Productivity and GTD
How to Combat Paralysis by Analysis
“Perfect is the enemy of good” ~ Voltaire
Analysis paralysis is a form of procrastination. Surely you have suffered from it more than once. It’s the term used to describe those situations in which you are thinking of something over and over again but you never make any decision.
An excess of analysis makes you end up having such a big amount of information that making the correct decision becomes harder and harder. Moreover, being afraid of going wrong makes you unable to move on. Fear of fail is part of human nature.
This problem can occur both, in personal situations and in any other type of project. Traditionally, on a regular basis, it has been manifested in software development projects, were the excess of analysis, requirements and prototypes have led to big failures. This is why traditional development systems have been slowly substituted for more agile systems in which people need to plan less and act more.
Over-thinking and over-analyzing may lead to completely unproductive situations in which the cost of making a decision is so high that ends up overcoming the benefits of making it, whichever is the decision.
In addition, over-thinking in order to resolve a specific situation consumes your willpower and weakens your discipline, in a way that your efficiency, productivity and creativity are reduced. In short, over-thinking causes a chain reaction that affects your general effectiveness.
The opposite pattern to analysis paralysis would be the one defined by the term satisficing, that suggests choosing the first option that you have evaluated as reasonable enough. Actually, this is the standard pattern—human beings tend to optimize the decision-making process by following this pattern.
Don’t look for the perfect solution from the start. Focus on the basics and ignore the details, at least at the beginning. Don’t waste your time in things that are likely to change later on anyway.
Don’t consider the fact that you are making a big decision, but multiple and smaller decisions. Each decision that you take is not final, you can tinge and correct them with the following decisions you make.
If you realize that the time to start is dragging on indefinitely, you should establish constraints to reduce the amount of choices. Jeff Boss advises in this article to establish a “drop dead” date in which you either already have made a decision or you don’t have to make it anymore because you abandon the specific task or project.
Share the problem with people you trust and ask for advice. Many times we become mentally blinded with absurd problems that disappear as soon as we share them with other people which are not immersed in the same thinking spiral as us.
Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, say that, instead of letting anxiety paralyze you, you can bring it to light by running a pre-mortem, an exercise in which you imagine all the ways your decision could end up a disaster. Then you can switch gears and get constructive, brainstorming about ways to prevent or minimize all those negative scenarios.
Something that works pretty good for me is simply doing something different, switch my attention towards a different activity so my brain stops over-thinking about the same topic. I let it be for some time without worrying about it. With time, the skeins of thoughts start to disappear and gets more sorted, ideas start taking shape and all the mental mess starts to crystalize and become something much more defined. Then, with fresh mind and clear ideas, I return to my task.