Last Updated on August 14, 2020
On my way to Home Depot a few weeks ago, I had a determined voice in my head that said, “Get in and get out. Pick a paint color and be on your way.” Two hours later my mind is blown that there is a color category called “greige”. I had entered a black hole while staring at 7 different paint swatches that were essentially the same exact color. And I was stuck. My thoughts kept circling around a million little details that didn’t matter. I was about to paint my home-office and no one was going to spend any time in there but me. So who cared if I was a shade off?
Analysis paralysis is that stuck feeling when you can’t seem to move forward with a decision. You’ll repeatedly assess all the details of a situation, and at a certain point become paralyzed. Your decision-making process comes to a screeching halt because you aren’t making any progress despite all your careful consideration.
Analysis paralysis is closely tied to information overload. The more information we have available at our fingertips, the worse our indecision becomes. We live in an era where any search on Google will likely return over a million results. You’ve probably heard the phrase data-rich, knowledge poor. Despite how helpful all of that data can be, our brains struggle to sift through it all. And even if we could, would it really help us make our decision? Doubtful. I did not need to know that there were 10 slightly warmer and 10 slightly cooler tones of greige paint.
What are the downsides?
My indecision regarding paint color is just a simple example of analysis paralysis. The impacts of not being able to pull the trigger on a decision can be much greater. A recent workplace productivity study found employees throughout various industries felt they were nearing a breaking point of information overload.
Managers and employees within the study estimated that roughly half of their workday was spent on trying to analyze information, rather than actually completing their duties. A full-time employee works an average of 2,000 hours per year. If half of each of your working days is sucked up by analysis paralysis, that equates to a total of 1,000 hours. One thousand hours of over-analyzing decisions each year resulted in 62% of employees admitting to poorer quality work and missed deadlines.
The worrisome part is that our tendency to get stuck in analysis paralysis transgresses the boundaries of our personal or professional lives. It bleeds over into both. If you overanalyze at work, you likely overanalyze at home too. 1,000 hours every year is probably an underestimate of how much time you’re over dedicating to decision-making.
You can’t get your time back
Time is your most valuable asset. While certain decisions truly do have major ramifications in life, they are few and far between. Choosing who you want to spend the rest of your life with, determining your life’s purpose, and deciding to have children all deserve a significant amount of time and analysis. But, most other decisions have little impact on your life in the long run. And if they do, you’re likely still going to have the option to change those decisions in the future.
You’ll miss out on good opportunities
Beyond using too much of your precious time in life, analysis paralysis can force you to miss out on good opportunities. Whether it’s refinancing your mortgage, deciding to go back to school, or considering a new job. All of those decisions incorporate factors that are not static. Mortgage rates fluctuate and waiting too long to refinance can mean a big financial difference over a 30 year time period.
Despite what may seem like a simple decision timeframe to apply for school – it’s more than just making sure you don’t miss the overall application deadline. There are priority deadlines, FAFSA deadlines, and financial packaging deadlines, just to name a few. Getting caught up in too much analysis can cause you to miss out on big opportunities for funding.
Considering a new job offer is incredibly time-sensitive, especially while in the negotiation phase. If you wait too long before you respond to an offer, you may miss out on getting the job altogether.
Analysis paralysis is mentally exhausting
Perhaps most importantly, analysis paralysis can rob you of your peace of mind. First, you suffer anxiety while trying to wade through the endless ways you can approach a decision. You’re fearful of making the wrong choice. Next, you reach a point where you realize you’ve invested too much time already, but in order to not have wasted all that time, you keep trudging along. Finally, you feel exhausted. All of that analysis likely didn’t change what your decision would have been much earlier in the process.
So how can you kick analysis paralysis to the curb?
Determine whether its a big or small decision
Will this have an impact on my life in the long run? If so, will I still have the ability to change my mind without any major consequences? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I made a decision in only 5 minutes? The answers to those questions should help you conclude whether your decision is actually a big one or not, regardless of how big it might feel.
Example: Picking the right shade of greige would have no lasting impact on my life. If I made a decision in 5 minutes, the worst-case scenario would be that I wouldn’t like the color. It would be a pain, but I could easily repaint.
Define your objective
Take a moment to make sure you fully understand the question you’re making a decision about. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to find a one size fits all solution that addresses more than what your decision requires. Write down your question, and re-read it throughout your decision-making process to keep you from going off on any unnecessary tangents.
Example: My objective was to pick a good, neutral wall color for my home-office. Not to decide if a future renter would also like that shade of greige, or if I ought to just repaint the whole house.
Give yourself a decision time limit
This will depend on whether it’s a big, life-altering decision or not. But even those big, life-altering decisions have time limits. If it’s not a straightforward deadline, give yourself an hour to do some preliminary research on what the consequences would be for not making a decision quickly enough.
An hour may seem short, but the first 10 Google search results will likely give you more than enough insight to understand your potential pitfalls. After your hour is up, give yourself half the time you took to research to make a decision. In this example, if you took an hour to research, give yourself 30 minutes to make a decision.
Example: Since picking the right wall color was not a life-altering decision, I shouldn’t have taken any more than 1 hour at home to do my preliminary research. Within 30 minutes of my decision, Repose Grey would have been set in stone. That was the color I liked best in the first 5 minutes anyway.
Remind yourself that nothing is perfect
Keep in mind that most decisions aren’t a clear cut choice between right and wrong. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have any difficulty making up our minds in the first place. There is no perfect outcome, so stop trying to find it. There are better and worse choices to be made, but striving for perfection is likely an unfruitful endeavor. In all of the anxiety of trying to pick the best option, it’s easy to forget that not making a choice can be much worse than making the wrong choice.
Example: it really didn’t matter which shade of greige I chose. It was my office – if I liked it, that was all the mattered. Trying to anticipate other people’s potential opinions wasn’t going to help.
Seek out advice from a select few people
Ask no more than 3 people what their take on the situation is. A best practice is to ask people who have different experiences, perspectives, and opinions than you do. They’ll be the ones capable of shedding light on the situation that you may not have considered.
Example: What I could have done with my paint 7 swatches was to ask the store clerk right off the bat – which of these can you make right now and which is the cheapest? That likely would have helped me narrow it down immediately.
Sometimes we get so hung up on the hunt to find all the information we seek, that we’ve completely jumped over the fact that we may not be the one and only person who can make said decision. Obviously this may not be your best bet if your boss has explicitly asked you to take care of something, but there are plenty of opportunities where collaboration and delegation in your personal and professional life can help to avoid a lot of stress.
Example: I could have texted my best friend a picture of my narrowed down paint swatches and asked her to pick. She’s got an eye for that type of thing anyway, and I trust her opinion.
Practice makes perfect(ish)
While there’s no magic cure for analysis paralysis, you’ve now got 6 strategies to help you make efficient decision-making a new habit. With practice and honest self-evaluation, you’ll get better with each and every decision you make.
Do you have any other strategies you’ve used to help overcome your own analysis paralysis? Drop a comment below!