Beating overwhelm can be tricky – a bit like trying to fight your way out of quicksand as it sucks you into its sticky, murky depths.

If the mental image of quicksand is all-too-apt a metaphor for how you feel about your professional life, then take heart: you’re in good company. Many entrepreneurs and small business owners struggle with too many responsibilities and too little time – overwhelm of overwhelming proportions.

What’s even worse is the manic, panicky follow-up that ensues when you cede to your overwhelm: you don’t just fall, but willingly dive down the rabbit hole of trying to keep track of everything with to-do lists and interminable office hours that leave you undernourished and unhappy, coasting by on too little sleep and not enough down-time.

And the worst part of overwhelm is that the more you try to do, the less actually gets done – and, adding insult to injury, the more overwhelmed you feel. But here’s the thing: overwhelm, as frustrating as it is, is a very useful tool – your body and mind’s way of shouting STOP!

So take overwhelm for what it is – a cry for help. Instead of tackling the symptoms, like that ever-growing to-do list, let’s try and reverse the cause. Here are a few of our favorite, no-fail tricks:

1. Declutter

I know, I know: I’m just adding another item to your to-do list. But this one serves a real, solid purpose and will help prevent future overwhelm: Organization.

If your office is a mess – a professional warzone of strewn papers and sticky notes and old coffee cups and food wrappers and business mail and – well, you get the drift– then it’s time to clean up. Organizing your physical space will help you feel calmer and more productive.

2. Stack the Day in Your Favor

Being productive is the best way to stave off overwhelm; after all, if you’re getting things done, there’s little to overwhelm you. There are many ways to boost productivity, but one of the best is to get up early. Starting the day off right, with your favorite blend of exercise, meditation and planning – whatever works for you – will help you make the most of the day, from the moment you wake up.

3. Manage Your Time Differently

Juggling three balls is a doable feat, but juggling a dozen is impossible; you can’t even keep track of that many balls, let alone keep them in the air. The key to handling your responsibilities is to manage your time both effectively and efficiently.

Effective time management is the macro view of time management: your overall time strategy to arrange your plans and move you toward your goals. After all, there’s no point in doing something just to check it off a list; every task you complete should be one piece of a bigger, well-strategized puzzle. Here’s an example of effective time management: rather than doing 10 tasks yourself. Spend that time documenting how to do those tasks and then delegate them to a virtual assistant. In that way the investment of time in training rather than doing pays itself back many times over as you remove those tasks from your plate for good.

Efficient time management is micro time management: the day-to-day strategy required to complete tasks and check to-dos off your list. The number-one roadblock to efficient time management is overloading your day – packing in more than you can possibly complete. So don’t just write a to-do list: schedule each item into your calendar, and don’t cram too much in at once.

4. Know Your Limits

Entrepreneurs and small business owners often have trouble saying “no.” Your business success rests on your shoulders, so you feel like you have to do everything. But the hard truth is that will doesn’t always make a way: you simply cannot do everything, no matter how much you’d like to.

Learn your limits. Know how much time you realistically have in a day, and how much you can deliver. It’s better to say no than to disappoint yourself or, worse, a client. Remember, overpromising and under-delivering will do your business no favors.

5. Hire a Support System (and then Delegate!)

At some point, your schedule reaches critical mass – there’s more to do than there is time to do it. That’s when you know you need some help. That’s when it’s time to hire a virtual assistant.

Today’s virtual assistants offer much more than admin assistance: they can handle almost any aspect of your business, from accounting to project management to customer service. A business-grade VA serves as your one-person support system, taking on the overflow, filling in the blanks, and ticking tasks off your to-do list. Of course, you must learn to delegate effectively, but once you crest the learning curve you’ll wonder how you ever managed without your VA.

6. Work Less

Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself and your business is to take a break. Sleep a little more. Take a vacation to recharge your batteries and get a new perspective. Read a book. Because research shows that working less boosts business performance. And, of course, it helps you relax and stave off the onset of overwhelm. So fill your days doing what only you can do, and delegate the rest. Your body, mind and business will thank you for it.