It was getting late, we’d been strategizing for hours, and by now all eyes were on me.
My team was relying on me to make a decision that could change everything. And I knew one of the choices in front of me was the best choice, but which one? And what if I made the wrong decision? My palms were sweaty, my head felt heavy with anxiety, and I was frozen. It was life or death. And a decision had to be made.
Which area of the board would I claim, and how many dice should I roll?
Running a business is pretty different from playing a game of Risk. But analysis paralysis can take over regardless of the setting.
Our immediate response is to try to fix it. Just turn it off. Make it go away. The go-to is figuring out how to stop analysis paralysis from happening at all. And that makes sense. It’s frustrating when indecision interrupts your workflow and puts a stop on your momentum. But it’s so much easier said than done.
If we can understand the strengths of analysis and recognize when it becomes too much, we can get better at moving through the pains of paralysis much more effectively.
For a lot of us, analysis comes automatically. Our brains naturally problem solve, selectively focusing on what’s most relevant in the moment. Put a bunch of options in front of you, and your brain has a hay day thinking about everything it can think about. But paralysis is when things get out of hand. You’re overthinking all the choices you have, so you get overwhelmed. And when you’re overwhelmed, you freeze. It’s not clear what step to take next, so you don’t take any step at all.
Let’s talk about how to appreciate analysis when it’s going great (those times when you’re efficient, effective, and thinking critically), and how to reel it back in when it gets out of hand.
Analysis isn’t bad! It’s natural. When you’re trying to figure out the best way to move forward with your team, it’s important to refine your analytical abilities so you can focus that natural strength and move work forward.
Analysis can help you:
You know those people who always need to do things just so? *raises hand*
Yes, they’re the person who re-loads the dishwasher (in a more efficient way, thank you!) so they can fit juuust a few more dishes. They’re the person who reads the manual when they get a new appliance instead of skipping right to plugging it in and pushing buttons. They’re someone who spends time thinking about how something should be done so it gets done the way it’s supposed to.
If you’re reading this thinking, “That’s me!” I’m glad you’re here. We need you. People like you are great at making sure stuff isn’t just done, but done well. You’re like the Steve Jobs of everyday life. You care about all the details so the end product is consistently awesome. Where would we be without you (or our laptops)? Putting in the time and effort to figure out how to do something right is a valuable strength.
You know Dr. Strange from the Marvel comics? He can close his eyes and explore all possible outcomes in his mind to find the perfect answer in a matter of seconds. Thanks to that lightning-fast analysis, he saves the day.
We’re not superheroes, but our brains are still pretty fantastic. To make the best choices, it’s important to sit down and carefully think through each option in front of you. You comb through the information you have so you learn all you need to know. That takes a lot longer than a few seconds, but when you have the time and energy to put into the research, you end up finding the best possible option so your team can take action effectively. That’s part of what makes you so good at what you do.
As a small business owner constantly navigating risk and uncertainty, this skill is essential to ensure your company succeeds.
When you’re the one who runs the show, it’s important to know how to assess options and eliminate the ones that aren’t useful, relevant, or meaningful for the direction of your business. And it takes practice to be able to do that. You need to be able to be objective and decisive, dealing with facts and making informed judgments on a regular basis, which means taking the time to analyze your options.
While there’s still some risk involved with whatever choice you make even after you take that time, at least you know you’re choosing based on a thorough assessment of your business priorities. If you made choices on a whim without taking the time to critically think things through, your business wouldn’t be secure or stable in the long term.
By now it’s obvious that the problem isn’t with the analysis part. The problem is what happens when it goes overboard. You get overloaded with choices, so you end up stuck. There are too many obstacles, so you don’t do anything. That’s the paralysis part. And when it hits us, it can be hard to know how to move forward.
Shout out to all the perfectionists in the house! *cheers*
Speaking from experience, the pursuit of perfection is stressful. When you hold yourself to a faultless standard, you’re always gonna fall short. I know I’m not the first to break it to you, but there’s no such thing as perfect. One of the biggest reasons you get stuck in analysis paralysis is your expectation you have to make the most ideal choice possible. But that’s a myth. Every choice has non-zero risk, and not every choice needs to be completely optimized. The unknown is inevitable. There will always be variables outside of your control. It’s impossible to predict every single outcome. At some point, you just have to choose, ‘cause doing something is better than doing nothing at all.
Progress is the antidote to perfectionism. When you focus on making smaller, easier decisions and check them off your list, it gives you momentum to keep going. When paralysis hits, move those smaller decisions to the front of the line so you can knock them out. Then keep the ball rolling.
Choosing from a few great options is better than choosing from an endless sea of possibilities. Decision overwhelm is real, and can totally take us out. The more we can reduce the options on the table, the better. Forbes suggests narrowing down at least three options. Why three? The idea is to avoid binary thinking (this or that?) and stay adaptable to the changes that are inevitable in the decision making process. Having more than just two options can give a little more space to breathe.
So, to narrow things down, what can you ditch right away? What’s definitely a no? Think about how you’ll feel after making a decision you’re considering cutting. If it’s something like anxiety or regret, then that choice has to go. The process of elimination will help reduce the noise of irrelevant options.
So you’ve narrowed down your options. You’ve gotten rid of the hard passes and you’re left with a handful of choices that could work. How do you figure out which to choose from here? You could think it over endlessly, weigh each possible scenario, decide you need to research each possibility even more, compare every minute detail, dig yourself deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole while you attempt to consider everything there is to possibly consider.
But that’s letting the paralysis part get the best of you. Taking some time to carefully consider your remaining options and how they’ll affect your work is an important step! But since it’s not productive to think about this forever, it’s good to know your limits.
Better yet, set some limits for yourself. A time limit is a great place to start. Start a timer for 30 minutes (or longer if it makes more sense for your work) and commit to deliberating only up until the timer goes off. When your time is up, it’s time to make your decision.
Consider all the options in front of you. If you’re stuck because you’re choosing between a handful of solid choices, whatever you choose is probably gonna work out anyway. And if it seems like you have to choose between bad ones, it’s best to go back to the drawing board altogether.
Can’t figure out what to do next? Ask someone’s input… Even if it’s a rubber duck. Coders have been trusting the expertise of rubber ducks for years to help them work through their most complicated technical problems. Sometimes you just need to share your thoughts to get things to click. No response required, just the space to talk things through.
Sometimes it is important to get another set of eyes on the problem (like, real, non-rubber eyes.) So bring in a second opinion to see things from a different perspective. You might get new insights that allow you to move forward. When you’re looking closely at something for a long time, you can develop blind spots. Getting input from someone you trust helps bring things to light.
When you lean into the ways analysis can be a great thing, it’s easier to identify what doesn’t work (and leaves you stuck), so you can get better at catching paralysis before it even starts.
Whether it’s winning at game night or making sure your small business succeeds as you navigate a sea of decision making, having the right tools to get past analysis paralysis when it does hit will make all the difference.
When I'm not writing blog posts and help articles, I'm chatting with customers. I help you get the answers you're looking for so GQueues runs as smoothly as possible for you and your teams. And who would I be without my oatmilk latte in the morning? ☕️