Do you find yourself working diligently for hours but, at the end of the day, feel like you’ve accomplished nothing? Or perhaps you accomplished several things, but none of them were important? Even with the best of intentions, are you lagging behind on the due date for an essential project? If so, you may be the latest victim of a global business problem: analysis paralysis.
Overthinking is a problem that affects us all at one time or another. Not only does it rob us of creativity, but it also destroys performance and the implementation of objectives. Add to that the fact that overanalyzing makes us indecisive and mires us in the minutia of the project at hand. If you’re eager to break out of this cycle of indecision, there are several things you can do.
1. Practice making small choices quickly.
It doesn’t pay to ponder the little things. It’s simply a waste of your valuable time. How long did it take you to decide where to go for lunch and what to eat? How long did it take for you to pick something to wear? Eliminate those time drains. Lay out your clothes the night before, and don’t rethink the decision the next morning. Pack a lunch the night before, or quickly choose where you’ll order lunch from tomorrow. It sounds simplistic, but making routine or relatively unimportant choices swiftly will free up hours of time in the long run. It also saves you from decision fatigue.
2. Let go of perfectionism.
You are not perfect — no one is. Once you let go of the notion that there is ultimately one flawless solution, you free yourself up to discover the practical solution or the creative one or the best solution possible with the data currently on hand.
In his book The Perfection Paradox: Accept Your Addiction, Overcome Your Obsession and Escape to Excellence, author Jeffry A. Kramer explains, “Self-imposed perfectionistic tendencies come from a burning internal desire to excel at what we do. The experts call this self-oriented perfection, but I saw it as wanting to do my best. I had one problem though—it never was. No matter how well I did, I always thought I could have done better.”
Stop worrying that you’ll make the wrong decision. If your decision turns out to be a little off base, you can make course corrections as you go along.
3. Don’t underestimate the power of intuition.
There are times when your head is full of possibilities, your stress level is through the roof and you’re absolutely stuck going around and around in circles. Stop the cycle by doing something completely different. Go for a walk. Eat a snack. Stare out the window. Now that the mental spinning has stopped, come back to the decision you were trying to make. What is the first thing that comes to mind? What does your gut tell you? Trust your instincts and do what you feel is right whether you’re ready or not.
4. Put things in perspective.
Are you making the problem more important than it really is? Don’t let the progression of analysis paralysis blow things out of proportion. Be assertive. If someone else came to you with the same problem, and you weren’t personally involved, what advice would you give that individual?
Sebastian O’Brien notes in his book Stop Overthinking: The Complete Guide to Declutter Your Mind, Ease Anxiety and Turn off Your Intensive Thoughts, “Overthinking contributes to severe depression and anxiety and interferes with problem-solving abilities.”
That’s reason enough to take control of the problem before it takes control of you. Once you disconnect yourself from the problem, you may realize you’ve been making a mountain out of a molehill.
5. Work on your self-confidence and practice acceptance.
Learn to not let decision-making consume you and your time. To minimize your stress and overthinking, it’s helpful to make peace with uncertainty. Take some time to search inside yourself for the possible causes of your overthinking. Have you spent too much time around people who are overly critical? People who find fault with every part of every project because they didn’t get to make the decisions can push you into overanalyzing every step of your plan for no reason at all.
6. Build helpful habits.
Teach yourself to recognize the signs that you are sliding down the slippery slope of overthinking. Because it’s a downward spiral that sucks the emotional and creative energy out of you, the sooner you recognize it is happening, the sooner you can rein it in. Create a constructive way to discipline your thinking patterns. You may find it helpful to speak to a mentor, therapist or coach. You’re not the first person to deal with analysis paralysis and seek the advice of someone who deals with it on a professional basis.
Surround yourself with a filter so only the most important decisions fill up your day. If possible, delegate anything else. Do the most important thing first without procrastinating.
At the end of the day, if you waste your time putting out tiny fires around the workplace and don’t protect your own mental space, you’ll find it’s your office that burns to the ground.
This article has previously been featured on Forbes.