How to cope with analysis paralysis

I used to over-think and analyze everything. I over-analyzed relationships like it was my job. I sort of did treat it like my job: I spent hours sending emails to my friends analyzing every aspect of a date, trying to decide what to do next. I would do the same for them, asking slightly intrusive questions, then analyzing the situation in excessive detail. In the end my friends and I never really came up with concrete decisions – we had analysis paralysis.

Today, the majority of the decisions I have to make are about small purchases. For those decisions, I read blogs and reviews until I’m an expert. I rely on my fellow consumers to tell me the pros and cons, including what size (of clothing item) I should buy. People share their weight – along with their height and any other relevant measurements – and insights as to how the items fit.

It’s amazing.

I’ve found this especially helpful when purchasing items for my maltipoo, Digger, from sites like Amazon. I almost always find another maltipoo owner whose pup is about the same size as Digger, and therefore I know exactly what size of harness or car booster-seat to order. Yes, I’m that person who buys a booster seat for her dog. It’s about safety, people!

Most of my bigger decisions have had to do with future career ventures. I’ll conduct research to find answers to two main questions: 1) is this something I could possibly do and 2) is this something I could make money doing. I recently became obsessed with niche websites. How did this happen and how is it related to my career? This is a long story, but I’ll keep it simple. I went to a social media conference, became obsessed with podcasts, became obsessed with Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast, and became obsessed with creating passive income via some kind of online channel. My ultimate goal in life is to retire early, and a passive income source would be one of the best ways to accomplish that. The unfortunate thing about my research is that most of what I was reading/listening to was from 2010-ish…so I was just a BIT behind the times. It took me two weeks of HARDCORE research to eventually catch up to 2015 to come to this realization. Ugh.

I’ve started a few blogs. When I took them seriously, I did tons of research about how to build a successful blog. While all of this information was incredibly interesting, it caused a massive case of analysis paralysis. It seemed like every article I read contradicted the one I’d read right before. And every article linked to several other articles, which were on websites with hundreds more articles. Every time I came across some new expert, I felt like, “Geez, I can’t start my blog right now – I have so much more to read!” All of this information was causing me to change my blog focus every other day, preventing me from actually getting started.

It eventually occurred to me that I was experiencing analysis paralysis yet again. If you’re dealing with analysis paralysis, I found some helpful tips for how to effectively overcome it.

One website, Personal Excellence, had 10 tips for making decisions faster. My favorites:

  • Differentiate between big and small decisions, then give them the attention they deserve. Not every decision is life-changing. One question to ask yourself is whether this decision will matter a year from now. If not, just make a decision and move on.
  • Identify your top objective(s). What are you really trying to accomplish? Which decisions contribute to the top objective(s)? For those decisions that don’t contribute, make quick decisions and focus your attention and energy on those that will.
  • Perfection is not the key; “moderately OK” is. This is something I struggle with, and it seems like a lot of my current and former colleagues do too. Eventually we just have to accept that perfection isn’t always possible, nor is it necessary. This harkens back to identifying your top objectives. Will making something perfect in every way truly make it that much more effective at doing whatever we want it to do? Probably not, and the time and energy spent trying to make it perfect will be a waste. I like to remind myself (and some coworkers) to choose your battles. It’s best to save our time and energy for another – and maybe more important – battle to come.
  • Set a hard time limit. Celestine – the author of the post – makes a great point here. She mentions Parkinson’s Law, which says that work will expand to fill the time available for its completion. If you don’t set a time limit for a decision, it’ll take as long as you let it. Eventually you have to just get started and take action. This is what was happening with my blog. I should have made a list of the tasks I needed to complete, along with a specific allotment of time to accomplish those tasks. Instead, I was doing all of the tasks at the same time and not really coming to any conclusions on any particular aspect. If you’re in the depths of a multi-faceted project and are coming across too many resources at once, consider creating folders in your web browser’s favorites section for each aspect of your project. For instance, if you’re planning a party, maybe create folders for venues, themes, menu, entertainment and decorations.

Apparently, although not surprisingly, introverts are more prone to analysis paralysis. In a post from ForDummies.com, author Joan Pastor shares why introverts are more likely to suffer from this problem.

  • Introverts draw their energy by focusing inward, which means we spend a lot of time in our heads, over-thinking everything. This leads to excessive worry, especially about making wrong decisions. (It’s that fear of failure creeping into our minds again!)
  • Some introverts are worst case scenario thinkers who focus too much on what could go wrong. This causes us to try think about every detail in advance. Unfortunately, Pastor says, it’s impossible to come up with every detail, so we just keep spinning, leaving us more paralyzed.
  • Because introverts are so skilled at researching and planning, we come up with multiple approaches to every problem (similar to the idea above). If we have too many options, it becomes even more difficult to pick something.

As a recovering chronic over-thinker, my best advice for talking myself and others off the ledge is to ask myself two questions:

  • Is this over-thinking worth all the energy I’m expending? This relates to Celestine’s tip about differentiating between big and small decisions. Deciding who to spend the rest of my life with? That’s a big decision, yes, but over-analyzing it won’t make a difference – I know in my gut how I feel, so no matter what “logical” conclusions I come to through my analysis, it won’t change my behavior or decision anyway. This could apply to trying to convince yourself that someone who looks great on paper is right for you, or trying to convince yourself that someone who is the opposite of what you expected your partner to be is wrong for you.
  • What’s the worst that could happen? In the grand scheme of life, most of our decisions result in short-term consequences. If I choose the wrong job, oh well, I’ll try to learn all that I can to pump up my resume and then look for a new job as soon as possible. I’m not forced to stay in that job for YEARS. I took a job early in my career that was a very bad choice. It was seven months of hell. I was miserable for those seven months, but I knew I would eventually get out before any long-term damage was done. Now that I’m several years removed from that time in my life, I can safely say there was no permanent scarring! I did purchase an expensive coping mechanism, but I was able to recover from that too. Most bad decisions result in a waste of time, money or effort. While no one wants to lose any of those valuable resources, it’s usually not the end of the world.

In conclusion

Analysis paralysis keeps us from taking action or making a final decision. It also wastes a lot of time and energy. By identifying our real objectives, accepting that perfection is impossible, setting time limits to our tasks and being realistic about the worst case scenario, we’re more likely to be able to move forward in our decision-making and move closer to achieving the goals we’ve set.

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