The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.15

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Conquering Crippling Overwhelm: The Crash Stop Method

Some weeks nothing seems to work as it should. This past week was one of those for me, so I eventually had to employ the Crash Stop method for dealing with overwhelm and getting back on track.

Here’s what happened, and how it works.

A horrible week

We all have weeks that things just don’t seem to flow smoothly, and this past week has been one of those for me. OK, so it wasn’t “horrible” in the sense of a horror movie, but it was not good.

It was a long weekend, and my usual slot for writing my weekly articles (Monday mornings), didn’t happen on Monday. Due to a lack of planning, foresight and all the other good things I should have done, I ended up being reactive most of the week - getting urgent stuff done but slipping on the important ones. I made at least three false starts on this newsletter, putting each one of those in the “maybe a good idea some day” folder. And I spent way too much time chasing shiny objects (playing with Notion).

So today (Thursday) I employed the Crash Stop method to get back on track.

Crash Stop what?

The term “crash stop” comes from the marine world. An academic paper from the University of Strathclyde gives one of the best definitions:

The crash stop maneuvering (sic) is usually performed to avoid any collision or crashing of a ship into any other ship or structure. During this maneuver, the main engine is subjected to severe stress and loading since it involves slowing, stopping and reversing the direction as fast as possible.

I first read the term “crash stop” in Iain M Banks’ science fiction books. Set in a far future where humans and sentient computers co-exist, the term signifies the same thing:

Damn the consequences, just stop as fast as you can.

I use the same principle when nothing else seems to work.

Conquering Crippling Overwhelm: The Crash Stop Method

There are four steps involved:

Step 1: Crash Stop (and take a break)

If you’re not making progress the way you think you should, it doesn’t make much sense continuing to do the same thing. So the first step is to Crash Stop — drop everything, and take a break.

Here’s what I say to myself:

I don’t care what’s on my plate right now, I’m going to stop everything so I can make sense of the big picture, create order from the chaos on get back on track.

So here’s what I did:

  • Got up from my desk and went outside for a walk (more important-but-not-urgent garden cleanup jobs waiting for me, ha!)
  • Took the dog to Marvelous Muttz
  • Came back and had lunch, trying not to think about work

Taking this break is critical. When we’re overwhelmed and anxious, our minds are spinning trying to problem-solve all the things we have to deal with. As long as we’re doing that, we can’t think clearly about the big picture and what we should be focusing on. This break gives us a chance to let go of all that “stuff” so we can focus on the next step.

Step 2: Clean up your environment

A sure sign that I’m not as focused as I should be is a messy office. I know some people claim to be able to work in a mess, but my own experience (and what I’ve seen of others) is that a messy work environment just causes more stress.

So clean up your working environment. Most importantly, take all the things you’re working on that is lying out in the open, sort them into piles, and put those piles away where you can deal with them later.

I use standard letter-size folders to gather and sort all the papers, notes and other bits and pieces like Post-It notes. Each folder gets a label for the project or client I’m working on, and all the folders go into a pile or into a drawer.

Step 3: Prioritize your current projects / clients / activities

If you’re familiar with the Tornado Method you know there are 11 elements you have to get right to have a business - and a life. These are useful to prioritize your current projects or activities.

In my case, there are only three elements that are really active and require my immediate attention:

  • Two coaching and two consulting clients in the Delivery element. Some pressing deadlines but manageable.
  • Getting this newsletter (and daily LinkedIn posts) published (these belong in the Marketing element)
  • A slight pivot in my business (all four elements in the Building Blocks layer).

Note that this is not all that is happening in my business. Lead nurturing and sales is largely automated for my online products and courses, and admin and money management is in hand. The items above are the ones that are causing me to spin my wheels.

Step 4: Pick one to work on next

Now that I have renewed clarity (the big picture) and a high-level view of what is going on, picking the one thing I’m going to work on next is almost an anticlimax.

  • Working on the pivot in my business is important but not urgent. I will have to make time for it, but it can wait for a week.
  • Client deadlines have to be met, and I have to get this newsletter published on schedule Saturday morning.

So now I just have to juggle the client deadlines and the newsletter. In my case, I decided that I will spend a little time just getting this newsletter outlined, then focus back on my client deadlines.

How you can use Crash Stop in your business (and your life)

The key lesson to learn is this:

If you’re spinning your wheels, stop. It doesn’t help to keep on doing the same thing. Take a break and follow the steps to get back on track.

The steps are:

  1. Crash Stop. Drop everything and take a break. Clear your mind.
  2. Clear your (working) environment. Even little things lying around can cause underlying anxiety.
  3. Prioritize. Use the Tornado Method to put stuff into buckets.
  4. Pick the next thing to work on.

Good luck - and have a great week!