Overwhelm: Too Much Stuff, or Self-Inflicted?

written byBrad

“I’m overwhelmed – it’s just too much!” It is one of the most common questions or complaints that there are in starting an online business. We all go through it at one point or another. It can stop us dead in our tracks.

The first real overwhelm I experienced was back in university. All those research papers. There’s nothing like getting assigned a 20,000-word research paper that is due in a couple of weeks. I’m required to have about twenty different sources, and on a topic I've never heard of before.

That was overwhelming. I would sit at the blank screen and just stare, not knowing where to start. Often, I would put it off to the last minute, and then do it under extreme pressure.  I think that was a common routine among many students.

The whole process got so much easier and manageable once I learned how to properly outline and break everything down into smaller pieces. Eventually I even started to enjoy doing those papers.

The Overwhelm in Learning

It’s the same in our business applications as well. I recently tried to learn Photoshop. I got the full Photoshop suite as well as some third-party training videos. Just looking at the application was intimidating enough, but those videos I got didn’t help with that so much. The instructor quickly went over all the different features in an overview style. I was so overwhelmed I had to walk away from the application and search for alternatives.

Later, I found another series on photoshop training. This time the instructor carefully broke the learning down into shorter, more focused training. He discussed one feature at a time starting with the more simple and most used functions.

It’s this “chunking” or breaking down of the whole into parts that solves the overwhelm problem. The old cliché of “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” is something we still forget or choose to ignore.

It’s also something to keep in mind if you create any kind of course or training. You surely don’t want to overwhelm your students with bulky content.

Self-Inflicted Overwhelm?

Other times we can only blame ourselves for our own overwhelm. We make it difficult for ourselves because we think we know better. For example, there's a lot of trainings with many videos delivered as step-by-step instruction.

The instructor clearly says in the introduction video to go through every video and NOT skip ahead. And what do a lot of people do? They either skip the introduction video altogether or ignore the advice and skip around anyway. To be fair, I’ve done this myself in the past.


In doing this, it is so easy to become overwhelmed. It’s kind of a self-inflicted overwhelm. There's usually a good reason why the instructor tells us how to learn the information.

This is also true with trainings or subscriptions where the information is delivered in intervals. This could be a lesson per day or module per week for example. What I find interesting is how many people will complain to the course creator that they just want to get the whole course at once. After all, they paid for it they will say. But in the end, many of them will complain of overwhelm because they got the whole course given to them as demanded.

Things You Can Do

To really avoid overwhelm in training and learning new systems, follow the instructor’s suggestions, go step-by-step, complete tasks and homework before going on to the next step or module, and ask questions if you are unclear about anything. Use a Google search to look up information that may fill the gaps in any confusion.

If you are creating large pieces of content or a course, create an outline or mind-map to break it all down into manageable pieces. Start with just a basic outline that highlights the major topics or sections you want to include. Then go back and add sub-topics. Then a third time (or more) to add supporting points. The more detail you have, the smoother the creation process will be. Then create your content one piece at a time from your outline/mind-map. This will help prevent overwhelm.

If you still find yourself in a state of total overwhelm, you may need to just step away from what you’re doing for a while. What is a “while”? This could be as short as going for a walk or doing some chores before returning to it. In more extreme cases you may need stay away for a few days.

In either case, when you return to try again, prioritize what you are trying to accomplish. Are there easier pieces you can get through before tackling the more difficult? You may need to go back a few steps and start from there. While all this may sound extremely general, what you are really doing is attacking it from a different angle.

If all else fails, is there a group or forum you belong to that you can ask for help or advice? Rather than completely give up, ask if you can. If there is no one to ask, can you research on Google (or similar) for information related to your task? Even if you can’t get any direct answers, you may find some information that inspires a breakthrough.