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The Science of Analysis Paralysis: How Overthinking Kills Your Productivity

Limit the amount of information

Efficiently manage information by determining what you want to learn from it first, then reading for that specific thing.

Another way to consume information is to determine the number of resources you’ll use first.  Limit yourself to only those resources.

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The Science of Analysis Paralysis: How Overthinking Kills Your Productivity

The Science of Analysis Paralysis: How Overthinking Kills Your Productivity

https://doist.com/blog/analysis-paralysis-and-your-productivity/

doist.com

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Key Ideas

Paradox of Choice

It means that while increased choice allows us to achieve objectively better results, it also leads to greater anxiety, indecision, paralysis, and dissatisfaction.

Overthinking lowers your performance

Our working memory is what allows us to focus on the information we need to get things done at the moment we’re doing them. It is also in limited supply. You can think of it like our brain’s computer memory. Once it’s used up, nothing more can fit in.

When you overanalyze a situation, the repetitive thoughts, anxiety, and self-doubt decrease the amount of working memory you have available to complete challenging tasks, causing your productivity to plummet.

Overthinking kills your creativity

A recent Stanford study suggests that over-thinking not only impedes our ability to perform cognitive tasks but keeps us from reaching our creative potential as well.

Overthinking eats up your willpower

You can think of willpower as a muscle. The more you use it, the more it wears out, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. 

When we agonize over a decision, we deplete our limited supply of willpower much more quickly, causing us to feel exhausted and overwhelmed.

Overthinking makes you less happy

Though analyzing every last option in the quest for the best choice may lead to an objectively better outcome in some situations, research suggests that this ultimately leads to more anxiety and regret and less happiness and satisfaction with your decisions.

Structure your day

Because our ability to make quality, long-term decisions deteriorates with each additional choice we make, big or small, successful people tackle their most important task first thing in the morning when their willpower reserves are at their fullest and try to make small decisions as automatic as possible. 

Limit the amount of information

Efficiently manage information by determining what you want to learn from it first, then reading for that specific thing.

Another way to consume information is to determine the number of resources you’ll use first.  Limit yourself to only those resources.

Set a deadline

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the amount of time you’ve allotted it. Setting a time constraint can force you to make a decision more efficiently.

Find a way to hold yourself accountable for your deadlines. Make your deadline as public as possible. 

Know your main objective

Identifying and staying true to one main objective as the basis for decision-making helps you overcome a tendency to overthink.

What’s the most important thing for you personally and professionally? Write it down and find a way to remind yourself to review it regularly.

Talk it out with someone else

The next time you catch yourself thinking over a particular issue, again and again, schedule a meeting with a coworker, supervisor, mentor, or friend. Having to present your deliberations to someone else forces you to synthesize the information you’ve been collecting in a clear, concise way. 

An iterative mindset

This concept is most associated with software development, particularly at fast-moving start-ups with few resources:

  • Instead of trying to release a perfect version of a product that may or may not fit customers’ needs, focus on producing a “minimum viable product”
  • Getting an imperfect product out as quickly as possible allows a product team to use data and user feedback and identify what works and doesn’t work, and incorporate those learnings back into future iterations, of the product.

To break the gridlock of analysis paralysis, we can view each decision as an experiment to be tested. It gives us the freedom to choose something quickly because we know we can improve upon it later.

Start before you feel ready

Collecting and analyzing more and more information is a tempting way to try and overcome the uncertainty that comes with taking on big goals. In the end, action is what decides our ultimate success or failure. 

So the next time you’re stuck in analysis mode, remember that successful people start before they feel ready and figure the rest out on the way.

Make your decision the right one

It’s tempting to believe that the best decision exists and we can figure out what it is by just researching deeper and thinking harder. The truth is that the options in front of you may be equally valid. 

It’s often our confidence in and commitment to our decisions that determine whether they are the “right” ones in the end. 

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The uncertainty in this kind of thinking is what keeps us stuck in indecision.

Cutting Through with Action

We should always contemplate the pros and cons, take a step back from the action and get some perspective, see the big picture, consider the deeper Why of what we’re doing. But at some point, we have to say, “Enough!” And then take action.

Put things into a wider perspective

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Set short time-limits for decisions

  • For small decisions like if you should go and do the dishes, respond to an email or work out, give myself 30 seconds or less to make a decision.
  • For somewhat larger decisions that would  take you days or weeks to think through in general, use a deadline for 30 minutes or for the end of the workday.

Stop setting your day up for stress
  • Get a good start, that will set the tone for your day. (read or work-out and then start with the most important task of the day).
  • Single-task and take regular breaks. This will help you to keep a sharp focus during your day and to get what’s most important done while also allowing you to rest.
  • Minimize your daily input, especially from social media consumption. It will clutter your mind as the day progresses.

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Milton Friedman
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Milton Friedman
Think in Years, Not Days

Before jumping to a conclusion, think about the long-term consequences of your decision.

We may respect those able to fling themselves into a hard problem and make a quick choice with seemingly little thought, but making a meaningful decision needs to be done with care for the long-term effects.

Understand Decision Fatigue

It’s important to be aware of what state of mind you’re in before tackling a hard choice.

Decision fatigue happens when the mental energy required to weigh the tradeoffs of our decision becomes too much for us to handle. 

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