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Productivity

How to Overcome Analysis Paralysis and Make Sound Decisions

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
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Have you ever struggled to make a decision, no matter how minor or significant it may be? Perhaps you’ve spent hours researching a vacation destination but can’t seem to commit to booking a trip, or you’ve found yourself scrolling through endless product reviews online, unable to decide which one to buy.

These are just a few scenarios in which analysis paralysis can take hold, leaving us indecisive and missing out on potential opportunities.

In this article, we’ll look at the concept of analysis paralysis, its causes and effects, and, most importantly, how to overcome it so that we can make confident and timely decisions in different areas of our lives.

What Is Analysis Paralysis?

Analysis paralysis occurs when a person becomes stuck in the decision-making process due to an overwhelming amount of information, options, or possibilities. It is a state of indecision that can be stressful and lead to missed opportunities.

According to Psychologist Barry Schwartz, while having more options can lead to objectively better outcomes, it can also result in greater anxiety, indecision, and dissatisfaction. He described this phenomenon as “The Paradox of Choice.”[1] The abundance of choices can lead to a feeling of overwhelm, which can cause individuals to become paralyzed in their decision-making process.

paradox of choice

    Analysis paralysis is also known as “perfection paralysis” at times.[2] It goes with a story about Winston Churchill.

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    In December 1942, in an effort to move the war across the English Channel, Winston Churchill issued a statement that probably went against his better judgment. He was forced to compromise his standards in order to win the war, which put him in a difficult situation. When Churchill learned that the designers of the landing craft that would ferry tanks and troops across the Channel were debating major design changes, he issued the warning below.

    “The maxim ‘Nothing avails but perfection’ may be spelled shorter: ‘Paralysis.'”

    When people seek the perfect solution or outcome and believe they cannot make a decision until they have all of the necessary information, they experience analysis paralysis.

    Analysis paralysis has its roots in anxiety psychology, as people who experience it are often overwhelmed by the fear of making the wrong decision.

    How Analysis Paralysis Kills Productivity

    Analysis paralysis can be detrimental to productivity in several ways:

    Poor Decision Making

    Analysis paralysis can lead to indecision, which occurs when we are so overwhelmed with information that we are unable to make a clear and timely decision.

    We may fall behind in our work if we spend too much time analyzing and not enough time acting, resulting in increased stress and pressure to catch up. In some cases, this can lead to us missing important deadlines or passing up potential opportunities.

    Furthermore, constantly second-guessing our decisions can breed doubt in our abilities, exacerbating the problem. In fact, studies have shown that when customers are presented with too many options, they become overwhelmed, resulting in lower satisfaction with their final choice.[3] This is because the more options an individual is presented with, the more difficult it is to evaluate them and make an informed decision. As a result, people might put off making a decision or rush into it, which can leave them feeling regretful or unsatisfied.

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    Lowered Performance on Mentally Demanding Tasks

    Overanalysis can cause cognitive overload,[4] impairing our ability to focus and perform mentally demanding tasks.

    When we can’t filter out irrelevant information, our working memory becomes overburdened, making it difficult to focus and make decisions. Our capacity for working memory is limited. If the working memory resources required to process information exceed our capacity, we will fail to comprehend the information.[5] As a result, we might struggle to stay focused and finish tasks to the best of our abilities, which could result in decreased productivity and lower-quality work.

    What’s more, the anxiety and self-doubt that analysis paralysis causes can increase cognitive load, creating a vicious cycle of decreased productivity.[6]

    Time And Resources Wasted

    Spending too much time analyzing a situation can waste valuable time and resources that could be put to better use.

    For example, if we spend too much time analyzing a project, we may miss deadlines or be unable to finish other tasks that require our attention. The resources spent on overanalyzing a situation can also result in additional expenses or revenue loss for the organization.

    Additionally, putting too much time and money into analysis can prevent a solution from being put into action, which would prolong the effects of the problem being solved and result in missed opportunities.

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    How to Break Out of Analysis Paralysis

    Analysis paralysis is a common problem that affects many people, but it is not a natural or permanent condition. It is a behavioral pattern that can be altered with the right mindset and strategies.

    1. Set a Deadline

    Setting a deadline creates a sense of urgency and gives the decision-making process a clear endpoint. Deadlines can help you prioritize, keep your attention on what matters most, and keep you from becoming mired in pointless debate and indecision.

    Setting a deadline requires being realistic about the amount of time required to make the decision. It is also essential that the deadline is not too far in the future, as this encourages procrastination. For instance, depending on how complicated the choice is and how urgent the situation is, you might decide to set a deadline for a project at work that is a few days or weeks away.

    An additional benefit of setting a deadline is that it helps prevent decision fatigue, which is the mental exhaustion that can happen when you make too many decisions over a prolonged period of time. By setting a deadline, you can move on to other tasks and projects by reducing the amount of time spent considering the choice.

    2. Identify and Prioritize Criteria

    Defining your goal and criteria allows you to simplify and narrow down your options.

    First, decide what you truly want and set a goal for yourself. Say you’re looking for a new apartment, what is the point of doing it? Are you looking for a place to live that can accommodate your entire family, including your newborn? Or are you looking for a place to live that is close to your workplace?

    Then, using the Superstructure Method, categorize your criteria based on your goal and needs:

    • Must have – These are the items that you cannot live without. They are absolutely necessary.
    • Should have – While not as critical as “must have,” should-haves are nonetheless important.
    • Good to have – Having these nice-to-haves would have been nice, but not having them will not have a negative impact.
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    For example, if you want a flat that can accommodate your entire family, Must Haves criteria could include 3 rooms, no staircase, no open kitchen, and so on.

    Once the criteria have been established, compare your available options to the criteria and assign a score to each. This method ensures that you make an informed decision based on your goal and requirements.

    At LifeHack, we always use this method to make decisions. Whether we’re selecting a project management tool, a partner to work with, or a design to go with, identifying our Must Have, Should Have, and Good to Have criteria can always help us make a better decision.

    3. Weigh the Options’ Pros and Cons

    When using the Superstructure Method alone isn’t enough to help you make decisions, you should also consider the pros and cons of the narrowed down options.

    List the pros and cons of the remaining options and compare them to the established criteria. This facilitates comparisons and ensures that all relevant factors are considered.

    When comparing options, keep the big picture in mind rather than getting bogged down in minor details. It’s not always about having more pros or fewer cons. Some pros can be so significant that they trump the other options; on the other hand, some cons can be so bad that they are enough to eliminate an option.

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    If, after narrowing the options to only two, you still can’t decide because their pros and cons are too similar, it doesn’t really matter which one you choose. But if you still can’t decide, the next step might be just what you need.

    4. Drop the Perfectionist Mentality

    Analysis paralysis can be exacerbated by a perfectionist mentality. Realizing that there is no such thing as a perfect choice and that sometimes good enough is sufficient is important.

    We can become paralyzed by analysis if we focus solely on finding the best possible solution, resulting in missed opportunities and decreased productivity. This happened quite often to one of our editors. She had a tendency to struggle with making the best decision, whether it was selecting a new content creation tool or deciding on a strategy to pursue. I had to remind her that there was no such thing as a perfect decision, and that if she had done enough research and analysis, she should have enough information to make an informed decision.

    If after narrowing down the options to only 2 and you still can’t make the decision because their pros and cons are too similar, then it really doesn’t matter which one you choose.

    Strive for a decision that meets the established criteria and is consistent with the overall goal. Recognize that any decision may involve trade-offs and risks, and that it is more important to act and learn from the outcome than to get stuck in the analysis.

    Developing a growth mindset can help you in accepting that making mistakes is an unavoidable part of the learning process. We can overcome our fear of making the wrong decision and move forward with confidence if we reframe mistakes and failures as opportunities for growth and learning.

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    Here are some suggestions to help you manage your perfectionist mindset: What Is Perfectionism And How to Manage It For Good

    Bottom Line

    Analysis paralysis occurs when we become so preoccupied with analyzing various options and outcomes that we are unable to make a decision or act. This can prevent us from making sound decisions.

    The good news is that we can overcome it and make confident, well-informed decisions by determining our goals and priorities, establishing a deadline, and letting go of the desire to make the perfect decision.

    If you are experiencing analysis paralysis, remember that the key to success is not only analyzing your options, but also taking action towards your goals.

    TL;DR

    Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

    How to Overcome Analysis Paralysis and Make Sound Decisions

    Analysis paralysis occurs when a person becomes stuck in the decision-making process due to an overwhelming amount of information, options, or possibilities. It is a state of indecision that can be stressful and lead to missed opportunities.

    Analysis paralysis is also known as “perfection paralysis” because people experience it when they seek the perfect solution or outcome and believe they cannot make a decision until they have all of the necessary information.

    Analysis paralysis can cause indecision and poor decision making, which lead to us missing important deadlines or passing up potential opportunities.

    Overanalyzing can also impair our ability to focus and perform mentally demanding tasks, ultimately leading to a decrease in productivity.

    To overcome analysis paralysis, you need to set a realistic deadline which can keep you from becoming mired in pointless debate and indecision.

    You need to be clear about your goal and criteria — What’s the point of making the decision? What are the Must Have, Should Have and Good-to-Have criteria?

    Compare the pros and cons of the remaining options to the established criteria.

    Last but not least, ditch the perfectionist mentality.

    Keep in mind that the key to success is not only analysing your options, but also taking action towards your goals.

    Featured photo credit: Jan Genge via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1]Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice
    [2]Lon Roberts: Analysis Paralysis A Case of Terminological Inexactitude
    [3]Procedia Economics and Finance: Application of Paralysis Analysis Syndrome in Customer Decision Making
    [4]Mayo Clinic Health System: Cognitive overload: When processing information becomes a problem
    [5]Sweller, J. (2011). Cognitive Load Theory. (P. Ayres, S. Kalyuga, S. (Online Service), & L. (Online Service), Eds.) (1.). New York, NY : Springer New York.
    [6]J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn.: Does Overloading Cognitive Resources Mimic the Impact of Anxiety on Temporal Cognition?
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