Want to know what the most common struggle is among creative entrepreneurs?
It might not be what you expect.
The truth is, most creative entrepreneurs come to me struggling with the feeling of sheer overwhelm.
While I have proactively set boundaries and accumulated a collection of effective strategies to prevent and overcome overwhelm, there are still times when life and business throw me some unexpected curveballs.
Case in point: overwhelm recently hit me hard in my own business and I’m gonna get vulnerable for a minute while I tell you about it.
A little over a year ago, I made the decision to bring a long-held dream to life. I set out to finally create my course, “Business Building for Creatives.” I knew this was a big undertaking and I was determined to get it right.
So I dove in, all while juggling the roles of a mom, wife, business owner, creative, and serving as a COO and business coach, among other responsibilities.
Despite my awareness of my capacity limitations, nothing can entirely prepare you for a new venture in your business.
My course was a high-priority, high-pressure project that came with a lengthy timeline and a whole lot of moving parts that were constantly shifting.
Coordinating the efforts of multiple team members, including tech pros, copywriters, and instructional designers, often left my head spinning!
Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but not all overwhelm is inherently “good” or “bad.” Both myself and my clients have encountered overwhelm during different seasons – some have been moments of growth, while others have been flat-out challenging. Sometimes, it’s just a combination of too many things happening at once.
In this week’s blog, we’ll explore the five big reasons why creative business owners feel overwhelmed. I’ll help you figure out where your current overwhelm might be coming from and give you some great tips to handle it better now and in the future.
Overwhelm will ALWAYS be something you need to manage and be mindful of as a creative entrepreneur.
Because when unchecked, overwhelm leads to BURNOUT, and if you’re burnt out you can’t show up and share your creative work with the world!
That doesn’t mean you can avoid being overwhelmed altogether. While the goal may be to reduce overwhelm, life happens, we’re all human, and getting overwhelmed every now and then is normal to a point!
But you can improve your ability to recognize overwhelm when you’re in it, understand the root cause, and respond effectively, instead of reactively.
Here are some of the most common causes of overwhelm in creative businesses and tips to help you move through these challenging seasons with patience, grace, and confidence.
Sometimes too much of a good thing is, well, a not-so-good thing.
Often there are seasons in business where you are planning, scheming, and prepping. Then, one day, all the figurative seeds you’ve planted over the years suddenly start to bloom. While it is absolutely exciting to reap what you’ve sown, you may also be confronted with overwhelm!
Maybe you find yourself swamped with new opportunities, projects, clients, requests, and demands on your time.
Sometimes, even an abundance of good things can lead to overwhelm if they catch you off guard or aren’t managed strategically.
Getting clear on what is or isn’t going to move the needle in your business can help you prioritize so that you can say NO to the distractions (or the “not right nows”) and YES to the experiences, opportunities, and commitments that are in your best interest right now while protecting your time and energy.
As entrepreneurs, try as we might, we don’t operate in a vacuum, and as much as we may wish Chat GPT could handle all the ebbs and flows of business for us, we’re also not robots. That means, despite your best efforts, things inevitably shift.
The only constant is change.
Things in your life and your creative business will consistently require you to pivot, and sometimes it can feel like everything is stalling out and falling apart all at once.
This could be due to changes in the world, the market, your industry, or the platforms you use – think economic recessions and shifting social media algorithms.
In these moments, it can feel like the world is crashing down, and that’s when overwhelm tends to hit hard.
You’re doing things the way you’ve ALWAYS done them, but suddenly no matter how hard you try nothing seems to work!
It’s a familiar feeling for those business owners who like to stick to their tried-and-trusted methods.
To tackle these challenges head-on and navigate change more smoothly, I recommend my clients take a regular look at how they’re doing things.
You can ask yourself:
It’s not just about having processes documented; it’s about making sure those processes are efficient and effective. This approach will help you stay adaptable and ready to take on whatever changes come your way.
Sometimes, everything just piles up!
Maybe you’ve overestimated your capacity, or life throws a curveball your way (like a sick kiddo), adding a bunch of extra tasks to your to-do list or flat-out stopping you in your tracks.
You might even have to cover for a partner, friend, team member, or client.
This is where boundaries and communication are essential.
Setting firm, healthy boundaries for yourself, your creative time, and your business upfront can help you avoid biting off more than you can chew.
But even the best-intended boundaries can’t protect you from everything.
Sometimes, it’s okay to admit that you have too much on your plate– often overcommitting comes from a good place and you’re just trying to help or be a team player (I see you fellow people-pleasers).
Communicating your needs, resetting expectations, and even letting others down (so you don’t let YOURSELF down) may not feel great in the moment, but might be essential for your mental health and the reality of your circumstances.
Then, you can establish boundaries moving forward to prevent this kind of overwhelm from bubbling up again down the road.
True creative visionaries often have too many ideas and they itch to get started on every single one right away!
Yes, I’m talking to my multi-passionate creatives!
On top of that, they tend to have incredibly high standards for themselves and how they do things.
Despite their ambition, they keep running into a brick wall, and that wall is none other than the ticking clock.
If this is you, you might secretly wish for an 8-day week with 48-hour days— but unfortunately, reality just doesn’t work that way.
Here’s a mantra I live by, and often remind my amazing, visionary clients of (it might resonate with you too):
“You can do anything and everything… just not all at the same time.”
Sometimes, pacing yourself and tackling one idea at a time is the key to bringing those creative dreams to life without spreading yourself too thin. It’s all about finding that balance between ambition and feasibility.
So, I encourage you to keep dreaming big but also remember that it’s perfectly okay to take it one step at a time.
Whether you run a product-based business, a service-based business, or a combination of both, there are certain seasons that can turn your world upside down and feed that overwhelm.
The good news is, if you look at patterns over the years, you can start to anticipate these seasons in your business and your life so that you can prepare for them and set rhythms that make navigating these hectic seasons more manageable and sustainable.
For example, if you sell products, especially during the holiday season, you’re probably no stranger to the whirlwind that descends upon you.
The holiday rush can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it’s a great opportunity to boost sales and grow your brand. On the other hand, you might be inundated with orders, customer inquiries, and shipping logistics.
Your carefully laid plans and the rhythms that carried you well throughout the summer months might suddenly feel like they’re hanging by a thread, and the pressure to keep up can become heavy.
While it’s a wonderful problem to have, managing it correctly is crucial to prevent burnout.
I recommend taking time after the holiday season (and while it’s fresh in your mind) to assess what worked, what didn’t, and consider things you can do in advance to ensure next year isn’t as stressful or chaotic!
If you sell services, you might experience seasons in your business when inquiries seem to pour in faster than you can respond (these seasons put the “feast” in the feast or famine cycle).
Potential clients are knocking at your digital door, but managing this surge in interest can present a challenge, especially if you’re not expecting it!
It’s not uncommon to find yourself buried under a mountain of emails, calls, and appointments. In these moments, you may be tempted to take on every new client possible, for fear that the “famine season” is lurking.
I urge you to be selective with your clients as much as possible.
Of course, your business needs to make money (otherwise it’s just a glorified, really expensive, hobby), but if you’re not working with clients that are right for you and the vision you have for your creative work, the short-term cash influx may not outweigh the long-term impact on your capacity and goals.
To avoid taking on clients out of desperation instead of alignment, I recommend creating a lead generation (“lead gen”) system as part of your marketing efforts to ensure you have a steady stream of high-quality leads flowing into your business.
COO Tip: This is some of the most important stuff I teach in my new course, Business Building for Creatives. Check it out here.
When you find yourself in a state of overwhelm, the answer isn’t to try harder, you’re already trying so hard! The real solution is to shift your mindset and give yourself the support you need and deserve to not only survive as a creative entrepreneur, but thrive doing the work you love.
How you approach overwhelm can be a game changer in your creative business and it all starts with mindset. Here are 4 things you can do to start cultivating a healthier, more balanced relationship with overwhelm.
First and foremost, as new experiences, challenges, and opportunities present themselves, give yourself a break! Being an entrepreneur isn’t for the faint of heart, but you’re out here doing the damn thing anyways!
It’s easy to feel the weight of it all and the added pressure to meet your own high expectations.
But remember, you’re only human and it’s okay to cut yourself some slack and acknowledge when you’re navigating uncharted territory or experiencing something you couldn’t possibly have planned for!
When it comes to feeling overwhelmed in your creative business, gratitude may bring up mixed feelings.
Sure, you may feel grateful to be doing the creative work you love, but that doesn’t mean you have to dismiss the challenging or overwhelming things that come along with pursuing entrepreneurship.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Don’t let your blessings become burdens.”
It’s a well-meaning phrase, but sometimes it can reek of toxic positivity.
Personally, I’d rather do without it.
Because it brushes aside the very real stress and overwhelm that often accompany the things you’ve wished for and brought to life in your business.
Just because you dreamt, worked hard, and genuinely love what you’re doing doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Just like life, entrepreneurship can be tough, and that’s perfectly normal.
Expecting it to be a constant breeze – and worse, being told you’re “ungrateful” if you express otherwise – is both unrealistic and dismissive of your feelings and experiences.
Allow yourself to feel gratitude for what your creative work lets you do or experience in your life while also knowing that it’s valid to feel overwhelmed or dislike certain aspects of your business at times.
Both things can be true at the same time!
Gratitude allows you to appreciate the entire journey, in all its complexity, including both the ups and the downs.
When it comes to dealing with overwhelming situations in your business, it’s important to remember that everything in your work can be approached as a practice, not a “perfect.”
What do I mean by that?
Well, as someone who takes their work, their art, and their reputation seriously, it can be easy to fall into the trap of perfectionism.
If you’re anything like me, when you do something, anything, you want to do it RIGHT (ahem, me and my recent course).
This can be a wonderful quality, and most of the time it ensures you deliver high-quality products or services in your business.
But, there is a dark side to perfectionism. It can be debilitating and even counterproductive if it goes unchecked.
When we develop a practice vs. perfect mindset, we allow “done” to be better than perfect, especially when trying something new!
Realize that your standards for what is considered “done” or “great” can change depending on your priorities and circumstances.
Flexibility is key!
Sometimes, it’s more important to complete a task or project rather than obsess over making it flawless. Progress and completion are often more valuable than perfection.
So, don’t be afraid to take action, even if it’s not perfectly planned or executed. Messy action can lead to learning experiences and breakthroughs!
Finally, know that when you take bold, brave, messy action, failures will be inevitable.
Instead of treating failure as something you desperately need to avoid, cultivate a healthier relationship with it and see it as a necessary process.
When you do, you can learn to fail fast and fail forward, learning from mistakes as you go and using them as opportunities instead of setbacks!
Finally, I cannot encourage THIS enough: take off any unnecessary pressure!
One of the best ways to do this is to take on a beginner’s mindset.
Step out of your comfort zone and try something new – just for fun.
Maybe you explore a new process for your creative work or even commit to a new marketing strategy that piques your interest.
Who knows what might come out of it?
Sometimes trying new things in your business or even in your creative work with zero expectations can be liberating! Not every experiment will stick and that’s okay!
Often you’ll simply learn what doesn’t work, while other times your courage to try something new can push you, your craft, and even your industry to new levels!
But, if you always play it safe or put too much pressure on everything you do for your business, you’ll never have the opportunity to see what’s possible.
In order to continuously innovate, you have to allow some trial and error, and often doing this with low stakes and no pressure is exactly the environment you need to allow yourself to explore your own potential!
While mindset is a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to overcoming overwhelm, there are also things you can actively do and tools you can seek out to give yourself the help you need on your journey as a creative.
Support comes in many ways, shapes, and forms. Sometimes it’s something you ask for in the form of help from a partner, co-worker, coach, or your community. Other times it’s something you can actually give to yourself.
It’s all about remembering that while you don’t have control over everything, there are things that you can do within your control to reduce the overwhelm instead of just suffering in silence!
One of the most effective strategies I’ve found in overcoming overwhelm is the simple act of putting pen to paper. Every time I journal or even just write a page-long list of everything on my agenda, I thank myself.
This is especially helpful when the source of your overwhelm is the sheer volume of tasks on your to-do list.
It’s a simple, powerful, age-old practice that serves an important purpose: to get those swirling thoughts out of your head where they tend to sap your mental and emotional energy and onto the page where you can tackle them.
When everything is laid out in front of you, you’re able to clearly see not only what needs to be done but also how these tasks relate to each other. As a result, it’s easier to prioritize and strategize moving forward!
When you take time to put your thoughts onto paper, it’s like tidying up the clutter in your head so you can regain a sense of control and clarity. You allow yourself to move from a state of chaos to a state of organized understanding.
It’s slowing down to speed up!
By getting your thoughts out of your head and onto the page, you free up valuable mental real estate and are able to get out of the overwhelm that much quicker.
What are rhythms, you ask?
Rhythms in business are like the glue that holds your systems together. While systems tell you what tasks need to be done on a regular basis, rhythms dictate when and how often you do these specific tasks to ensure you’re never relying on your memory or sheer willpower to meet your goals.
For example, if you have a system for managing and updating client projects, you could implement a rhythm to support you that says, every other Wednesday afternoon, you send project updates and progress reports to clients.
This can help reduce overwhelm because you know what and when things will get done, reducing the likelihood that you get distracted or put these important tasks off.
While rhythms are a powerful tool, it’s important to emphasize that they need to be intentional and relevant. A rhythm that once worked wonders may lose its potency in different seasons or as your business evolves.
For example, say your business sees an increase in sales and activity around the holiday season, but things slow down in the spring. During this off-peak season, your business has fewer transactions to monitor, making detailed financial review rhythms less pressing.
But if you’re still in this rhythm, financial reviews could be eating up too much of your time and energy unnecessarily!
Instead, you may decide to shift your focus and rhythms to other aspects of your business, like strategizing for the next hustle season, considering new product lines, or refining your marketing efforts.
It’s crucial to regularly evaluate your rhythms, ensuring they align with your current goals and objectives. The last thing you want is for rhythms to hurt you and your business rather than help.
When everything starts piling up and pressure mounts, one of the best things you can do is quite literally remove yourself from the overwhelm.
I know it can feel impossible to step away from the day-to-day operations of your business, but I promise with a little planning and intention you can do it without creating more of a mess than you’re leaving behind.
I highly encourage you to take a break when needed– and build this into your business plans in the future!
While I can’t (and would never even try to) offer a one-size-fits-all solution, the key is recognizing that overwhelm can have many causes.
The secret to sustainably thriving as a creative entrepreneur is to catch overwhelm before it morphs into burnout and manage it using the mindset tips and business strategies shared here (or whatever strategy you find works best for you).Remember, nothing needs to be perfect, but keep your priorities clear, hold your boundaries, and understand that you’re doing your best– at the end of the day that’s what matters most.