nikki

12:53
I was hoping you’d have an answer for that, Laura.

Laura

12:58
Let me ask the universe about that one. I’ll let you know when I get an answer.

Nikki

13:04
I think like anything else, it’s just practice.

Laura

13:07
It is. It’s trying things out and getting outside of your comfort zone. Because my comfort zone, let’s be clear, is spending three times longer than I should on any given task. That’s my comfort zone.

Nikki

13:18
Same.

Laura

13:19
So once we get outside of that, we can see the results of it. So if you’re offering a product, are you selling less because you didn’t spend that extra hour tweaking that description?

Nikki

13:32
Or are you selling more because you actually put it out there? Instead of spending another 10 hours tweaking it, you can spend some of that time marketing it.

Laura

13:43
True.

Nikki

13:43
I’m speaking to myself right now.

Laura

13:45
Yes. Yeah, you’re speaking to me, too. Let’s be clear.

Nikki

13:48
I’m probably speaking to most people that are listening to this.

Laura

13:53
So when we think about overwhelm, what are some of the things, Nikki that you feel overwhelmed by today?

Nikki

13:59
Okay, what do I feel overwhelmed by today? Well, as you know, I am in the final stages of building and launching a new program that is called “Make Art, Not Websites”. And it is a…

Laura

14:19
… good name.

Nikki

14:20
Thank you. Thank you. So I’m an artist and a website designer. In my past, I have done websites for every possible type of business – from artists, to online shops, to nonprofits, plumbers, electricians, lawyers, all kinds of things. But I’m not an expert in any of those businesses. Not that I necessarily need to be (to build a website for them), but I’m an artist. So I think I’m uniquely positioned to know what artists need on their websites.

Laura

15:01
You’re uniquely qualified.

Nikki

15:03
Thank you. I thought so too. So, I have been working on this for longer than I want to admit, because of procrastination and overwhelm. But anyway, I am in the final stages of building and launching this service for artists where I walk them through the process of getting everything together that they need for their website, so that I can build them a website quickly and easily, and they are not overwhelmed by the process.

Laura

15:33
I love that. I kind of wish that that existed when I rebuilt my website.

Nikki

15:38
Well, if I had not been procrastinating, it would have been.

Laura

15:41
Yes.

Nikki

15:42
But yeah, so I have a little bit of overwhelm going on with all of the tasks I need to get finished and out the door.

Laura

15:52
So how do you manage that overwhelm yourself for like a project like this? Do you use any specific tools?

Nikki

16:01
I do, I do. And it’s a combination of the planning methods that I just talked about and using a project management tool, like ClickUp, which is my favorite right now. And it starts for me with a brain dump on paper where I just write down all the things I have left to do. At this point, all the things I have left to do are already in ClickUp. But to get to that point, if I haven’t gotten it organized yet. Write down all the things that you need to do. Just picture going through the process, write down every part of that process, and group like tasks together. For me, that’s something that I like to do so that I’m doing all the design stuff together, all the writing stuff together, all the behind the scenes tech stuff together… Break it down into groups like that and assign a time estimate to it, which, as we discussed, we have not to this point, been great at… and assign due dates.

And one of the best things that I can do, or that any of us can do when we’re working towards a very specific goal like this, is start with your due date, or your launch date and work backwards. So I could easily extend something forward forever. But if I set a date and work backwards, and make my tasks that I have left fit in the time between now and then, then I’m much more likely to hit that actual date. And because things are listed out in my task manager, they go into my calendar, and I know what I need to work on each day.

Laura

17:51
So you’re basically putting it into bite-sized chunks.

Nikki

17:55
Absolutely.

Laura

17:56
And then planning those chunks backwards from the date that you plan to launch.

Nikki

18:00
Yes

Laura

18:02
Except that you’re not putting those in a planner, because you only do that the first week of every year.

Nikki

18:08
I’m not putting it in a in a physical printed planner, I’m putting it in my project management system.

Laura

18:16
All right, just to be clear.

Nikki

18:17
Just to be clear. So that helps a lot with the overwhelm. Because I’m not looking at, oh my gosh, I have a million things to do, how am I going to get it in? I’ve broken it down into “Here’s what I need to do each week, each day”. And then I just start checking them off.

So what about you… what are you feeling overwhelmed with right now?

Laura

18:40
I’m overwhelmed with planning online courses for Skillshare, which is the platform I’m planning to use this year. And eventually, I do plan to move on to my own platform.

I do teach Copic classes on Zoom monthly, which I love. We have the most amazing community, and I’ve been doing it for 10 years at in-person workshops. I’m finally moving to some Zoom workshops during this pandemic that we’ve had, and I’m super excited to be moving some classes to Skillshare. so that people can watch anytime they want. (They don’t have to call in.) There’s no specific requirements. So there are all these little steps (just like you have with your web project) that you have to think about. And so a lot of it is planning it out. And one of the things that I think is really helpful is to get a huge pad of Post-it notes. I know sounds kind of weird, but get a big pad of Post-it notes. When you teach a class, you need to organize that class into modules and lessons and things that logically makes sense to progress somebody through a process you’re teaching. You can basically do the brain dump you were talking about for your project on Post-it notes. Now, maybe it’d be better to use ClickUp for that. But sometimes I go old school, and so I just like the colorful Post-it notes to be able to write on them.

Nikki

20:11
Magenta and teal?

Laura

20:12
Magenta and teal, of course! You know me well. So to be able to write on these Post-it notes and put them around and kind of organize my thoughts to come up with how the modules are going to look. Then start writing the content that goes with those modules and plan the videos. So for me, it’s a bit of a challenge, because I live in a space that is fairly dark. So I’ve been working on getting the correct lighting. I don’t have great windows that give me lots of beautiful natural light. Someday, I totally will. But right now, I’m managing with what I have. And so that requires some LED lights and the right positioning and, you know, making sure that I have a holder for my camera or my phone that works in such a way that doesn’t shake and doesn’t cause problems and is high quality. So, I’m working through all of those things now. But I am really excited about pushing it forward.

So I think it’s just, again, narrowing it down to bite sized chunks and saying, okay, you know, today I’m going to play with my Post-it notes. And then I’m going to begin writing the content, and then working through each video. And the best thing to do is really to bulk process these types of things. And so that’s what I’ll do once I have everything laid out and the content laid out. I’ll spend a couple of days or more filming and just film everything altogether. And then I will edit everything. I’m learning Premiere Pro, which is an Adobe program that allows you to do really awesome video editing. I don’t know if you’ve used that one. Nikki?

Nikki

21:49
I’ve actually just started taking a class in it that I found on Skillshare. Actually, I think you told me about the class on Skillshare.

Laura

21:56
I did tell you about the class!

Nikki

21:58
Yeah. And I am about halfway through the course and have loved playing with it. It’s so much fun.

Laura

22:07
Yeah, I think it has so much capability to it. And you can do so many cool things compared to something like iMovie or sort of a basic program. I’m really excited about learning that and then ensuring that I can add a few little bells and whistles to my video presentations that might not be available in other programs.

So that’s what I’m overwhelmed with. But I think I have a plan to break it down and move forward. And I’m really excited. I’ll definitely be announcing here when I have my next class available.

Nikki

22:38
Excellent. So it sounds like our overwhelm is really the same. We’re both overwhelmed by the same kinds of things. It’s about a big project that we’re working on, and all the millions of steps that you have to do to get it done. But I think we both have a good handle on how we need to do that how we need to break it down. Hmm, the trick is sticking to it and following through.

Laura

23:05
It’s always a trick, Nikki.

Nikki

23:08
I know. So you can hear us now on this podcast, saying that this is what we’re doing. And we can be accountable to each other. And to you out there listening to us about getting these done.

Laura

23:24
We might be shaking in our boots a little bit, but that’s okay.

Nikki

23:26
Well, I’m pretty sure we will. I might already be.

Laura

23:33
We hope that this episode has given you a little sneak peek into our own process and dealing with overwhelm and maybe giving you a few ideas and how you can deal with your own.

Nikki

23:42
And the big takeaways are to break it down into manageable chunks, so you’re not overwhelmed by having to look at the whole picture.

Laura

23:52
And use a written planner, or not. Or use your favorite organizational tool like ClickUp.

If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please subscribe and share it with a friend. Visit startistsociety.com to learn more about the podcast and read the show notes.

Nikki

24:09
And don’t forget to join us in our Facebook group, Startist Society…

Laura

24:15
Where we can be accountable to each other and begin building the business and life of our dreams. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

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