What do you do when you want to do everything? When your mind is filled with so many ideas, you have what seems like an endless number of options, and yet you’re unable to take action. You find yourself analysing each one and going down rabbit holes of ‘what ifs’. Information overwhelm and overthinking are the result and you find yourself unable to make a decision.
There’s something scarily exciting about having a multitude of possibilities available to you but it can make decision-making a challenge. If you find yourself labouring over every little detail, analysing every permutation of what could happen and striving to make the perfect decision then you’re probably suffering from analysis paralysis. The result is you never actually move forward.
Analysis Paralysis – how work doesn’t get done
You know you’re suffering from analysis paralysis when:
- You over-analyse every option to the point that you become overwhelmed by information.
- You make simple decisions way complicated because of your overthinking.
- You are afraid of making the wrong decision so you delay making any decision.
The end result is you do not make a decision and remain stuck, confused and exactly where you started.
So how do you make a choice when each option may appear equally attractive and compelling or more likely all fraught with possible disaster?
How do you wade through all the information available to make a decision with confidence?
Here are five steps to get you out of analysis paralysis and taking action.
1. What is the end game?
As human beings we have a tendency to expend lots of energy doing stuff but not necessarily making progress. One of Stephen Covey’s seven habits always comes to mind:
‘Start with the end in mind.’
What is your end goal and why is it important? This is key because you need to know what you’re trying to achieve in order to make the right choices.
The bottom line: Knowing what you want and why will serve as a guide and filter when making decisions.
2. Prune your garden
Once you’re clear on your goal, with the available options laid out before you, ask yourself:
‘Will doing this [option] move me toward my goal or not?’
If the answer is no then cross it off your list. If it’s a yes or maybe it stays on. This step will help you to quickly identify whether something is worth your time and energy. You will quickly rid yourself of the options that are time-wasters or add no value. By running each option through the ‘end goal’ test you will find that what survives are the potentially viable options, the things that are worth spending your time on.
The bottom line: When you’re inundated with loads of possibilities, figure out methodically and systematically whether they really are the right things to do. Do they move you in the direction of your goals or not? If they don’t, let them go.
3. Pick a card, any card
After working through the two previous steps you should be left with only the options that are worth exploring. If one of them clearly stands out as the best option then it’s an easy decision to make. If however, there are several viable routes to go down, and they are all seem equally compelling, just select one. Remember you’ve already weeded out the poor ones so any of what’s left is worth your time.
The bottom line: Don’t labour over your list, if you can’t easily see what the best option is just pick any one of them and get to work.
4. Get your hands dirty
Once you’ve made your selection it’s time to take it out for a test drive. Validated learning is an approach that allows you to quickly test and identify whether an idea is worth further investment of your time, energy and other resources. It quickly takes you out of analysis mode and into execution mode in the real world.
There are three stages:
Identify the smallest task you can carry out to test your idea. Is that shadowing someone at work, reading a book, trying out a new technique, writing an article, doing some research? Your test project can be practically anything.
In this stage you assess the results of stage 1 using metrics that matter to you. For instance:
- Did you enjoy doing it?
- Were you good at it or could you improve with learning and practice?
- Was it really moving you towards your goal?
Based on the results from Stage 2 you decide whether to continue or change course. If it’s a yes, select the next task and continue on. If it isn’t, however, you may decide to either tweak your approach or move to another idea.
This approach is powerful as it allows you to find out really early on what works or doesn’t work before you invest loads of time and resources.
5. It shouldn’t take forever
A key constraint that will help you get through Step four quickly is to set a time limit.
Remember Parkinson’s Law:
‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’
A task will take as much or as little time as you allow it to, so nip the tendency to procrastinate in the bud by putting a deadline on your test project and sticking to it. This will keep you motivated and working more efficiently with a goal of measuring and learning what works or doesn’t work for you.
Don’t make the period too long, I’ve found that 2-4 weeks (depending on the type of task) is time enough to get some usable results in your validated learning experiment. Any longer than that and it probably means that the task you’ve selected is too big.
Stop hesitating and take action towards your goals
Your tendency to over-analyse doesn’t have to continue to paralyse you. Explore your options quickly and confidently using the steps outlined above. Take action now and gain more confidence in your decision-making. You’ll not only figure out what the right things to work on are, you will also be able to do it more quickly. Make analysis paralysis a thing of the past and go for your goals today.
Now over to you:
Have you struggled with analysis paralysis?
What has helped you to get past it?
Let me know in the comments.