Routine beats overwhelm, every time

In productivity, getting things done by neville

One of the central themes of my work with the Tornado Method is overwhelm. I work primarily with small businesses — solopreneurs and small business owners, and when you don’t have a lot of resources to take work off your hands overwhelm is a constant companion.

I developed the Tornado Method out of my own need to deal with overwhelm in my business, and the framework has proven to be hugely useful for anyone building or running their own business.

But there’s one technique for beating overwhelm that I haven’t yet spoken much about.

Building a business is a marathon

Building and growing your own business is a marathon. It’s going to take time whether you’re solo or you have a team to help you along the way. There are so many things to do that you barely have time for yourself; and you’re learning what works and what doesn’t (and what you don’t know) as you’re building.

Right now I’m developing an info product called Tornado Marketing — a self-study course to help small business owners get on top of their marketing. The course has 6 modules and some 34 lessons. At the time of writing this I’ve completed 4 of those lessons.

I had originally slated the release of Tornado Marketing for the end of April (today is the 13th). Wishful thinking. Between other work (like writing every day), working with clients, admin, updating my website and pursuing sales I just don’t have that much time to work on it.

So the first mindset shift you have to make is that building and growing a business is going to take time.

I’ve had to make peace with the fact that it’s going to take time to get Tornado Marketing out the door. Not forever; I should be able to get it out somewhere in May, but it is going to take time and it is going to take longer than I would have liked.

Routine as a reality check

I’ve been a student of productivity all my life, and one of the things that I’ve learnt is that routine is your friend.

My weekly routine dedicates specific times of the week for specific things. Monday mornings is about my weekly article. Early mornings are for shorter articles like this one. Friday mornings add a weekly review and brand awareness marketing. Lunch times are for lunch and social media outreach. Email is checked three times a day for a maximum of 30 minutes.

It may seem that this routine will eat up a lot of time out of your week. But here’s the point: I need to do these things anyway, and if I don’t have them in my calendar they will pile up to the point where I’m overwhelmed with all the work waiting to get done.

Blocking out time in your calendar to create a routine is the best way to stay on top of things.

When I’ve blocked out all these things in my calendar I have a very clear picture of what time I actually have available to get other stuff done. Skip any of these routine items and I start falling behind and overwhelm rears its ugly head.

Learning from accountants

Years ago I was appointed CEO of a company that was going through some really tough times. My job was to do a turnaround (long story short: successful), and keeping on top of finances was obviously one of the key things we had to do to make it work.

One of the biggest lessons I learnt was from the accounting team. Only 2 or 3 people but every month, like clockwork, they would produce a nicely bound management report with sections for the executive overview, operations, IT, finance and so on. It didn’t matter how busy we were or what crises we were having to deal with at the time, that management report was there, ready within 4 business days of month end.

It was only later that I realized how they managed to produce this report so faithfully. In their calendars they had time blocked out at the end and beginning of every month for the tasks they had to do to produce the management report. Those times were fixed, they were not available for meetings, they worked heads down and got it done.

Routine produced a significant piece of work every month.

Overwhelm is really just a lack of routine

When you’re busy you tend to put off things — even if they are important — in favor of the urgent stuff. Over time those things start piling up until you wake up one morning and voila — you’re overwhelmed with all the stuff you still have to get to.

But if you can stick to a routine those things don’t pile up as much. You stay on top of email every day, you produce your daily or weekly article without fail and your marketing improves because you’re showing up consistently.

But here’s the biggest advantage of having a routine: when you have fixed times to get stuff done you tend to focus better, get less distracted and get better at stuff as you repeat doing it.

My calendar just popped up a notification that I have to do my weekly review and planning in 15 minutes. That reminder made me realize that I don’t have a lot of time left to get this article done, so I’m focusing with renewed energy to get this article done (it’s way over the word count goal I set for myself anyway).

Routine beats overwhelm, every time

So here’s what you can do: block out time in your calendar every week for the repeating work you have to complete every week. Make that time as sacrosanct as you possible can; ideally nothing moves those appointments with yourself.

Then stick to that routine. When that time pops up in your calendar, do that work. Everything else can wait for the half hour or hour that you’ve set aside. Work won’t pile up, and you and your business will benefit.

My calendar is calling.