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The Science of Analysis Paralysis: How Overthinking Kills Your Productivity

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.

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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

13

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. 

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Analysis paralysis
It's a form of procrastination.

It happens when you convince yourself you can't go forward with a decision, because you haven't given it enough thought, done enough research or figured thi...

Why analysis paralysis happens

It has the same root cause as all forms of procrastination. It is caused by the desire to avoid something unpleasant: you don’t want to get started, so you start searching for excuses to justify avoiding the unpleasantness.

And there really are fears, uncertainties or doubts, which make doing more research an attractive excuse.

Dealing with analysis paralysis

You have to manage 2 realities: 

  • Rationalization: Deal with your rationalization that you need more time to think, plan and research by preventing this excuse from working.
  • Underlying fear: Even if you convince yourself that you are engaging in procrastination and your paralysis is unhelpful, that may not stop you from doing it. Now you need to figure out how to get past it.

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Put things into a wider perspective

When you are thinking and thinking about something ask yourself: Will this matter in 5 years? Or even in 5 weeks?

It allows you to stop thinking about something and to focu...

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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Overthinking And Inaction

Overthinking and getting lost in endless options reduces their effectiveness and intelligence by producing inaction.

The solution is to cut through the indecision and overthinking with act...

The Trap of Overthinking

Overthinking becomes an endless cycle of thinking through options, researching it, and through the research finding even more things to think about. 

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.

Milton Friedman

"The best measure of quality thinking is your ability to accurately predict the consequences of your ideas a..."

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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Dangers of being an overthinker
  • It increases your chances of mental illness. And as your mental health declines, your tendency to ruminate increases.
  • It interferes with problem-solving. It will cau...
The costs of indecisiveness
  • Not taking action can cost you an opportunity, or cost money and time as you delay.
  • People waiting for you to make a decision can get frustrated.
  • You can feel stress about your...
How we deal with uncertainty

These are some of the common ways we habitually deal with the uncertainty of a decision. But none of them solve the problem for us:

  • Doing some research. 
  • Writing out a pros and cons list.
  • Asking a bunch of people about their opinion.
  • Putting off the decision.
We are uncertain about
  • What the best choice might be.
  • Whether there will be negative consequences of the choice.
  • Whether we’ll look dumb to others if we make the wrong choice.
  • Whether we’ll feel dumb, or ripped off, and regret it for years to come.
  • Whether we’ll be OK if we make the wrong choice.

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Struggling To Build Healthy Habits
  • We tend to bite off more than we can chew, go too fast too soon, and then get overwhelmed too quickly.
  • We’re conditioned these days to expect and receive instant gratification.
Your “Big Why”

As you’re determining the habits or resolutions you’re trying to set, make the habit part of a bigger cause that’s worth the struggle.

You’re not just going to the gym, you’re building a new body that you’re not ashamed of so you can start dating again.

Healthy Habit Building 101

There are 3 parts to a good or bad habit: Cue (what triggers the action), Routine (the action itself), Reward (the positive result because of the action).

You have trained your brain to take a cue (you see a doughnut), anticipate a reward (a sugar high), and make the behavior automatic (nom that donut). 

Compare that to a cue (you see your running shoes), anticipate a reward (a runner’s high), and make the behavior automatic (go for a run!).

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There’s more to Bruce Lee than martial arts

He was also a philosophy badass.

From a very young age, Bruce Lee was obsessed with learning how to make the most out of his life - by the age of 30, he possessed thousands of tit...

Self-discovery
Martial arts was not merely a competitive sport for Bruce Lee, but in essence a means of self-discovery and self-expression.

By learning to fight, he was able to better understand who he was — he could force himself out of his comfort zone, test his limits, and confront his fears. 

Be like water

Bruce Lee saw life as being in constant change.

Unless we learn to adapt to it, we’re bound to experience tremendous resistance that will entrap us in a constant state of suffering.

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FOBO: Fear of Better Options

Whether it is deciding what to watch on TV, or which job offer to accept, Fobo (Fear of better options) can affect anyone.

A Fobo-afflicted person may not make a decision due to wanting compl...

Technology accelerates FOBO

Sophisticated apps and social media only accelerate FOBO, giving us unlimited options. We are unable to decide due to a constant flow of new plans, events, invitations or commitments.

Decision-making people: Maximisers

Maximisers compare everything before making a decision, setting very high standards and expectations for themselves.

They often feel disappointed with their final decision after making it.

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Accept your emotions

Recognize what happened and how you feel. Suppressing your emotions will get you nowhere. It’s important to first focus on how you feel.

You can also journal your emotions or speak with a clo...

Focus on the facts

Take a step out of the emotions and stress to really look at the facts of the situation. Try to look at the situation objectively and seek ways to work productively toward solving it.

Get an outside perspective, if you struggle with getting the facts in an objective manner.

Don't let it consume you

Once we’ve made what we’d call a bad decision, we give it a lot of meaning it does not inherently have.

So try to mentally separate yourself from the decision. Doing so can help you strip it of its power.

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