Overwhelm! What to do when it all gets a bit much.

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This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from social media manager Bethany Carter.

She says:

“How do you deal with overwhelm? Are there some strategies you can recommend other than taking time off?

I am a self-employed social media manager and I also have a side project sharing sensory and messy play ideas for babies and toddlers (Pumpkin Play).

I am Mum to an almost 2 year-old who is in childcare 2.5 days a week, and I catch up on work most evenings until around midnight once he’s in bed. I love what I do and I don’t want to change it, but sometimes I feel like I really need a break and it’s more stressful to take one than to plough on through.

Being a social media manager makes taking holidays reeeeeeeally challenging, and when I do take time off I always end up having even more work when I return. ALSO whenever I tell my clients I am taking a break, I can guarantee that’s when they’ll demand more of my attention — it’s as though me taking time off has reminded them to check in more often.

Friends in employment are forever telling me to ‘just take a break’ or ‘have some time off’ but it’s not as easy as that is it? I feel like I’m on a high speed train and it’s a wonderful and exciting ride, but occasionally I’d like it to stop and let me off for a bit!

Thanks in advance — a happy, fulfilled, but exhausted DIFTK-er.


Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.

Here’s what was said in this episode:

Comments on the previous episode:

[00:01:35] – Frankie
Hello, you’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids Podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.

[00:01:45.] – Steve
Yes, hello! Each week we take a question asked by a member of the Doing It For The Kids Community. Do our best to answer it, but of course, we also ask for your answers, because they tend to be better, and read them out on the following week’s episode.

Which means we have to go back to last week, where the question was-,

[00:02:02] – Frankie
“How do I take maternity leave when I’ve got retainer clients?”

[00:02:06] – Steve
Yes, that’s right. So, Mary Chapman-James got in touch first.

Mary said,

“Excellent question, excellent answers.”

Oh, really? I like Mary. Like Mary a lot.

Mary continues,

“While I’m fortunate to have a wife to carry the babies, it’s been on my mind lately that I need a better plan for when we have the second one. First time round, I tried to work right up to the due date.

Guess how well that went.

And then I had to pick up again soon afterwards. My business was new, so I didn’t have a lot of clients, so it was just about manageable, but not ideal. Next time, we’ll be dealing with an older child as well as a larger selection of retainer clients. And I’d like to take two to three months, not completely off, but to only work a few hours a week. Subcontracting may be the answer.”

[00:02:58] – Frankie
Jenna Farmer says,

“What a game changer that you can pause and restart Maternity Allowance.”

Yes, Jenna. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but…

So since last week’s episode went out, as with most things related to Maternity Allowance, I’ve discovered that whole thing is as grey and murky as ever really. So what I said last week, if you didn’t listen to the episode, was that there’s an article on the Maternity Action website that says your Maternity Allowance runs for 39 weeks, and you are entitled to claim that allowance, and then opt out for a couple of weeks while you do, say you work a week or two weeks, maybe you don’t receive your allowance for that period, and then you come back to it again as long as it falls within the 39 weeks…

[00:03:42] – Steve
Which is obviously very exciting and lots of people got excited about that idea.

[00:03:45] – Frankie
Yeah. So did I.

[00:03:47] – Steve
Even though you said in the episode that it’s not technically pausing it?

[00:03:50] – Frankie
No, it’s not. That was definitely the wrong word. But basically, a week later, it’s as grey and murky as anything to do with the Maternity Allowance seems to be, and what I’m trying to say is… Maternity Action’s clearly saying one thing, the DWP potentially saying another.

So, my advice would be — don’t make any plans based on that information. Don’t assume that that’s possible, but equally, question what you’re entitled to and push for it, if you think that that will work for your scenario. Assume nothing to do with Maternity Allowance is a given!

Our answer to this week's question:

[00:05:22] – Steve
Okay, this week’s question comes from Bethany Carter, who is a social media manager at Lemon Squeezy Marketing. I love that.

[00:05:30] – Frankie
I love that. It’s good, isn’t it?

[00:05:32] – Steve
So, Bethany asks,

“How do you deal with overwhelm? Are there some strategies you can recommend other than taking time off? I’m a self-employed social media manager and I also have a side project sharing sensory and messy play ideas for babies and toddlers called Pumpkin Play. I’m a mum to an almost two-year-old who is in childcare two and a half days a week and I catch up on work most evenings until around midnight once he’s in bed.

I love what I do and I don’t want to change it, but sometimes I feel like I really need a break and it’s more stressful to take one than to plough on through. Being a social media manager makes taking holidays really challenging. And when I do take time off, I always end up having even more work when I return.

Friends in employment are forever telling me to ‘just take a break’, but it’s not as easy as that, is it? I feel like I’m on a high speed train and it’s a wonderful and exciting ride, but occasionally I’d like it to stop and let me off for a bit.

Thanks in advance. A happy, fulfilled, but exhausted DIFTKer.


[00:06:35] – Frankie
I’m really feeling the train analogy because my four-year-old is obsessed with trains, so sometimes I literally am on a train, playing with the train, pretending to be a train, and I really, really want to get off.

[00:06:51] – Steve
So, she asks, “How do you deal with overwhelm? Are there some strategies you can recommend other than taking time off?”

[00:06:58] – Frankie
So, my first one on that would be the ‘Not To Do List’. Have you done this?

[00:07:02] – Steve
Oh, go on.

[00:07:03] – Frankie
Yeah, so it’s a list of things that you can identify in your life that actually you don’t need to do right now. So, one way to do that is to look at maybe a week, for example, and when you’re doing something and you’re suddenly like, “Hang on, I don’t need to be doing this”, you write it down. Make a note of it. And then at the end of that week, you can look through it and ask yourself some questions to try and work out what really could go. So, things like, “If I don’t do this, is anything actually important / negative / dangerous going to happen? Is the world going to explode if I don’t do these things?” “No.” Therefore probably don’t need to do them.

But also, “Do I personally have to do that? Can I not, in a work-sense, outsource? Can my partner not do X, Y and Z? Can my friends or my sister help out?” Whatever it is, it might be domestic, it might be work. Whatever the pressure is — “Do I personally have to do that job?”

I’m trying to think of an example… I mean, often for me, it’s the domestic stuff that will make it onto that ‘Not To Do List’. Like, I haven’t mopped my floor for about, well, you probably know the last time I mopped my floor because I mentioned it in a previous episode, I think. I think it was when my daughter was born about twelve months ago.

Rather than concentrating on the things you need to do, which can also make you stressed, you’re concentrating on things you don’t, which can make you feel more in control. I guess.

[00:08:31] – Steve
So, whenever I feel overwhelmed-, I once heard of a guest on a podcast. She actually says, “I see you overwhelm!”

[00:08:40] – Frankie

[00:08:41] – Steve
“I see you overwhelm and here’s what I’m going to do about it.” You’ve got to make some sort of plan because overwhelm usually means you’re feeling out of control. So how are you going to take back control of that? I tend to feel historically overwhelmed around the school holidays for example, like half term because I know I have a certain amount of work but I also know I don’t have childcare. So, then I sit there and think, “Okay, so what is my plan? What of this work doesn’t have to be done until after half term? Can I get certain clubs or play dates? Yeah. Am I going to maybe work this weekend ahead of the half term?”

So, “I see you overwhelm and here’s what I’m going to do.”

[00:09:19] – Frankie
Can I just say I’m generally a fan of talking to yourself as a freelancer? Like, genuinely. I think there are really positive moments where you can have a literal pep talk with yourself. It actually really helps.

[00:09:32] – Steve
Yeah. You know how I do that vlog where I like…

So, if you don’t know I do a vlog where I ‘document’ my freelance journey.

[00:09:41] – Frankie
It’s very good, it’s very good.

[00:09:42] – Steve
The unexpected side-effect of doing that vlog was the fact that I literally have to talk to the camera. I have to talk to myself through what I am doing and when things aren’t going well, explain that to the camera and then try and figure out a way around it, and it has made me better at what I do, both as a dad and as a freelancer. So, it really does work. Whether it’s writing it down or saying it out loud. It’s that sort of journaling — getting it out and being self-aware and trying to figure out how to improve.

[00:10:08] – Steve
You might want to look at the work that you’re doing. So what is making you feel overwhelmed? And, if it’s that you’ve got too much work which is kind of like I know “I’m doing this bit and then I’m running over here to do this bit and then that bit,” Is there a way to batch-,

[00:10:24] – Frankie
Getting yourself ahead of the game makes you feel less-,

[00:10:26] – Steve
Oh, it’s so good, isn’t it?

[00:10:28] – Frankie
It’s finding the time to get ahead of the game though, right?

[00:10:31] – Steve
Another thing that jumped out at me from this question was the fact that you’re working until midnight. That might not be an issue for you, but if that was me in my life, then I know for sure that I wouldn’t be getting enough sleep. That makes me worse at dealing with being overwhelmed. I’m just so much better at dealing with shit when I’ve had enough sleep.

[00:10:53] – Frankie
Yeah. I’d be interested to know from Beth how much of that time is on that side project she talks about, because if I allowed Doing It For The Kids to do all the things I want it to do, I would be up until midnight every night.

[00:11:09] – Steve

[00:11:10] – Frankie
In fact, I was for some time. Yeah, like, if there are two people in the world that know something about running side projects alongside their actual proper gig…!

[00:11:18] – Steve
Nice to meet you.

[00:11:18.] – Frankie
That’s definitely us.

Yeah. In my experience, any sort of side project, whether it’s making you money or not, if it is secondary to your main thing, it has to be flexible and you have to be able to put it on pause when you physically and emotionally need it to. And the thing about that though, is then you feel guilty or you feel like you’re getting left behind, or like… particularly with something like Doing It For The Kids, it’s like — yeah, it’s a side project, but it comes from something I really want to do.

I imagine she feels the same about the messy play stuff. Like she feels passionate about it and it excites her, maybe in a different way to her other job. And so you want to be working on it and it’s exciting and it’s like something different. But if you’re just ultimately burning yourself out in the process… that’s no good.

I’m increasingly becoming comfortable with the fact that Doing It For The Kids will develop at the rate I will allow it to and can physically cope with, rather than feeling like I need to maintain that at the same level all the time.

[00:12:17] – Steve
Another thing could be partnering with someone else.

[00:12:20] – Frankie
As in for work?

[00:12:22] – Steve
Potentially also with the side projects as well.

[00:12:24] – Frankie
Okay, yeah.

[00:12:25] – Steve
For example, just like we partner on this podcast and that means that when one of us is overwhelmed with life and work, the other one picks up the slack on editing. We don’t talk about that bit, but that is how it works.

So, partnering with somebody else, I was thinking, work-wise. If you can eventually find another freelance to partner with, so they’ve got their work, you’ve got your work. But maybe sometimes you can work on each other’s clients and it might, over time, become an even more formal thing, like where you’re kind of like in business together. But, it means that when you go on holiday, they step in and do your work, and when they go away, you do the same. Or, maybe something where they’re helping on a Thursday afternoon with a particular client. I don’t know, I’m just thinking that if we’re looking at overwhelm and one of the issues is that you have too much work, clearly one of our answers usually is outsource.

[00:13:20] – Frankie

[00:13:20] – Steve
But I’m thinking maybe outsource is the wrong word here. Maybe partnering?

[00:13:24] – Frankie
More collaborative than that. Yeah.

[00:13:27] – Steve
Yeah… is a more longer term thing that you can do in social media management, in particular. Writing stuff down? You mentioned the ‘Not To Do List’, but also with the ‘To Do List’, sometimes I feel overwhelmed because everything’s just in my head, but by actually writing it down and putting it down, suddenly it all seems to make a lot more sense.

[00:13:47] – Frankie
Yeah. And breaking big tasks down into smaller tasks. We talked about that before, so that you can tick stuff off every day and work towards that goal over a longer period of time, rather than going: “Oh my God, I need to change the world today and I haven’t done it.”

[00:14:01] – Steve
Maybe you’re going from one thing to another, work-wise, too much without ever… like, that whole high speed train thing. Maybe you need to make time in your daily diary just to relax.

[00:14:14] – Frankie
As in, like schedule it in? 10am: let’s go.

[00:14:17] – Steve

[00:14:17] – Frankie
One of the dangers of our current freelance generation, the internet is fabulous because we can all have a career online. But, there is a feeling… I feel like this, I imagine other people do, of like… You’re always on call, people are just trying to reach you from all corners of the internet at all times, whether that’s an email or Instagram or Twitter, whatever. My version of relaxing often is going away from my desk, but I’ll still be on my phone and then the minute I’m picking my phone up, I’m suddenly available to everybody again; and actually I’m not switching off at all. But, it’s such a default position — tea, scroll Facebook for a bit, or whatever. Whereas, actually, I should make a tea and listen to the radio or read a newspaper. That’s really stressful at the moment, to be fair, isn’t it?

[00:15:10] – Steve
Turn off notifications if you have notifications.

[00:15:12] – Frankie
I did do that. That really helped, actually. Yeah. Do you know what’s really good? I think, for me, I love listening to a podcast to relax, and I don’t mean business. I mean business podcasts are great and useful.

[00:15:23] – Steve

[00:15:24] – Frankie
Just a funny podcast or one that is about something completely different to what I do in my day-to-day life, and you get lost in it a bit like you do a book. But even like 10, 15 minutes at lunchtime or before you go to pick the kids up, whatever it is.

[00:15:38] – Steve
Yeah, that’s so true. I always work up until like three o’clock. We talked about this a few weeks ago, I think. Often later, and then run to the school. But, do you know? It was Sadie who’s in the Doing It For The Kids community, Sadie Finch. I got an email from her the other day and I noticed her — I hope she doesn’t mind me saying this. I’m sure she won’t…

So she’s a VA and I saw at the bottom of her email her office hours and it was I don’t know, 9.30am til 2.30 pm (or whatever it is), but I noticed the 2.30pm. and I thought, hmm, I love the fact that you’re now saying, “I’m not going to answer. I’m not available to anybody else. That is my bit of time.”‘ She might well still be working, but she’s not saying she’s available. I liked that. That came up the other week, didn’t it, about being clear on your availability? Maybe adding it to your email signature.

[00:16:26] – Frankie
Have you done it yet, Steve?

[00:16:27] – Steve
No, I haven’t. If the case is that you’re taking on simply too much work — which is another option of overwhelm — is that a sign that maybe you need to put up your rates and work with less clients? I know social media manager type people who have moved more into a teaching role, so they’re mentoring and coaching businesses to do their own social media. Maybe you can look at your model that way?

But one thing… if it is overwhelming you on a regular basis — don’t just let it go on. Take action and take control and you’ll feel so much better. Man, I wish I could listen to my own advice.

[00:17:04] – Frankie

[00:17:07] – Steve
Taking a holiday or feeling like you need to take a holiday is actually not the answer. I’m not saying that you don’t need to take a holiday and you shouldn’t take a break, but that’s almost like the Band Aid, isn’t it?

[00:17:19] – Frankie
Right, I was just going to say that. Yeah, plugging over the hole. But the hole’s still there.

[00:17:24] – Steve
Yeah. Sometimes having a break and totally switching off. Amazing. And, yes, we need to do it, but you really need to try and get to a point where you’re not feeling that in the first place.

[00:17:33] – Frankie
Yeah, so, like I touched on earlier, for me, that was definitely identifying that my side project is not the be all and end all, and the minute I was like, “That can wait and should wait”, I’ve been much happier and slept better and been a much more of a human being since I decided to do that. But, when you’re trying to do all the things, as we touched on the other week, it will break you.

[00:17:57] – Steve
Well, we’ve said a lot. She’s going to feel overwhelmed listening to this.

[00:18:03] – Frankie
I feel like a lot of people are going to have a lot to say about this.

[00:18:06] – Steve
Oh, let’s hope so. If you do have something to say, get in touch. #DIFTKpodcast on Instagram, on Twitter and in the Doing It For The Kids community for parents who work freelance.

What would your advice be?

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