Read tips and tricks from experts on how to manage choice or analysis paralysis in your work (and beyond).
Earlier today, I was chatting with a new coworker about a project he was working on. I could tell from the expression on his face that he was feeling frustrated. Because he’s also a new professional, working in his first office job, I know how stressed he feels trying to do the right thing, all the time.
I asked him what he was trying to do. He told me that he had to start measuring some metrics for engaging his clients but wasn’t sure where to begin. He listed off five or six different ways and I could see that he was beginning to get frustrated again.
So I stopped him and asked him, “If you could choose one to try today, that you’re ready to measure today, what would you do.”
He responded he could send a newsletter and check the open rate.
I replied, “Ta-Da! That’s your answer.”
He looked startled. He looked at me and said, “How did you do that? I’ve spent all morning trying to make a decision.”
I shared that I had some strategies for managing decision paralysis. That I stopped trying to make the ‘right decision’ and instead focused on making ‘a decision.’ That each decision, even when wrong, was just data to help make a better decision next time. And the expectation is to do something, anything, and our work isn’t life-saving, so making a good decision from a vetted list is enough.
But I was once where he was, and I understand more than he knows how debilitating choice or analysis paralysis can be.
So I am sharing my tips and tricks to manage choice or analysis paralysis in your work (and beyond).
Early in my career, having just graduated with a master’s degree but without any significant work experience, I labored over every choice I made. While I had spent most of my undergraduate career making impulsive decisions that relied mostly on my charisma and quick wit, I knew this strategy would not work for me in the professional world.
As a first-generation professional, I didn’t have many mentors or family members to rely on to help me make choices either at home or in the office. So each choice I made was fraught with choices I didn’t understand or knew how to process. I would agonize over each choice – how to decide on my retirement plan or how to organize a training exercise each took me weeks to analyze and then I’d begrudgingly make a choice.
But then my new boss told me, during a one-on-one, that there was no expectation to make the best decision first. That there was no penalty for making mistakes in her office. And she expected me to narrow down my choices, consult with her, and then make the best decision I could.
Having parameters, learning how to evaluate my choices, and permission to make mistakes – all of these methods changed my life! I knew that I could evaluate my choices, but I still needed her to learn how to move to be a confident decision-maker. I’ve even taken these methods to help my college students become confident decision-makers.
I have since learned that choice paralysis or analysis paralysis impacts many people in different ways.
What is Analysis Paralysis
When making a decision, especially an important one, most people take some time to consider their options. This is completely normal. But what if, when weighing your options, you can’t get the scales to balance? Instead, you spend so much time thinking through choices you could make and end up not coming to any decision at all.
Sound familiar? This type of overthinking has a name: analysis paralysis.
The choices you’re considering don’t need to be big ones. They could be as simple as deciding on a pastry at the bakery. Or maybe what movie to watch with friends who are coming over for the night.
My husband shows some of the signs of analysis paralysis. He always has a ‘what if’ scenario that distracts him when making a decision. He’ll lose sleep when he knows he has to make a decision in the morning for work. And he is agreeable to the point of not having an opinion to avoid having confrontations with people over his choices.
That he is a data scientist, who relies on data to tell the story of the work his company creates, is beside the point. He loves data – and there is never enough data to make a decision! If only his personal life followed the same set of rules he uses at work, he’d be a happy clam.
But that isn’t reality. And we work hard to help him manage his paralysis.
Below are some of the tips suggested by experts:
Explore possible causes of overthinking
It often helps to understand why you have trouble making choices.
Did a previous decision not pan out so well? If that memory still resonates, you might have trouble trusting yourself to make the right choice this time.
Maybe you worry about others judging you for making a certain choice.
You might also worry the “wrong” decision will affect your future or relationships with loved ones. (It can feel particularly tough to make a decision that affects other people.)
Most people will find a decision challenging on occasion.
But if you find yourself stuck researching and analyzing options for nearly every decision you make, increasing your awareness around why this happens can help you take steps to break the pattern.
From Crystal Raypole, How to Beat ‘Analysis Paralysis’ and Make All the Decisions
Make quick decisions
To help relieve your mind of its decision-making paralysis, it’s helpful to make easy decisions more quickly. Any decision you make during the day, whether it’s what you’re going to wear or what you’re going to eat, try making it as quickly as you can. This can help you feel confident in making decisions without overthinking them. Then when it comes time to make the big decision, examine the evidence and arguments for each option one more time and then quickly choose.
From Indeed Editorial Team, 8 Tips To Overcome Analysis Paralysis (With Examples)
Be alert to perfectionism
The overly crafted emails are probably a sign of perfectionism running afoot. Perfectionism is just another variation of anxiety but is deadly for sorting out priorities—because there are none—and a sure recipe for forever getting mentally stuck in the mud when making decisions.
From Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W., Do You Have Analysis Paralysis?
Live With Regret (and Let it Go)
One fear of making the “wrong” decision is that we’ll have to live with regret. And sure, sometimes you’ll wish you had chosen something else—but especially when it comes to the small stuff, you’ll also realize that regret is fleeting. That skirt you bought, decided you don’t like, but can’t return? You could mope over it, but chances are you’ll regret the time wasted beating yourself up more than the lost cash.
If you regret something you’ve made a quick decision on, tell yourself it’s OK. Feel the regret, take a breath, release it, and remind yourself that the time spent on making a decision is taking time away from more worthy endeavors.
From Carolina Perez, Yes, No, Maybe So: Defeating Decision Fatigue
Did you know the word “decide” comes from the Latin word “to cut off?” Limit your choices. My client Olivia, who has ADHD, found choosing a summer camp for her kid excruciating. We narrowed her choices by budget, application deadline, and proximity to home. Nothing beyond those criteria was given a glance. She was able to make the decision in record time, once she kicked her “analysis paralysis” to the curb.
Set a Decision Deadline
Post your deadline on your calendar. Having a date to decide can help you prioritize by adding focus and motivation to a decision that has no time frame. People with ADHD love visual reminders.
Just Say It
Saying the options of your choices out loud sometimes leads to making your decision. Externalizing thoughts cuts through the clutter of competing thoughts.
From ADDitude Editors, 13 Ways to Beat Analysis Paralysis
Need More Support?
As shared, I learned how to improve my decision-making by being open to feedback and learning new skills. If you want or need a similar experience, reach out to me and let me know how I can help you! I’m happy to speak with you in person or virtually to help you explore what you can do next.