The overthinking that comes hand-in-hand with analysis paralysis is not only a productivity killer, but can also be mentally detrimental. In this guest post, Jenna Bunnell of Dialpad reveals what analysis paralysis is, what causes it, and gives some powerful tips for overcoming it.
We are often bombarded with overwhelming questions about our decisions in life, specifically our career choices. Exacerbating the problem, your head fills with what-ifs, irrational fears, and some unsolicited advice from friends and family. If we always knew exactly what path to take and what choices to make, life would be a lot easier. Instead, we face dozens of choices every day. Some are as simple as a coffee order. Unfortunately, others are far more complex.
While we’re all used to making choices, there are times when the options can feel overwhelming. When confronted with a difficult or important decision, it is easy to feel frozen and incapable of making a choice. This is called analysis paralysis.
What Is Analysis Paralysis?
Imagine you’ve been tasked with making a virtual party plan for your team at work. Your coworkers have suggested a movie night, a trivia game, a virtual cooking class, and a ton of other ideas. But it’s up to you to make a decision on what activity and video conferencing platform you will be using. The task of deciding should be simple enough, and yet, you feel paralyzed by the process.
Analysis paralysis can have detrimental effects on careers. One study suggests that ventures with ‘high decision-making velocity’ have two times higher profits than those who don’t. If a business can’t make decisions easily, it will struggle to keep up with its competitors.
What Causes Analysis Paralysis?
While it’s easy to blame yourself for feeling paralyzed by decision-making, remember that many factors contribute to your analysis paralysis. Many of them are outside of our control. Here are some reasons why you may be experiencing it.
Fear of Being Wrong
One of the primary causes of analysis paralysis is the fear of being wrong. When choices are presented to us, we hope to make the right one. But our fear of making the wrong choice can easily lead to us being unable to make any decision at all.
Making decisions under a lot of stress is another common cause of analysis paralysis. It may be that the number of decisions you must make every day is giving you added pressure. Or you could be working on a high-stakes project where every choice feels paramount. That’s why it is important to take a break and relax to lighten the mood and boost productivity once you bounce back to work.
Sometimes, we don’t know a good thing when we have it. When we are dissatisfied, we often reach for other options that might make us happier. This can then lead to us being frozen between staying in place and making a change.
We always want to make informed decisions, but sometimes too much information can cause paralysis. As we weigh our options, it’s easy to over-research to the point where there’s no clear right answer.
How Is Analysis Paralysis Affecting You?
Analysis paralysis manifests itself most obviously through your inability to make decisions. This is frustrating for anyone experiencing it. There are, however, other ways that analysis paralysis might be affecting you and those around you. Here are some of them.
1. It Causes Unhappiness
Barry Schwartz’s influential 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice, explained that the more choices we have, the unhappier we may become. Schwartz suggests that there’s a sweet spot — since we do like some choices — but too many options lead to a negative state of mind.
If you’re experiencing analysis paralysis, it may come as no surprise that it can make us unhappy. What’s worth remembering, however, is that even if you think you want a choice, too many options to choose between only increases stress.
2. You Will Make Poorer Decisions
If you’ve spent too long paralyzed over decision-making, chances are your decision may not be the best one. This could be because you’ve delayed making a choice until it’s too late, or you had to make it quickly.
Analysis paralysis can also make it difficult to differentiate between the best and worst options. For example, if you’re experiencing analysis paralysis due to information overload, the amount of information you are trying to process in order to make the best decision can end up making it difficult to distinguish between the different options.
3. It Causes Tension in Teams
If a team is struggling to move forward because of one or more members’ inability to make decisions, it can cause frustration for all. Sometimes, analysis paralysis is caused by too many voices clamoring over one decision. Everyone has an opinion, and the conflicting approaches are making it impossible to move forward. This is an instance where delegating decision-making is central to overcoming your team’s analysis paralysis.
4. It Kills Productivity
It comes as no surprise that analysis paralysis is a productivity-killer. Feeling unable to move forward because you can’t make a decision is a sure-fire way to put a hold on your projects.
According to a survey by McKinsey, respondents who spend more than 31% of their time on decision-making reported no advantage in how effectively their time was used. While considering your options carefully may appear to be a critical step in decision-making, there’s a fine line between not rushing and simply wasting time.
7 Tips For Overcoming Analysis Paralysis
Analysis paralysis is overwhelming and distressing for anyone experiencing it. There’s no one size fits all approach to overcoming it, as it can come from a deep and personal place. For some people, analysis paralysis is so overwhelming that they might even need therapy.
Whether you feel like your analysis paralysis is a deep enough problem to require therapy or not, there are some simple yet effective ways to overcome paralysis analysis that you can put in place today.
1. Find the Root of Your Paralysis
If analysis paralysis is a regular problem for you, then it’s time to find the root of the problem. Self-reflection, be it for you as an individual or for your team is the first step in overcoming analysis paralysis. Labeling decisions that you’re struggling to make as caused by one or more of the categories listed above will help you figure out why you’re paralyzed.
If you manage a remote team or even an entire remote organization, finding the root of paralysis analysis within a workforce is a vital part of employee development. Engaging in discussions with staff about how and why they struggle to make decisions is a great way to get to the root of the problem and encourage open communication about decision-making between employees.
2. Separate Small Decisions From Big Ones
One of the main problems with analysis paralysis is that it can affect all of your decisions, rather than just the big, high-pressure choices. If you’re experiencing analysis paralysis on a regular basis, it’s time to separate the small decisions from the big ones. Divide them into two columns — big and small. Work quickly through the small decisions now that you’ve established that they’re not as important.
If decision-making is a regular part of you and your team’s professional life, running daily standup meetings where you can speed through small decisions is a great way to leave the team feeling productive and ready to handle the more meaningful choices the day will bring.
3. Split Big Decisions Into Small Ones
Once you’ve separated your big and small decisions, try to split your big decisions into steps. And once you’ve made even the tiniest decision, this shift in momentum can have a positive snowball effect that pulls you out of your perfection-seeking paralysis.
Write down the steps you’re taking in making a decision. You could even turn this into a flowchart with YES/NO options and follow the path to see if a final decision becomes clear. This way you can also create a processes library you can use as a reference whenever decision-making gets tough.
4. Stop Trying to Be Perfect
Analyzing data from surveys conducted between the 1980s and the 2010s, the Harvard Business Review concluded that perfectionism is far more detrimental to organizations and individuals than many of us assume. HBR also divided perfectionism into two types: ‘excellence-seeking perfectionism’ and ‘failure-avoiding perfectionism.’ Whether you’re trying to make the perfect decision or you’re terrified of making the wrong choice, letting go of the need to be perfect is vital to overcoming paralysis analysis.
5. Schedule Your Decision Making
Giving yourself clear timeframes and managing your time can help secure deadlines for your decision-making process so that it would be easier for you to overcome analysis paralysis. Given these work time management techniques, we have a seemingly infinite amount of time to fret over a decision or to finish a given task.
Create schedule templates that feature a blueprint for improved work-life balance while working remotely. It outlines daily scheduling ideas and resources for telework professionals; it also gives a defined timeframe for when you must make decisions, as well as deadlines for when they must take place, which will help you avoid spending too much time overthinking.
Does your remote team struggle with decision-making? Establishing a schedule baseline for each of your projects that sets clear deadlines for individual decisions will help boost productivity. Any team that collaborates on decision-making is a strong team, but it’s vital that the time spent analyzing the options is clearly defined and limited. Otherwise, teams might stay in the analysis stage forever.
6. Don’t Be Afraid of Data
While using your intuition is a valuable tool for overcoming analysis paralysis, looking at the data can make the decision far easier. Data can be a help or a hindrance to overcoming analysis paralysis. If you already have too much information, data can make decision-making more difficult. It might be the case, however, that the data you have isn’t being presented in a useful, accessible way. Creating a company knowledge base that presents data in a simple and readable way is one way to overcome this.
7. Make Use of Your Team
Sometimes, a second pair of eyes (or more) can make the decision-making process a lot easier. While analysis paralysis can happen to entire teams, if you’re suffering with it alone, remember you have people around you.
Implementing the decision-making process into your team’s meeting agendas is the first step in sharing the burden of analysis paralysis with others. While analysis paralysis can happen to groups, too, if you’ve been struggling with making decisions alone, it’s time to turn to the group mind.
By making the most of your team, you may realize that the decision is more straightforward than you first thought — you just need an outside perspective. Having firm communication and cross-functional collaboration not only boosts productivity but will also help make those big and small decisions much more manageable.
We’re led by our decisions. They affect our personal lives, our professional lives, and the success of our projects. The importance of decision-making in life can make it feel like an overwhelming process. We all experience analysis paralysis in some form or another, but with small steps and the help of others, it’s possible to stop thinking and start doing.
Jenna Bunnell is the Senior Manager for Content Marketing at Dialpad, a cloud-hosted IVR contact center and communications system that provides valuable calls details for business owners and sales representatives. She is driven and passionate about communicating a brand’s design sensibility and visualizing how content can be presented in creative and comprehensive ways.
Join Virtual Vocations
Joining Virtual Vocations grants you access to our hand-picked remote jobs database. Learn how our service works, browse job leads by location and career category, or search hundreds of hand-screened remote jobs to find legitimate work-at-home job leads that match your skills and background. Register for free or contact us for more information on our service guarantee.
Check out our menu of Career Services provided by our team of certified professionals, including resume and career coaching services for remote jobseekers. Resume assessments and writing, LinkedIn profile enhancement, and cover letter writing are available to maximize the success of your remote job applications. Discounts on all services available to subscription members, become one now.